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Old-School Horror Pick: White Zombie

By Max Nelson

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(Kino, $29.95)

White Zombie 1932

The zombie of the title is of the pre-Romero breed: an American woman honeymooning in Haiti, poisoned by a jealous admirer, and re-animated with a dose of voodoo magic. Certain aspects of Victor Halperin’s 1932 film—the alternately trancelike and hysterical performances, the willful lack of shot-to-shot continuity, the curled eyebrows and forked goatee of Bela Lugosi’s witch doctor—threaten to reduce the film to camp but end up contributing to its dreamlike, dread-soaked atmosphere. In one sequence a factory is manned through the night by undead Haitian workers; in another, the zombified bride plays piano in a cavernous mansion and stares vacantly into space as her captor searches her eyes for signs of life. “I thought that beauty alone would satisfy,” he soliloquizes, “but the soul is gone.” The premise might be the stuff of legend, but the true monsters—forced subjugation, enslavement, and erotic obsession—are very real.

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