White Zombie is a 1932 American pre-Code horror film independently produced by Edward Halperin and directed by Victor Halperin. The screenplay by Garnett Weston, based on The Magic Island by William Seabrook, is about a young woman’s transformation into a zombie at the hands of an evil voodoo master. Bela Lugosi stars as the zombie master “Murder” Legendre, with Madge Bellamy appearing as his victim. Other cast members include Joseph Cawthorn, Robert W. Frazer, John Harron, Brandon Hurst, and George Burr MacAnnan.
Large portions of White Zombie were shot on the Universal Studios lot, borrowing many props and scenery from other horror films of the era. The film opened in New York to negative reception, with reviewers criticizing the film’s over-the-top story and weak acting. While the film made a substantial financial profit as an independent feature, it proved less popular than other horror films of the time.
White Zombie is considered the first feature length zombie film, which also gave birth to cinematic voodoo. A sequel, Revolt of the Zombies, opened in 1936. Modern reception to White Zombie has been more positive. Some critics have praised the film’s atmosphere and compared it to the 1940s horror films of Val Lewton, while others still have unfavorable opinions on the quality of the acting.
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