White Zombie [VHS]

Bela Lugosi followed up his star-making role in Dracula with this ambitious low-budget horror film from the Halperin brothers, who effectively transplanted the misty gothic mood of the Universal horror films to their poverty-row studio. White Zombie drips with atmosphere from the opening, as eerie chanting accompanies the credits and Madeleine (Madge Bellamy) arrives at midnight to witness a mysterious burial before coming face to face with the satanic looking Murder Legendre (Lugosi with goatee and searing eyes), a hypnotist and voodoo master who has been supplying the local mills with an army of zombie laborers. Madeleine’s nightmare is just beginning. Having landed in a world of almost perpetual night, where hollow-eyed zombies lumber through the sugar mill and the ghostly town is eerily bereft of living souls, she becomes the object of desire for Legendre, whose plan to possess her involves her initiation to the world of the undead. This first zombie movie is also one of the best, with Lugosi’s archly sinister performance dominating the film (thankfully obscuring a lot of overacting by supporting players), and astounding sets and gorgeous matte paintings creating a wondrous sense of poetic doom. –Sean Axmaker

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