Charles Beaumont is a bad man, despite what he wants his guests to think. He's invited his new friends Neil and Madeleine to his manse outside Port au Prince, not to offer them a lovely place to wed, but to woo the girl for himself.
When his attempts at charm Madeleine fail, Beaumont becomes desperate. That desperation leads him to a local sugar tycoon named Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi). Anyone named Murder can't be too scrupulous, and when Beaumont visits Legendre's mill he finds it staffed entirely by zombies. Instead of fleeing to the safety of daylight and sanity, Beaumont succumbs to Legendre's offer.
If Beaumont (Robert Frazier) wants Madeleine as his betrothed, unquestioning, servile, all he has to do is turn her into a zombie, just like those working the sugar mill. So, on her wedding night, Madeleine raises a toast to her new husband, sips her wine and a little drop of poison, and falls into a stupor. Neil (John Harron) is shattered, but the bride is laid to rest, only Beaumont and Legendre knowing the truth.
Later, Beaumont and Legendre return to her tomb to steal her body. Legendre reveals how all his foes, his competitors, those who crossed him, are now his slaves. Still, it seems, Beaumont doesn't realize his made a deal with the devil. When he discovers Madeleine the zombie isn't anything like Madeleine the woman, he begs Legendre to reverse his curse.
Unfortunately, Legendre has taken a liking to Madeleine too. He just needs to get Beaumont out of the way, just like he's got all the others out of his way. Of course, he wasn't counting on poor, distraught Neil interfering.
Reportedly made on a shoestring budget in under two weeks, White Zombie is an impressive film. It's moody, atmospheric, with great sets and spooky zombies (the scene in the mill is quite unsettling). And Lugosi turns in one of his great performances.
Directed by Victor Halperin • Unrated • 1932 • 70 minutes