Wednesday, December 31, 2014

White Zombie (1932) The First Zombie Film

White Zombie (1932) was independently produced by brothers Victor Halperin and Edward Halperin with Victor Halperin directing. This Pre-Code horror film is considered to be the first feature length zombie film. The screenplay, by Garnett Weston was based on a book by William Seabrook who was an American journalist, occultist, explorer, traveler, and alleged cannibal.

The film featuring Bela Lugosi and former silent film star Madge Bellamy was shot only in eleven days in March 1932 at the Universal Studios lot and Bronson Canyon. The film was a major accomplishment, produced in the worst year of the Great Depression and at a time when independent film makers found it difficult to find distribution, not to mention profits.

The Halperin brothers, who had no proven track record, needed a named actor to help insure success. They offered Bela Lugosi, who was still enjoying his new found fame from his role as Dracula, a modest salary for a week's work.  It was reported that  Lugosi latter regretted that he had taken the role of "Murder" Legendre for only $800 while the film was a huge box office success.

Author, Kenneth S. Webb’s play "Zombie" opened in New York in February, 1932. The author  sued Edward Halperin and Victor Halperin, the film's producers, for the movie rights. Webb alleged that they had used elements from his play. Fortunately for the Halperins they won the case.

White Zombie (1932) premiered on July 28, 1932 in New York City's Rivoli Theatre. The film was a financial success despite the mixed reviews. Although the zombies portrayed in this film differ greatly from the zombie scene in modern horror stories, White Zombie (1932) started the genre. And while there would be more zombie films to come none would have quite the impact White Zombie (1932) has had.

The film was thought lost until it was rediscovered in the 1960s. It has since gained a cult following among horror fans. Rob Zombie named his first heavy metal band, White Zombie, after the film.

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