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White Zombie (1932) - Blu-ray Review

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White Zombie (1932) - Blu-ray Review

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5 stars

It’s been heralded as a minor classic.  It’s also the first movie to showcase zombies – whether the walking dead or just poisoned.  Let’s be honest, though.  It’s far beyond the appropriate time to recognize Victor Halperin’s White Zombie as a masterpiece of horror.  In many ways, it is a more poetic horror film than 1931’s Dracula.  Long on shadows and heavy on mood, White Zombie suffers nary a single hiccup in in its wondrous and haunted imagery.

Written by Garnett Weston, White Zombie is the tale of how Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy) became zombiefied and the man, Neil Parker (John Harron), who rescued her from the fantastically devilish grip of Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi).  The young and newly engaged couple travel to Haiti where their friend and host, Charles Beaumont (Robert W. Frazer), fancies Madeline’s sweet lips for himself.

Charles is provided a small amount of poison by the evil Legendre, who uses zombies to work his plantation.  Whether these zombies are dead or just brainwashed is uncertain.  Regardless, Madeline “dies” from the drug and joins Legendre’s zombie slaves as they grind each other up in the mills.  Parker, mentally and emotionally devastated by the loss of his soon-to-be-bride, discovers her empty crypt and begins his journey to rescue her from the intoxicatingly dark magic of Legendre.

This independent release on its freakishly small budget was the first film to actually use music in a manner that suggests tone and communicates story.  There’s also a great sound design – you’ll never hear the piercing cry of a vulture in the same way again – that suggests a fullness of picture unlike most of the early talkies.  On this point, Dracula is essentially a silent picture.

Halperin’s tasteful use of skin and make-up terror proves it to be a more forward-thinking movie than most of its contemporaries in and outside of the genre and, having not been based on a previous novel, was a solely original creation.  Even the actors are possessed by its atmospheric Gothicism.  There’s no way a big-named studio was going to touch it.  And it’s a shame.  Imagine the impact it might have had on filmmaking at the time if White Zombie had been backed by Universal or the like.

Ironically, what it does have from Universal Pictures is Jack Pierce (who did the makeup), a couple of Dracula sets, some Frankenstein sets, and a mad villain that proudly stands alongside the monster heavies of the time.  White Zombie just didn’t get the money or the promotional support other horror pictures enjoyed.  To me, though, this film is more than just a cult classic that almost made almost made an impact.  White Zombie is the stuff of nightmares.  It’s that visually striking.

White Zombie is truly a remarkable film that withstands the test of time.

{2jtab: Film Details}

White Zombie (1932) - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: This title has not been rated by the MPAA.
Runtime:
69 mins.
Director
: Victor Halperin
Writer
: Garnett Weston
Cast: Bela Lugosi; Madge Bellamy; Joseph Cawthorn; Robert Frazer; John Harron
Genre
: Horror | Classic
Tagline:
She was not dead... not alive.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Before we get through with this thing we may uncover sins that even the devil would be ashamed of."
Distributor:
United Artists
Official Site:
Theatrical Release Date:
August 4, 1932
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
January 29, 2013

Synopsis: A young man turns to a witch doctor to lure the woman he loves away from her fiance, but instead turns her into a zombie slave.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

White Zombie (1932) - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades
Movie

Blu-ray Disc
5 stars

4 stars



Blu-ray Experience
4.5 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - January 29, 2013
Screen Formats: 1.32:1
Subtitles
: None
Audio:
English: LPCM 2.0
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A

Say it ain’t so, Joe.  The film grain has been scrubbed clean from Kino’s 'official' 1.33:1 1080p transfer and the results – while pearly white – are only so-so.  These pesky DNR and enhancements often gum up the movie's natural feel. Black levels are properly leveled.  I can only guess that some of the film’s transfer issues are due to the improper storage of the film and its poor production values from back in the day.  Some films simply aren’t ever going to look as good as their first showing either.  However, included on this disc as a bonus is a 'Raw' version of the movie that has been presented without influence from excessive video re-tooling, and the results are exquisite. Of course, there is a fair amount of dirt and grime and contrast issues and fine detail quality moments that aren't perfect, but it's clearly the way to enjoy the film in high-def.  Added for audiologists is an LPCM mono mix.  Added to both the official and 'Raw' versions of the movie, this lossless presentation captures the film just as it originally came to theaters.   Dialogue sounds natural and the movie's music has a firm feel to it. Hiss and crackle sounds abound, of course, but that's due to the quality of the film's production values and not any fault of this track.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • The interesting commentary, recorded by film historian and author Frank Thompson, is beyond respectable.  Loaded with cast and crew information, Thompson covers the film’s history and its eventful production history in this entertaining recording.

Special Features:

Outside of the excellent commentary, the “RAW” version of the film, and a nice gallery of stills from the production, there is only an interesting interview with Lugosi as a supplemental item.  The special features are disappointing but the movie itself is well worth the upgrade.

  • Interview with Bela Lugosi (7 min)
  • Stills Gallery

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