Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween Cinema: White Zombie

I'm not a huge fan of horror movies in general. In fact, I haven't even watched the one I'm about to post, although I intend to correct that when I get an hour without kids.

My loyalty in the horror genre is given to H.P. Lovecraft and Manly Wade Wellman, neither of whom makes a very good transition to the screen. The emphasis on the visual in a horror film kind of takes away from any plot or characterization. I know there are serious fans of the genre, but I just can't be one of them.

However, I may make an exception for this "lost classic," which is apparently the very first zombie movie. (Candice, take note!) There doesn't seem to be any brain-eating in it, which suits me dandy. But it has the magnificent Bela Lugosi, only a year after his definitive performance in Dracula and long before his slow decline into Edward Wood travesties.

Most of the cast didn't sound familiar, so I did a little looking around on IMDb. I wonder if this movie should have been called "Curse of the Silver Screen" or something. None of the principals lived long and prospered.

Madge Bellamy was on the downhill side of a very prolific career as a silent film siren. She resurfaced in 1943 to stand trial for shooting the millionaire she was keeping company with. He survived, she get probation, and that was the end of her fame. She died poor and mostly forgotten, just a month before her memoirs were published.

Robert Frazer died at the age of 53 with only a string of forgettable B-films to his credit.

John Harron probably coulda been a contender. His brother's murder in 1920 catapulted him into films, and he hung around with the likes of James Cagney and Pat O'Brien, Hollywood's legendary "Irish Mafia." Johnny did well in the silents, but never got much more than bit parts in talkies. He died of spinal meningitis at the age of 36.

And we all know what happened to Bela Lugosi. The man whose Dracula makes all the others look stale, the hypnotically creepy Hungarian who could mesmerize an audience like a snake stalking a bird, ended up doing humiliating self-parodies to support both himself and his drug habit. He has the sad distinction of finishing his career with the worst movie ever made. Sic transit gloria mundi, I guess.

incidentally, there's a fascinating zombie story here. Apparently they're not just a myth.

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