The Movie: White Zombie; 1932
Directed by: Victor Halperin
If you ever go to Haiti and meet a guy named “Murder Legendre”, don’t be around when he does this with his hands:
But, chances are, you will already be trapped by his ability to arrest you with his gaze.
With myriad shitty horror movies on the docket, and some major gaps in my viewing history, I’m now instituting a periodic check-ins with the classics. “Classical Pairings” if you will, to be enjoyed without guilt or trepidation. And, in spite of the obvious issue of a movie called “White Zombie” being problematic in a lot of ways, let’s just turn on our thinking taps – I mean caps. I mean taps.
White Zombie is a quick movie: only 67 minutes, a lot of which is simply staring into Bela Lugosi’s eyebrows. I mean eyes. And man, he’s got some creepy peepers, which warrants some long and lingering shots. Thankfully, there is a narrative reason for this: somehow, Murder Legendre (Lugosi) is imbued with magical, hypnotic powers that make his eyes exert control over people (who, um, must be tricked into drinking some potion first, of course).
The film opens with Madeleine Short (Madge Bellamy) and her fiance Jonathan Harker — I MEAN Neil Parker (John Harron) headed to the plantation of Charles Beaumont. Because apparently Madeleine had met him on a boat and he’d invited the two to get married at his plantation in Haiti.
“Strange,” says their guide, missionary Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn), “Very strange.”
Yeah. No shit. Turns out that he’s lured them there to try to steal Madeleine away. Beaumont meets up with Murder Legendre, who commands a team of zombie servants, to consult with him on how to get Madeleine to leave Neill and marry him. It’s pretty obvious how Murder would solve that problem. He’d solve it in the same way he solves all of his problems. By um, turning her into a zombie.
But — a WHITE zombie, guys. They don’t really get into what the title means in the movie. It’s either because she’s literally white or because she has that whole “pure and innocent” thing, or because she’s wearing a creepy wedding dress the whole movie. In any case, fun twist of irony: turns out doe-eyed actress Madge Bellamy was a firecracker femme fatale extraordinaire. Ten years after White Zombie was made, Madge was charged with assault with a deadly weapon in San Francisco, where she had stalked former lover, Albert Murphy, and fired 3 shots at him with a .32 caliber revolver.
“I only winged him, which is what I meant to do,” she reportedly said. “Believe me, I am a crack shot.”
So, the highly sensible Dr. Bruner manages to corral drunk and depressed Neil after his bride “dies” in his arms, and helps him infiltrate Murder’s castle. Beaumont regrets turning Madeleine into a zombie and does some very dramatic things to atone for his sins, after nearly being turned into a zombie himself, of course. There is a lot of shuffling, shadow painting, hand grasping, and swooning. The acting is mostly terrible (a complaint that even the just-post-silent-era critics made), but there are some pretty sweet n’ spooky eyeballs going on, which I think makes it totally worthwhile.
THE BEER: Einstok Icelandic White Ale
5.2 % ABV
Oh the delight that is Einstok Beer Company. I have a hard time not completely flipping out over how much I love this stuff. Over the past month or so this brewery’s epic yet understated beauties have been popping up on my radar from Scotland to my beloved hometown bottle shop. The Icelandic White Ale, however, was the one that started it all for me. A white ale with a very VERY light touch of coriander, it is just so clean without any cloying attributes. A smooth ale with just enough of a touch of the obligatory white beer spice and orange peel to keep that lovin’ feeling. Skal!