31 for 31: 'White Zombie'

For the whole month of October, our own Kevin Stairiker will be watching a horror movie a day and cataloging his findings in a new feature called “31 for 31.”

Before “The Walking Dead,” “28 Days Later” and even “Night of the Living Dead,” there was “White Zombie.” Recognized as the first appearance of zombies on a movie screen, the film was inspired by the 1929 novel, “The Magic Island,” a book describing the supposed dead-raising activities by certain Voudou tribes in Haiti.


“White Zombie” stars the inimitable Bela Lugosi as the amazingly named voodoo master Murder Legendre. Only a year removed from his legendary turn as Dracula in 1931, Lugosi basically plays a version of that character in this film, only with a mustache, unibrow and fun hat. Legendre attempts to assist the dastardly Charles Beaumont in his attempts to break up newlyweds Neil and Madeleine Parker so that he may have Madeleine to himself. How does he plan to do this? Zombies!

Throughout the film, we see zombies lumber all over the place, but they don’t really do much beyond that. Some 36 years before “Night of the Living Dead” cemented the pop culture placement of what a zombie is, “White Zombie” gave them their muted speed, unintelligible grunts and disturbing imagery. Also, they’re dumb as rocks.

As is the case with viewing most 80-year-old films, the pace can be slow at times and the actual amount of true “terror” is low, but “White Zombie” excels at setting a ghostly mood and not letting up. The ending is beyond predictable, but again, that point is to be expected for a film like this. Thankfully, “White Zombie” has long been in the public domain, so it can be found almost anywhere, legally free. Like here:

Come for the historical zombies, stay for every amazing shot of Bela Lugosi’s haunting eyes.


Death Count: 7*
Times camera centers on Bela Lugosi’s eyes: 9
Questionable old-timey references to “savages”: 3
Fantastic 1930s hats throughout the film: 6
Seconds that it takes for the stupid zombies to kill themselves: 5
Times this author thought Lugosi would just outright quote “Dracula”: 4


(*Note: this number includes zombie deaths. Instead of writing several paragraphs on traditional death and the concept of things dying when they’re already dead, I’m just going to count it.)

Total movie death count: 19
Watched via: DVD
Worth the watch? Yes
Arbitrary rating: 3/5 wide-brimmed zombie hats


31 for 31 viewing list

  1. Jeepers Creepers (2001)
  2. Cube (1997)
  3. White Zombie (1932)
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Posted in Arts+Culture, Movies

Kevin Stairiker is a features writer for Fly. He is a graduate of Temple University and enjoys writing in third person. When he isn't writing, he's probably playing guitar for a litany of bands, reading comics or providing well-needed muscle at The Double Deuce.

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