Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

White Zombie (1932)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

White Zombie (1932)

Director Victor Halperin's independent 69 minute film was the grand-daddy of all modern-day zombie films of the sound era - the first 'true' zombie film, although dated; it was deliberately made with minimal dialogue, and filmed to be visually atmospheric and expressionistic; this was Bela Lugosi's follow-up film to Dracula (1931), and his second most important movie role.

The low-budget film was the archetype and model for many subsequent zombie movies. It included the first portrayal of zombies on the screen. Early on within the setting of a Caribbean island, they were seen as an 'army' of catatonic, sugar-mill plantation slaves, commanded by a evil voodoo practitioner (Lugosi), a white sorcerer-master.

Taglines included: "The Dead Walk Among Us!", "See Them Dug From the Grave and Put to Work as Slaves to Murder!", and "With These Zombie Eyes, he rendered her powerless. With This Zombie Grip, he made her perform his every desire!" It was followed by Halperin's sequel Revolt of the Zombies (1936):

  • an American couple in Haiti (the West Indies), bank employee Neil Parker (John Harron) and his fiancee Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy) were on their way to a plantation; they passed a funeral burial by the roadside and were informed by their black coachman that the dead were buried there in anticipation that passers-by would prevent the body from being exhumed and transformed into a zombie: ("They are afraid of the men who steal dead bodies. So they dig the grave in the middle of the road where people pass all the time")
  • also by the side of the road, they encountered the white sorcerer-master of the Haitian sugar mill, evil voodoo master "Murder" Legendre (Béla Lugosi), who had stocked the plantation with an army of workers - hollow-eyed, stiff-walking zombies under his voodoo spell; while staring at Madeline in the coach, he snatched her scarf as they drove off

Legendre Staring at Madeline in Coach

Legendre's Stare (in close-up)

First View of Legendre's Zombies
  • the coachman described the "zombies" - "They are not men, Monsieur, they are dead bodies...Zombies. The living dead. Corpses taken from their graves who are made to work in sugar mills and fields at nights"
  • Neil and Madeline first spoke to missionary preacher Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn) at the estate, who was skeptical about reports of zombies: "Haiti is full of nonsense and superstition"; they also met their host - wealthy planter and plantation owner Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer), who had invited the couple to hold their wedding at his estate that evening; Madeline had met him on a ship-voyage from NYC to Port-au-Prince
  • Beaumont revealed himself as the lusting admirer of Madeline: ("You don't seem to realize what this girl means to me. Why, I'd sacrifice anything I have in the world for her. Nothing matters if I can't have her"), but his unrequited love was rebuffed by her plans to marry Neil; with no other alternative, jealous Beaumont had a dangerous plan
  • a zombie coachman drove Beaumont to meet with Legendre; before meeting Legendre, Beaumont watched in horror as sullen, 'living dead' zombie workers toiled at the sugar mill; Beaumont's objective was to hire the witch-doctor to use a potion to temporarily (for a month) turn Madeline into a zombie, and to have Neil unable to marry her; but Legendre claimed to Beaumont that Madeline would never love him: "Do you think she will forget her lover in a month?...Not in a month. Not even a year, Monsieur. I looked into her eyes. She is deep in love. But not with you!"; however Beaumont insisted, and was given a potion in a glass vial with specific directions: "Only a pin point, Monsieur Beaumont, in a glass of wine or perhaps a flower"
  • as Beaumont brought Madeline down the stairs for her marriage ceremony that evening, he professed his love to her: "I love you, Madeline, more than anything else in this whole world, dear. Heaven or hell lies in this little moment for me. You could raise me up to paradise or you could blast my world into nothingness. I can make you the envy of every woman. I'd give my life to make you happy!" - but she refused to elope with him ("Don't spoil everything now"); he gave her one "last gift" - a red rose (she unsuspectingly smelled the 'zombie' voodoo potion sprinkled onto it)
  • after the ceremony was performed, newly-wed Madeline offered a toast; as she looked into her goblet, she saw the image of Legendre reflected in the liquid: "I see Death"; then, she apparently fell faint in Neil's arms, was pronounced dead, and was buried in a tomb; Beaumont's hope was that after she was declared legally dead, Neil would return to the US as Beaumont's NY bank agent

Madeline's "Death"
Madeline Giving a Toast: "I see Death"

Drunken Neil's Ghostly Apparition of Madeline

Madeline's Half-Open Coffin Removed From Tomb

Neil at the Open and Empty Tomb
  • in a bar, drunken, depressed and grief-stricken, Neil experienced ghostly apparitions of Madeleine; meanwhile, Charles and Legendre secretly removed Madeline's coffin from her tomb
  • shortly later, Neil went to the tomb, where he found it both open and empty; he assumed the body was stolen; according to Dr. Bruner, there were two possible explanations: "Either the body was stolen by the members of a death cult that use human bones in their ceremonies, or else... She's not dead" - she was possibly still alive, and that Beaumont and/or Legendre had plotted her 'death': "The use of drugs or other practices which produce lethargic coma, or lifeless sleep"; he suspected something very sinister: "Before we get through with this thing, we may uncover sins that even the devil would be ashamed of"
  • at his fortified, cliff-side castle, Legendre had revived Madeline as a lifeless, unresponsive, dead-eyed zombie, so that Charles could romance her; however, Charles soon became regretful of his evil deed: ("I was mad to do this, but if you had smiled on me, I'd have done anything for you. Given you anything. I thought that beauty alone would satisfy, but the soul is gone. I cant bear those empty staring eyes. Oh, forgive me. Madeline. Forgive me! I can't bear it any longer. I must take you back")
  • due to Legendre's own dark plans, Beaumont was also transformed into a semi-zombie figure after drinking a drugged glass of wine; Legendre explained his motives: "I have other plans for Mademoiselle. And I am afraid you might not agree"; Beaumont was then made a mute captive in Legendre's castle
  • Neil joined with Dr. Bruner to help him rescue Madeline from the castle; they camped out on the beach below Legendre's fortress where it was feared because "a cloud of vultures always hovers over the house of the living dead"
  • after Bruner and Neil entered the castle separately, an entranced Madeline (after a long panning shot into a closeup of Legendre's face) was summoned from her quarters to silently kill Neil; she approached Neil's collapsed body with a knife to stab him to death, but was saved by Bruner; she dropped the knife and approached the cliffside, where the revived Neil saved her from suicidally throwing herself off; he then asked her: "It's I, Neil. Oh my darling, what have they done to you?" - but she didn't recognize him

Entranced Madeline About to Stab Neil

Madeline Saved From Suicide by Neil

Neil Confronting Zombies With A Gun
  • Bruner and Neil battled Legendre and his threatening zombie guards - although Neil's gunshots didn't stop them; during the violent confrontation, a repentant Charles broke through the voodoo spell he was under and knocked out Legendre from behind, thereby weakening the zombie horde; one by one, the zombies staggered over to the cliffside and walked off to their deaths far below on the beach
  • Legendre revived and regained his supernatural powers, but as he struggled against Charles, Charles was able to push him off the fortress to his death below - and then fell to his own death after him
  • after their deaths, Madeline was released from her zombie state, recognized her loving husband Neil, and returned to his arms
Madeline and Neil Reunited

Neil Parker and Madeline Short in a Carriage On Their Way to a Plantation To Be Married

Missionary preacher Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn)

Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer)

Legendre's Zombie Coachman

Zombies Working at Legendre's Sugar Mill

Legendre at Mill With Beaumont

Madeline in Underwear Preparing for Wedding - Pre-Code

Beaumont Professing His Love For Madeline Before Marriage Ceremony

Madeline Smelling the Evil Potion Before Her Marriage

Madeline as a Revived Zombie

Legendre With Zombified Madeline

Long Panning Shot into Legendre's Face As He Entranced and Commanded Madeline to Stab Neil to Death

Charles' Push To Send Legendre To His Death Off The Side of the Castle


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