3 Feb 2016

ZOMBIE FILM RULES - White Zombie (1932)

Every genre has rules, but how well do voodoo zombie films follow the Zombie film rules?

White Zombie (1932) is usually considered to be the first full-length zombie film.  So how does an early voodoo-zombie film stack up against the rules of the later zombie apocalypse films?

The following analysis may contain spoilers for


Madeline Short has come to Haiti to marry Neil Parker, but local plantation owner Mr Beaumont has fallen for her and asks local witch doctor "Murder" Legendre and his zombie slaves to help him win her from Neil.  Legendre's plan - kill Madeline and have her come back as a zombie.

The locals and their crazy ways - to stop a white guy robbing thier graves.
There will be no warning...

"Well, that's a cheerful little introduction for you to our West Indies." ~ Neil Parker.

1a.  Eerie - The film starts with a funeral with a burial in the middle of the road, to stop the bodies being stolen.  There's chanting and stuff, so you know it must be eerie.  Immediately after they meet a creeper and his gang of zombies.  Dr Brunner dismisses zombies as "nonsense and superstition" but warnings the couple to have nothing more to do with Mr Beaumont.
1b.  News - More gossip and superstition than news.
1c.  Sudden - Madeline's death is sudden.

You could wear this to the shops these days.
There may be sex and nudity.

"Humph, do you think she will forget her lover in a month?" ~ "Murder" Legendre.

2a.  Nudity - Madeline Short is shown in her underwear.  Yeah, it's not nudity, but in the early days of the Hays Code this was fairly risqué and was the scene was removed from some prints.  There's also a candle carved into a possibly nude version of Madeline, but it's not clear.
2b.  Sex - Underwear and candle carvings are all we got for nudity, you've got to know there was no sex.

The first hit is free.
Unknown cause.

"Only a pin point, Monsieur. In a flower or perhaps a glass of wine." ~ "Murder" Legendre.

3a.  Unknown origin - The origin of the zombies is clearly shown - the voodoo of "Murder" Legendre.  However, it is ambiguous as to whether they are raised from the dead by his ritual or the poison he uses simply fakes their death for later "resurrection."  Whichever it is, he does seem to have some sort of mental powers to control the zombies.
3b.  Vague hints - Directly show, but as noted there's some ambiguity.
3c.  The originators - "Murder" Legendre is the voodoo practitioner who brings back dead individuals as zombies.  For Madeline, Mr Beaumont is his accomplice.

There's always that one zombie who doesn't pitch in.
The Living Dead.

"They are not men, monsieur.  They are dead bodies." ~ Coachman.
"Dead?"  ~ Neil Parker.
"Yes, monsieur.  Zombies!  The Living Dead.  Corpses taken from their grave or made to work in sugar mills or fields at night.  Look!  Here they come!" ~ Coachman.

4a.  Dead - Dr Brunner theorises that although superstition is that zombies are dead, that they are alive in everything but mind and heart (soul).  Neil shoots one in the chest and it keeps coming, although that could possibly be because he's so deeply hypnotic controlled he doesn't react to the serious injury, being the resurrected dead seems more likely.  However, Madeline seems cured once Legendre dies, which is less likely is she was the walking dead (collapse and proper death seem more likely.)
4b.  Rising from the grave - Does not occur, it is implied and shown that Legendre steals the bodies from their graves to use them.
4c.  Instant decay - The zombies look pale and a bit gaunt (mostly) and chalky.  Madeline is just pale.  Some, limited, decay may have occured to the others, she is just more recent.
4d.  Origin - Supernatural or drugs.  Supernatural events certainly occur.
4e.  Spread - Seemingly only spread via poisoning and ritual.
4f.  Rudimentary IQ - Seem to have no will or mind of their own, but able to follow simple instructions, up to operating a coach to pick someone up and bring them back to their master and piano playing, although it is shpwn to be some sort of mental control.  Without mental control they do tend to walk off cliffs.
4g.  Rudimentary speech - No speech.
4h.  Lost memory - One of the maids thinks zombie-Madeline may be remembering something, but the other states that they never remember.  Zombie-Madeline does seem to struggle against the idea of stabbing Neil and later.  She seems completely cured when Legendre dies.
4i.  Slow/Shambling - Slow delibrate walking.
4j.  Swarms - They are shown working and acting in groups, but only because that's what they're instructed to do.
4k.  Stealth zombies - They're pretty quiet, but they don't really sneak up on anyone.  The only character who does is one dying of the poison that makes zombies.
4l.  Feeding - The zombies are not shown to eat.
4m.  Destroy the brains - Shots to the chest do nothing to slow the advancing zombies down.  Shots towards the ground around the zombies' feet are likewise ineffective.
4n.  Exploding heads - No shots to the brain.  Probably wouldn't have shown it anyway.
4o.  The Z Word - They are refered to as "zombies" about 4 times, and "the living dead" three times (although two of those are indirectly to describe a location).  They are also described as "corpses" about three times and "dead bodies" twice.  Legendre refers to them as "men," which is answered with a questioning "men?"

Surprisingly only one of the men in this image is supposed to be the creepy one.
The Living

"Surely you don't think she's alive, in the hands of natives. Oh no! Better dead than that." ~ Neil Parker.

5a.  Individuals - It is really about individuals.
5b.  Group of survivors - No survivor group forms, as it isn't really a zombie apocalypse.
5c.  Characters - The main group will include:
  • The hero - Neil Parker, but barely.
  • The heroine - Madeline Short Parker.
  • The bossy guy - Mr Beaumont, a plantation owner who's decided he wants Madeline at any cost.
  • Bossy guy's female companion - None.
  • The secondary hero - Dr Brunner, a priest.
  • The weepy girl - None.
  • Child - None.
  • The crazy guy - Possibly Pierre the old witch doctor.
  • Unbeliever - Dr Brunner.
  • The gang leader - Not really, but as the bad guy, "Murder" Legendre.
5d.  Man is the real monster - Yes, Legendre is using the black arts to kill and control people who go against him.  Mr Beaumont is willing to go to a guy called "Murder" to win the affections of a woman he finds beautiful.
5e.  Steep learning curve - After a first stomach shot, Neil never gets past the shooting at thier feet stage..
5f.  Final Girl and Final Guy - Neil and Madeline, and Brunner and other survive.

Back to a cliff edge, surrounded by zombies... in those pants.


"I thought that beauty alone would satisfy. But the soul is gone. I can't bear those empty, staring eyes." ~ Mr Beaumont.

6a.  Standing around talking for no reason when endangered - Seemingly more by the villains than the heroes but not even much of that.  Neil and Dr Brunner do faun over a partial zombie-Madeline giving Legendre time to survive.
6b.  Grieving - A big grieving section, but no endangerment at the time.
6c.  Making accidental noises - N/A.
6d.  Being unable to smell decaying flesh - May not be applicable.
6e.  Engaging hand-to-hand combat with zombies - Silver, Mr Beaumont's butler is hypnotised before he is grabbed.  Neil Parker, dodges around them.  No real hand-to-hand occurs between people and zombies.
6f.  Hiding secret bite - N/A.
6g. Unwilling to kill the bitten - N/A.
6h.  Unwilling to kill the undead - Neil was fine shooting the zombies (and was pretty convinced they were by that stage.)  He didn't try to kill Madeline, but he was collapsed through exhaustion when she tried to kill him.
6i.  In-fighting - Only infighting was by the villains.
6j.  Fighting at all - N/A.
6k.  Having sex - N/A.
6l.  Being cowardly - The coachman is superstitious and afraid and accused of driving the coach in a unsafe manner but he doesn't run off in a cowardly mannner.
6m.  Betraying the group - N/A.
6n.  Going anywhere they shouldn't go in a slasher film

  • Down to the Basement - More the outside of the castle, but dangerous.
  • Upstairs - Into the castle: dangerous.
  • For a Shower - No showering.  Madeline's underwear scene is, adjusted for inflation, the equivalent and, although turned, she survives and becomes alive again.
  • Into old sheds or out buildings - Perhaps Madeline's crypt, but no danger.
  • Running off to the “safety” of the forest - N/A.
  • Anywhere alone - Neil runs to find Madeline alone and is endangered when he collapses from exhaustion.
  • Anywhere Remote, Isolated or Confined - Lots of those places, some danger.
  • Any Old, Abandoned or Presumably Haunted Buildings - The evil castle, which one person calls the "house of the living dead" and another said is in a mountain called the "land of the living dead."
6o.  Relying on anything they shouldn't in rely on a slasher film
  • Communications devices - N/A
  • Lighting - Mostly candles and they seem OK... when not being sculpted into voodoo dolls
  • Vehicular Transport - Carriages, seemed fine.
  • Their Own Legs - Neil's exhausted collapse counts.
  • The Authorities – Dr Brunner claims the local authorities are afraid to meddle.  Some of Legendre's zombies are local authorities who crossed him.  The go to people are a priest and a witch doctor he knows (it should be noted that another witch doctor was Legendre's teacher and one of his zombie victims.)
  • Weapons – Neil used his gun ineffectively.
  • Escape Routes - N/A.
6p.  Being over-confident - Only the villain.
6q.  Making a plan that is too complex - No plan.
6r.  Making a plan - No plan.
6s.  Assume they're safe - Only the villain.
6t.  Be happy - Applies to the wedding dinner and resulting death.
6u.  Just one last thing - No supply runs.
6v.  Never assume anyone or anything is dead - Didn't come up.

Madeline's tomb.  Or a badly placed door.  Not sure which.

Standard Plot

"Madeline and I planned to be married  the moment she arrived, but Mr. Beaumont persuaded us to come here. And he promised  to take me out of the bank at Port-au-Prince 
and send me to New York as his agent." ~ Neil Parker.

7a.  Normal life - Brief but established that the soon-to-be Mr & Mrs Parker have and are planning one.
7b.  Sudden outbreak - No outbreak and Legendre already has zombies.
7c.  Meetings - A few, mostly involving Dr Brunner and Neil.
7d.  Civilisation will collapse - No collapse of civilisation, although Neil acted out a little while grieving.
7e.  Looting becomes scavenging - N/A.
7f.  Gangs/bandits/cannibals - N/A.
7g.  Finding a place to hole up - N/A
7h.  Avoiding contecting to people - N/A.
7i.  Suicidal - Possibly Neil.
7j.  Undead loved-ones - Really the center of the plot.
7k.  Mindless sacrifice - Seemingly Mr Beaumont who falls to his death immediately after Legendre for little reason.
7l.  Limited food/water/bullets - Runs out of bullets.
7m.  Escape from a place - N/A.
7n.  Armoured vehicle - N/A.
7o.  Don't let me turn/save a bullet - N/A.
7p.  Injury - Does not happen.
7q.  Heroic sacrifice - Does not happen, unless you count Mr Beaumont.
7r.  Death of the last survivor - Many survivors.

Importantly zombies don't join unions.
There will be social commentary

"They work faithfully, and they are not worried about long hours. You, you can make good use of men like mine on your plantation." ~ "Murder" Legendre.

8a.  We are already zombies - Not really covered.  Perhaps the mill worker zombies as a metaphor for workers, but the main characters are plantation owners, priests and bankers, so not the "we."
8b.  Consumerism - No covered.
8c.  Racism - A 1932 movie set in Haiti.  The blacks are portrayed as superstitious.  Not so much as social commentary as the film being imperialistic.
8d.  Working together - Not covered.
8e.  Man is the real monster - With Mr Beaumont and especially Legendre, yes.
8f.  Zombies are people, too - The beautiful zombie-Madeline, yes, the others, not so much.
8g.  Other - Perhaps slavery.  The mostly black zombies work in mills and fields in slave-like conditions.

Now kiss.  Oh, right, they do.


There is no happily ending

"Madeline, don’t you know me dear? It’s Neil." ~ Unknown character.
"I could swear, for a moment she recognized you." ~ Dr. Bruner.

9a.  Downer ending - Seems happy enough, all the villains and other zombies are dead and Madeline seems to be revived.  Dr Brunner does need a match, but doesn't seem upset that he doesn't have one.

9b.  Sudden end - Madeline says she dreamed, Dr Brunner asks for a match.  Bam.  Done.
9c.  Disaster porn - No disaster.
9d.  No cure - Legendre dying seemed to cure the zombism.  Which is unfortunate for the 6 zombies who fell off a cliff moments before Legendre did.  I assume.

Sequel to "White Zombie" Just a film with zombie in the title.
RULE #10

"I suppose you’ll think I’m a meddling old fool, but, you know, I’d feel a good deal better if you’d clear out of this place after you’re married, and have nothing more to do with Mr. Beaumont." ~ Dr Brunner.

10a.  Sequels - Indirect sequel:  Revolt of the Zombies (1936) was made by same director as a loose sequel (and included inserts of Bela Legosi's hypnotic stare from this film.  The financier of White Zombie, however claimed exclusive rights to the word zombie in film titles and the court eventually ruled that Revolt could not be marketed as a sequel.
10b.  Remakes - A 2009 short film with the same name based on the same book exists, and a couple of remakes stuck in development hell.
10c.  Adaptations - Credited as an adaptation of William Seabrook's "The Magic Island" but influenced by the (also Seabrook inspired) 1932 stage play "Zombie."

Nobody likes hypnotoad...  Nobody likes hypnotoad...


  • Rules that are followed in this film:  1, 2 (for the time).
  • Rules that are partially followed, or not clear, in this film:  3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10.
  • Rules not followed by the film:  7. 9.
~ DUG.
He's really upset they have better pants.
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