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A Year: Day to Day Men: 28th of July, Solar Year 2018

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July 28, 1932 was the release date of the film “White Zombie”.

“White Zombie” is a 1932 American pre-Code horror film independently produced by Edward Halperin and directed by Victor Halperin. The zombie theme was inspired by Kenneth Webb’s Broadway play titled “Zombie”. Webb sued the Halperin brothers for copyright infringement, but lost the case because the screenplay was not based upon his play. The film went into development in early 1932 with the hopes to cash in on the country’s interest in voodoo at that time.

“White Zombie” was filmed in only eleven days in March of 1932 at the Universal Studios lot. Bela Lugosi, who was very popular at the time due to his role as Dracula, starred as the white Haitian voodoo master who turns actress Madge Ballamy, the film’s damsel in distress, into a zombie. Except for the addition of film star Joseph Cawthorn, the majority of the cast were silent film stars whose fame had diminished.

The music of “White Zombie” started with “Chant”, a composition of wordless vocals and drumming created by Guy Bevier Williams, a specialist in ethnic music who worked with Universal Studios. The music of the film was supervised by Abe Meyer, who had orchestras record new versions of works by Wagner, Liszt, Mussorgsky, and other symphonic composers. A piece of music expressly written for the bar room scene in “White Zombie” was a Spanish jota by arranger and band leader Xavier Cugat.

“White Zombie” was released in July of 1932 at the Rivoli Theater in New York City to many critical reviews. Most of the unfavorable reviews focused on the poor silent-era style acting, the stilted dialogue, and a story line that many found comedic instead of dramatic. Harrison’s Reports, a New York City-based motion picture trade journal, wrote that it was not up to the standards of “Dracula” and “Frankenstein”. When it was released in the United Kingdom, the film received the review of “not for the squeamish or the highly intelligent”.

The film “White Zombie”, despite the mixed box office reception and reviews, was a great financial success for an independent film at that time. Later in 1933 and 1934, the film had positive box numbers in small towns, as well as in foreign countries. “White Zombie” was one of the few American horror films approved by the Nazi party in Germany.

“White Zombie” is considered to be the first feature length zombie film and has been described as the archetype and model of all Zombie movies. Although not many early horror films followed the film’s Haitian origins style, other 1930s films borrowed themes of the zombie mythology, such as the blank-eyed stares, the voodoo drums, and zombies performing manual labor. This film, although now considered by some as a classic horror film, was not nominated for any Academy Awards.

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