Monday, October 12, 2009

At the Piano by the Sea

White Zombie (1932)
directed by Victor Halperin
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on TCM at Syl's

Everything great about White Zombie begins in the opening scene: a couple travels by carriage through Haiti and is stopped after dark by a funeral procession burying a body in the middle of the road. The middle of a highway is the only place a body is safe from sorcery; the carriage passes towards its destination, where the couple unloads their bags and heads towards the house of their host. Meanwhile, the driver has noticed movement on the hill behind them. "Zombies!" he warns, and hurries home.

I like the idea that zombies roam the countryside but shy from any encounter they cannot win unless in number. It makes them more like leopards - fearful things that emerge after sunset, things that can be avoided if only one is careful where one goes after dark. The couple, of course, is fated for a different end, a third man having fallen so desperately in love with the woman that he is willing to do anything to satisfy the fever pitch of his obsession. Lugosi - alias Murder Legendre - enters the picture, the young man takes a tour of a sugar plantation run by the undead, and nothing after that is ever quite as effective as the sights and sounds that came before. Well, except for a cemetery like the aftermath of a mudslide, swelled and scattered across the dark face of a hill.

To be watched late at night, when the considerable ordinary seems less so, or not at all.