The Horror Honeys: HSM: Voodoo ~ The original zombie architect

HSM: Voodoo ~ The original zombie architect

A Honey Switch Month List with Zombie Honey Suzanne

“Let me live 'neath your spell
Do do that voodoo that you do so well
'Cause you do something to me
That nobody else could do”

Modern films and television shows depict zombie creation as a result of a virus or genetic anomaly. This is likely due to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which established the criteria; i.e., reanimated corpses wander aimlessly, usually in hoards, in search of food, creating new zombies by the transfer of the virus from scratching or biting. Since NOTLD’s release in 1968, there have been very few films that don’t follow this format to some degree.

The true origins of this creature, however, began in Haitian folklore. In the practice of Voodoo (Vodou), zombies are created to serve a master. How they serve, good or evil, depends on the master. In doing a bit of research, there are only a handful of films showcasing voodoo as a catalyst, and most of them, you’ve probably never heard of. Limits in savagery and gore are most likely the reasons they aren’t well-known, but there are a few you should fold in to your zombie repertoire. 

White Zombie (1932)

Bela Lugosi is best known for his portrayal of Dracula in the 1931 Universal film. A year later he took on a different kind of monster, starring as Murder Legendre, a witch doctor of sorts. He uses potions and powders to create a staff of zombies to run his sugar mill in Haiti. A local plantation owner seeks Legendre’s help to obtain the affection of an already engaged young woman, but the plan backfires and she becomes an emotionless zombie. Legendre refuses to turn her back and instead, plans to add her and her new master to his cache of zombies. There isn’t anything remarkable about White Zombie. It’s stiff and slow, but it does have the honor of being the first feature-length zombie film. White Zombie is available on DVD, BD, and is streaming on Amazon Prime. It’s also a public domain film and you can watch it on YouTube rather than spending the money.

I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

From producer Val Lewton, I Walked With a Zombie is one of my favorite classic horror films. A young nurse, Betsy Connell (Frances Dee), travels to a Caribbean island to care for the ailing wife of a plantation owner. Although Betsy begins to fall for her employer, she vows to do everything she can to cure his wife. Prompted by a maid to seek treatment from a voodoo priest, Betsy takes her catatonic patient to a voodoo ritual where it is determined she is a zombie. I Walked With a Zombie is stylish and atmospheric. There is some ambiguity as to whether or not the ailment is actually a result of voodoo or a genuine illness, which adds to the intrigue of the film. This film is available on some rather expensive DVD collections, but it also pops up on Turner Classics a lot, especially during October.

The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

What list of mine would be complete without a Hammer film? When a mysterious plague starts killing off the people of a small town, a local doctor discovers a Squire is using black magic and voodoo to kill off and then reanimate the townspeople. The Plague of the Zombies is everything you expect from Hammer, from fantastic production design to the beautiful use of color and very well acted. It’s an obvious influence on Romero and it’s one of Hammer’s best, most underrated films. Unfortunately, it’s the only zombie film ever put out by the studio. It is available on DVD and BD.

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

The 80s saw its fair share of zombie films, but this one is a little different. Sadly, it gets so little love and I’m baffled as to why. Scientist, Dr. Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman), travels to Haiti in search of a drug used to bring a man, dead nearly ten years, back to life. He finds himself immersed in danger from both the Haitian revolution and voodoo practitioners. Wes Craven delivers a solid film with wonderful imagery. While it may not be a full-fledged horror film, it certainly has a fair amount of horror elements, along with social and political aspects. Terribly underrated, it’s one of Craven’s best films. The Serpent and the Rainbow is an original take on the zombie films of the time period and it deserves a watch if you haven’t experienced it. It’s available on DVD, BD, and rental on Amazon Instant Video.

Deadly viruses and the eating of flesh have given us years of great entertainment, but these days, zombie movies have become over the top silly. Maybe it’s time we got back to basics and tried a little of that old black magic to shake things up a bit.

Have you fallen under the zombie spell?
Tell Suzanne on Twitter: @suzebee04