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The DVD release of “White Zombie” does justice to one of the great horror films of the 1930s, not to mention one of Bela Lugosi’s finest hours. It looks and sounds terrific. In addition, the supplemental Lugosi interviews are a nice touch. If you never have seen “White Zombie,” you’re missing one of the most atmospheric and stylish horror films ever made. Transferred from a stunning 35mm print, the Roan Group has done wonders in its restoration of the Lugosi classic.
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This may sound strange, but as a big Lugosi fan I never thought very highly of “White Zombie”…until now. I now realize why it was never that high on my favorite list of Bela stuff; I couldn’t see the damn picture on my other versions clearly enough for all the dirt and darkness. This DVD from the Roan Group is, in one word, superb. It’s been cleaned up, and it’s like a whole new experience for me to watch it now. (I think it actually looks better than those much more expensive special editions of Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” and “The Lady vanishes”.) Lugosi’s performance is good, and it’s certainly a nice part for him, but among all his great roles I don’t think it’s his best. -However, I do appreciate it more now that I can finally see it !. (My fave of his is 1935’s “The Raven”.) There’s a wonderful dream-like quality throughout, and some very atmospheric set-pieces, like the eerie mill. One scene in particular stands out; the conversation between the old man and our completely inept hero. The scene is 5 minutes long, and there isn’t a single cut in it which I guess is highly unusual for a horror film, but a brave move. The only problem I have with “W.Z.” is the constant use of music. -There’s music in nearly every scene, and apparently the film-makers wanted their movie to be somewhat in the style of old silent films, but I feel it would’ve been even more effective with less. The excellent talk by Gary Don Rhodes is informative about cast & production, just as these commentary tracks are supposed to be. This DVD is the one and only version of “White Zombie” to have.
Between the introduction of sound and the imposition of the Hollywood Code, some of the most inventive movies ever seen were produced and ‘White Zombie’ is a prime example. On paper, the plot is pretty basic. However it is the ultra-strange premise – zombies roaming around the Haiti countryside working as slaves for a power-mad Bela Lugosi – that makes the film so unique. It doesn’t have the polished feel of the classic Universal horrors such as ‘The Mummy’ or ‘Frankenstein’ but it lacks nothing in imagination. The movie also benefits from good direction and excellent set designs. A lot of credit must go to the ‘Roan Group’ for the production of this DVD. We get the obligatory trailer and commentary but the real bonus is the picture quality. You will not find a better print of ‘White Zombie’ anywhere. Do not make the mistake of thinking ‘White Zombie’ is a museum piece only of interest to film buffs because of its age. The selling point of this DVD is that above all ‘White Zombie’ is highly entertaining, so don’t just watch it – enjoy it!
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