Starring: Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorne, John Harron
DIR: Victor Halperin
Blurb: A Haitian plantation owner convinces his young friends to wed at his residence, hoping he can use the opportunity to lure the woman away from her fiance. When this ploy fails, he turns to the help of a local mill operator, hoping the man can use his voodoo knowledge to make the woman his slave.
My Note: The screen caps will be problematic on this one, but I've heard so many good things about this film, I want to watch/review it now. But this is off of a bargain disc, and it shows.
Scene 01: We open with voodoo drums and some activity under the title. Singing is added by our people, who are filling in a grave with fresh soil. While the drums and singing continue, our focus cuts away...
Scene 02:... to a carriage carrying a young couple. He appears to be wearing as much lipstick as she is (not that there is something wrong with that). These are Neil and Madeline Parker, and Neil's attention is caught by the Haitian's singing and drum beating.
The carriage must come to a stop, as it appears the Haitians are burying somebody right in the roadway. The carriage driver explains to Madeline that the people are burying the deceased in the roadway because they fear a rash of grave robbing. The locals figure that if they bury their dead in a roadway, where there is more traffic, perhaps the dead will remain undisturbed.
The locals stand out of the way to allow the carriage to continue on its way over the half-filled grave, before continuing their task once the couple have passed. In the carriage, Madeline is disturbed, but also a bit amused - especially with Neil's making light of the strange custom.
Scene 03: As the carriage continues to carry our couple, a pair of floating eyes remote watches them.
Scene 04: Our carriage comes to a stop by a man on the road, with the driver asking after the residence of a Mr. Beaumont.
Our man chooses not to answer, but instead gives Madeline a once-over with his oddly intense stare, sending a chill of fright through her immediately. [But, I'm sure it'll be fine.]
Down the hillside behind our stranger, comes a group of men with odd countenance. The carriage driver immediately calls them zombies and starts to freak out. He's not about to stay around, and whips the horses to flee. In the meantime, our sinister stranger grabs hold of Madeline's scarf and pulls it out of the carriage as it dashes away.
Scene 05: Our sinister stranger smiles at the fleeing carriage with some amusement as he fingers the scarf he snatched. [I'll just tell you now, this is Murder Legendre himself.]
Commentary: Okay, so with this opening, there are a few things. One, we're going to have to show a little forebearance with the acting. As an early talkie motion picture, we're dealing with actors who are still playing to the back row of the theatre, so some of the facial acting is... overdone. Both Madge and John are guilty as Madeline and Neil. The other thing is that this initial meeting with Legendre is so odd and disconcerting, that I'm having trouble believing that our couple don't have him immediately pegged as a bad guy. I mean, he's blatantly acting like a creeper right out of the gate.
Scene 06: In the carriage, Madeline is still rubbing at her throat where the scarf was tore away from her, while Neil is looking frightened himself over this strange encounter on the road in the dark. The driver continues to allow the horses free reign to roughly rush them through the night.
Our stranger walks off, being followed by his retinue of zombie-men.
Commentary: Hmmm. Okay, maybe a few too many cuts back to Madeline being held by Neil while Murder is walking far behind them. I think we get it, Victor. The couple is now deeply unsettled and Murder is creepy.
Scene 07: By the time that the carriage driver finds Mr. Beaumont's, Neil has settled down. He berates our driver for being so reckless on the road. But the driver tells him risking an accident was better than being caught. He fills Neil and Madeline in on the strange-gaited men that were coming toward the carriage. Driver tells our couple that they were corpses taken from their graves to work the sugar mill and fields at night, and if they'd been caught by them, they could've been forced to join them. He calls them the undead, which obvs seems an outrageous claim.
The Driver points up a hillside, where men are seen walking to who-knows-where. Before Neil can get his head around what they've been told, Driver gets back on the carriage seat and whips the horses to leave Beaumont's.
From out of the dark, Madeline spots someone walking toward Beaumont's estate. This will be revealed to be Dr. Bruner. He apologizes for frightening them, but Neil tells him about the odd experience on the road and what their driver claimed about the silent men. Dr. Bruner doesn't immediately poo-poo what he's been told, to Neil's surprise.
Doctor Bruner assures Neil that he doesn't believe such supernatural balderdash, but he's been there for 30 years and he knows the island folk are full of superstitions and backward beliefs, despite his trying to missionary them.
From the Beaumont place, a butler comes out to invite the loiterers inside.
Commentary: This scene is also pretty weird as far as setting up the plot. If the Haitians already know that their loved ones are being grave-nabbed, and they know they're being reanimated, and they know they're being enslaved, and they know where they're being forced to labor... WHAT THE HELL IS ANYONE DOING ABOUT THIS OUTRAGE?? I don't understand how the locals have all of this knowledge, and yet the mill hasn't been burned to the ground and the owner and supervisors haven't been brutally murdered. This set up is not well scripted.
Scene 08: As it turns out, Dr. Bruner (let's call him Joseph) is a Minister and doctor of theology, and had been summoned to the Beaumont residence because Charles wants to arrange a wedding ceremony. He guesses that this couple is the groom and bride-to-be that he's marrying.
[Joseph] asks after how the couple know Charles, and Madeline explains that she met him on the boat from New York, where she was meeting her betrothed. Neil, who works in Port-au-Prince in banking, explains that Charles has promised to send him to New York as his agent, once the wedding takes place, so that he and Madeline can start their new life. All of this strikes Joseph as odd. He explains that he's only met Charles once or twice himself, as the man keeps to himself. He didn't strike him as the sort who'd have a wedding for virtual strangers at his estate.
Now, during all of this, Butler is surreptitiously listening in on the conversation, when he's supposed to be going upstairs to fetch the master of the house.
When there is a lull in the conversation, Butler goes to fetch his employer. In the meantime, Dr. Bruner is clearly bothered by the unusualness of the couple's invite to the estate. He checks that Butler has, in fact, gone upstairs before sharing that he thinks the young couple should leave immediately after the ceremony and cut ties with Charles Beaumont.
Scene 09: Upstairs, Butler informs Charles that his guests have arrived. At first, Charles tells Butler to tell the others that he's gone out and to show them to their rooms. But then he thinks better of it, suggesting that it may look odd if he wasn't there to greet them. Butler agrees it would appear odd for them not to be greeted upon their arrival.
Butler shares that this is especially true of Dr. Bruner, who Butler shares has doubts about Mr. Beaumont's motives. Charles inquires if there has been a response from someone unnamed, but Butler informs him no word has come, yet.
Scene 10: In the reception hall, Charles puts on smiles to greet his guests, putting extra emphasis on holding Madeline's hands, suggesting a reason for his - according to Dr. Bruner - uncharacteristically generous offer to host their nuptuals.
He suggests they must be tired after the carriage ride from the capital, and has Butler show them to their rooms upstairs.
Scene 11: It's just as well, since a new person arrives by carriage out front of the Beaumont plantation. A knock on the door causes Butler and Charles to share significant glances and nods with one another over the other guests' heads.
Scene 12: Upstairs, Neil wanders the generously large suite. He ends up on the balcony, just in time to see Charles getting into a waiting carriage. He's taken aback by something he sees, and so does Charles.
We soon see that the driver of this carriage has the countenance of the entranced and severely pale.
Neil hears footsteps on another balcony, but we leave the scene before we know who is also out.
Commentary: I liked this scene for the response from Charles, who you'd think would be expecting a zombie to retrieve him, since he's clearly going to be dealing with Murder. And the long hold on the actor playing the zombie was nicely done to give us a good look at the uncanny valley-ness of the unresponsive driver. I also liked the severe, downturned grimace worn by the 'corpse'. The only thing, though, and I know we have to overlook it due to the period - but John Harron is still pantamiming a tad too heavily for the camera as Neil Parker.
Scene 13: Our cutaway leads us to the infamous sugar mill, which is running full tilt despite it being late in the night. Charles is led inside, to his obvious nervousness. As Charles is led into the workspace, he gazes on the silent, shambling workers. There are a group carrying baskets of sugar cane and dumping them into a mill fan, with others walking endlessly in circles to drive the blades to pulp the cane stalks. The constant noise of the groaning equipment and pulping is monotonous and unbroken by any human sounds. No one speaks, for they are naturally all zombies.
As Charles beholds the operation, one of the carriers stumbles against the lip of the core where the cane falls into the blades below. He tumbles into the machinery, and no one stops what they're doing. The slave his ground up, without a sound of protest or suffering.
Charles is mesmorized by the sights, and it takes a clumsy tap by the driver to encourage him to keep walking toward the mill office.
Commentary: This scene was very nicely done. Well, mostly... there is that one zombie who insists on shifting his gaze around, while everyone else is careful to keep a dull, dead gaze straight ahead, but otherwise. The zombie falling down into the griding shaft without a sound was creepy, and the unending sound of the mill grinding away did wear on the nerves quickly. I loved this whole scene, giving Charles the opportunity to back out of whatever he's planning with this Legendre creep.
Scene 14: Charles makes his way across the mill floor, gazing with an apparent growing sense of horror at just what Murder has done to fill the mill with free labor.
When he reaches the back office, Legendre greets him with an outstretched hand, but Charles is either too distracted or too repulsed to take the man's hand. We see Murder clench the outstretched hand into a fist.
Murder sneers at Charles, before quickly putting on a large, 'friendly' smile and inviting him to sit. He offers that Charles would be able to use his type of workforce on his plantation, but Charles tells him that isn't what he's come for. Murder knows that he's there about the young woman, and shares that he saw her on the road earlier that evening. He pulls out her snatched scarf. But when Charles goes to touch it, Murder folds it and puts it away back in his jacket.
The entire time, that awful groaning has been permeating, but it suddenly drops out as Charles turns attention with intensity to his desire. He tells Murder that the marriage is to take place that night, and Legendre has waited too long. Murder asks what Charles wanted him to do about that, exactly. Charles gives him a vague plan that if Madeline could just be made to vanish for a month from Neil's side, she could be made to forget her plans. But Murder wisely tells him that even if he had a year, Madeline wouldn't be able to forget the man that she loves.
Murder seems to be taking an amused delight in Charles' frustration at the thought of Madeline's being married to another, while Charles isn't even trying to hide his desperation that the marriage not happen.
Legendre tells Charles that there is a way for him to have what he wants, but warns the price will be heavy. Charles, foolishly, tells Murder that if he can get him what he wants, he'll give anything in return. Murder stands over Charles, and nods at one of the zombies in the corner, suggesting a course of action to bring Madeline - unprotesting - to his side. Murder leans forward suddenly to whisper something short in Charles' ear, horrifying him.
Charles protests, and Murder relents a little by instead giving him a vial of drug. He tells Beaumont that a small prick of the drug in a glass or on a flower will put Madeline into a cooperative state but each dose won't last long, unlike the original plan. Charles still hesitates and tries to refuse, but Murder 'generously' tells him to keep the vial, as he may change his mind. He stares into Charles eyes with his deep baritone, possibly exercising some sort of influence to ensure that Charles will put himself into Legendre's debt.
Charles does take the vial, but as he's leaving he assures Murder that he'll find another way. Legendre tells him there isn't one to get what he wants.
Commentary: I loved this scene. I was a bit put off by Murder's using the intense eye affect, feeling like the film was trying to give Beaumont a pass on his sickening obsession but the way it ends, it's obvious that Charles has his free will here to let Madeline go, or be a disgusting piece of garbage. The acting was solid, especially - and unshockingly - by Bela Lugosi, and I loved that Murder's first impulse was to suggest simply killing Madeline and resurrecting her as a compliant slave.
This scene is startlingly, emotionally dark, even as they continue to avoid (due to the mores of the time) saying out loud that what Madeline's possible fate will be is sexual slavery and rape. Although, it could also be justified that Charles isn't seeing it in such stark terms - trying to convince himself that he can just get Madeline to fall in love with him eventually, if he can just buy the time to keep her at his side. But it's clear that Legendre isn't engaging in any deception about it.
Somehow, the lack of crassness about the intentions of Charles just makes it worse.
Scene 15: Back at the Beaumont residence, Madeline is readying her wedding gown. The maid with her opens the patio door to the night air, only for the two to hear voodoo drumming from somewhere close by.
Maddy freaks out a bit, and orders the door closed against the drums. Thankfully, the door is a sound absorber.
Scene 16: Skip to the wedding march being played downstairs, as Butler puts the finishing touches on a bouquet of roses.
At the stairs, and leading Madeline down is Charles - acting in the capacity of father-standin to give her away. But giving her away isn't what he wants to do, and he has clearly been trying to talk Maddy out of her nuptuals to her dismay.
Madeline asks him to stop, and he seems to give up. But he tells her he wishes to give her one final gift before giving her away: A special rose. A rose we saw Butler leave laying on the credenza earlier. Maddy takes a whiff of the flower, as Charles' gaze on her hardens.
As the ceremony begins, Charles continues to watch too closely Madeline.
Commentary: Um. This scene. Uhhh, there is some seriously bad line reading here by Madge. Her cadence is off, she has a weird pause on one of the line about Charles not ruining everything 'pause, pause' now. And throughout, I suspected that she was drugged before Charles actually hands her a dosed flower, because she looks completely blank-eyed while waiting for her next line. Robert Frazer does a good job of being cajoling, and then devious as he poisons her, which just makes her unaffecting acting look all the more stilted.
Scene 17: Outside, Legendre is creeping about, perhaps waiting to see if Charles will come out and admit to taking his advice on the backup plan to get Madeline under his control.
He seems to sense the change in Maddy after her dosing, because he grabs a candle from the front gate and wraps her scarf around it. He begins to whittle away the wax, as he stares intently at the Beaumont manor. It's a fade-cut later when it's confirmed that he's carved the wax into a woman-figure.
Commentary: I loved Bela's amused smiles and grins to himself during this short interlude. He's got more personality being silent than Madge and John manage with dialog.
Scene 18: After the wedding, Charles stands up and proposes a toast to beautiful Madeline. Neil stands up with a huge grin to join in. He takes a large glass of his champagne before handing the glass across the table to Maddy. He floridly, and mayhaps a bit drunkenly, asks her to read his fortune in the wine glass. Madeline gives him an amused grin, but gamely takes the glass and starts to read it. She reports that he'll be happily loved far more than he deserves.
She starts to continue to give her fake fortune, but is interrupted when she sees Murder Legendre's staring face in the cup. Madeline puts the cup down, as she stares off. She reports that she sees death, startling both her new husband, and Charles.
Scene 19: While Madeline is having her weird fit, outdoors Murder is melting her image in the second gate candle.
Scene 20: Inside, Madeline starts pleading 'no!' and staring off into the middle distance, ignoring her husband's pleas to know what is wrong.
She collapses, to Neil's horror and Charles' fascination.
Commentary: But the soundtrack here is appalling. I have no idea what it's supposed to be conveying... maybe adventure? But it's wrong, wrong, wrong... and worse it's intrusive about being wrong.
Scene 21: Legendre continues to melt Maddy's voodoo figure outside, while at the table, Neil looks down at his bride in shock and grief as Madeline has become unresponsive.
We cut to a scene of Murder's supernatural staring floating gaze, and see Madeline staring back entranced from her husband's arms, as she closes her eyes and further stills.
Scene 22: Cut to Charles and Neil standing on steps leading down into a mausoleum as pallbearers carry Maddy's casket to be entombed, while a priest liturgizes.
Commentary: This was a great looking shot, even through the shameful transfer used for the bargain disc I have. I really loved this shot.
Scene 23: That same night, Neil is dealing badly (if understandably) with his sudden, shocking loss by getting shit-faced. Around him, revelry making is going on, but he's tormented by visions of Maddy reaching out to him and calling his name.
Scene 24: Elsewhere, Legendre leads Beaumont through the cemetery toward the tomb that holds Madeline. Charles is brought up short by the zombies waiting in front of the mausoleum, but Murder tells him they're his servants. Murder goes on to reveal that these handpicked zombies were all his enemies before he put them under his spell. Except for his former master, who made the mistake of trying to hold secrets that Murder wanted revealed.
Charles questions what would happen if the men under thrall had their souls returned to them (as clearly Charles now realizes that these men were never actually dead, just as Maddy isn't), and Murder admits that they'd likely murder him for real, which is why he'll never release them. [Now I, not being dumb, would've just said that isn't possible because of heavy duty magick-stuff different from Madeline's fate and left it at that.]
Murder cuts off further conversation by exerting his unspoken will over the men in thrall, and they open the mausoleum to he and Charles. They retrieve Madeline's not-quite-final resting place.
Scene 25: In the meantime, Neil is stumbling through the night. He shouts for Madeline, which Charles and Murder are in a position to hear. With the threat that Neil is stumbling his way toward the graveyard, Murder, Charles and the slaves beat a hasty retreat, with Madeline in her coffin carried by the zombies.
Commentary: There are some really nicely filmed shots from above of Murder leading his entourage with Madeline's coffin, as well. One of the strong points is the cinematrography by Arthur Martinelli, as well. There were a lot of shots that I recapped, but I had to let more than a few go, or you'd get a recap of every other scene.
Scene 26: Drunken Stumbler arrives at the graveyard, only to find the tomb containing Maddie left open. Neil hesitates at the precipice, before finally wandering down into the earth. We don't follow him. Moments later, there is a scream of anguish.
Scene 27: Sometime later, Neil has gone to Dr. Bruner to report the tomb robbery. [Joseph] tells Neil that he has only two theories as to why Maddy was disturbed: 1) She was body snatched by one of the local cults for her bones to use in dark magick, or 2) She's not actually dead.
Neil reacts as expected. After all, he watched her die in front of him. There was a certificate signed by a coroner, and he was there at her internment [let's just put aside that nobody thought an autopsy was appropriate for a woman who had no signs of any obvious disease, and wasn't aged, but dropped suddenly dead].
Dr. Bruner reminds Neil of his long tenure on the island. He gives Neil a quick lowdown on local superstitions that have been carried over through generations upon generations, and then tells Neil that behind superstitions is always some grain of truth. He brings up what Neil had described upon his arrival, the "horrible creatures" at the roadside.
It takes awhile for [Joseph] to get to the point that he believes that the "animated corpses" that Neil's carriage driver described were in fact alive, but their minds (and hearts) were gone, leaving them hollow. He tells Neil about certain drugs that can put people into catatonia, and then leave them suggestible and 'blank'. He goes on to bring out the law book for Haiti, and reads Neil the passage having describing the chemical assault on people as a legal act of attempted murder and if the act included burying someone in such a state alive, it will be considered murder in the eyes of the law - no matter what the eventual result is of the assault.
Neil pegs Beaumont as having something to do with this, but [Joseph] believes this is an entirely native affair. [There is some rough frames missing here, but I got the jist:] Neil brings up going to the authorities, but Dr. Bruner dumps cold water on that, as the local constabulary are frightened of the witchdoctors, and will be of no help. Dr. Bruner tells Neil that he isn't afraid to go against the local 'magic', because he has a certain amount of protection due to being a Preacher. The locals regard him as a magician of power, himself.
Commentary: This scene has some good and bad going on. First on the good, is some reacting-acting by John Harron. I also liked Haiti's law referencing zombie-making directly, giving [Joseph] and Neil something solid to grasp onto in regards to Madeline's possible fate.
But that's it. On the bad, we have Joseph Cawthorn apparently being paid by the number of pauses he can toss in before getting to the point. And of especial discomfort is Neil discovering that Madeline maybe being not as dead as advertised, being more concerned that she may have been abducted by natives... a fate worse than death... not that, "Hey! My wife may be alive and we need to rescue her!", but "Oh, no! Better that my wife be a corpse, than that she be in the company of those natives!"
The pacing of this scene is also a small bit of a problem, but this is mostly due to Dr. Bruner's fiddling with his pipe and other "character quirks" that means he doesn't just tell Neil what he suspects right off. The hemming & hawing make this scene longer than needed.
Scene 28: Elsewhere we're outside of the Legendre castle. As we transition from outdoors to inside a grand music room, we see our Madeline playing a piano.
Our Creeper Supreme, Charles Beaumont, sits in attendance staring at Madeline. Her playing is flawless, but her face is a wide-eyed slate of blank. Charles goes to a credenza, and retrieves a gift for her but when he tries to present it to her, she's entirely unresponsive. He takes a moment to feel a bit badly about her being so ... unanimated in his presence, but then slips the necklace around her throat as if in a romantic gesture. Charles has obvious decided to stay tucked in at Murder's place to avoid Neil and keep Maddie out of sight.
He sits back at her side and fiddles with the diamonds given her, but complains that they're foolish things that can't bring back the light to her eyes.
Charles has another breakdown over the vacancy in Madeline's gaze. As she's done playing the tune on the piano, Madeline stands and leans against Charles, but there isn't any will behind the gesture. Beaumont anguishes that he can't do this to her anymore, and that he must take her back.
To his chagrin, Murder has silently entered the room, and he smarmily asks if he's talking about sending her back to her grave. Charles denies this, and tell Legendre that he must bring the light back to her eyes and the smile to her lips [okay, he's a bit florid, but I liked the line delivery]. Murder walks down the staircase & when he enters the music parlor, Madeline goes to him. Charles joins her and insists that Murder "must bring her back".
Scene 29: Murder wonders at Charles' intent, reminding him that Madeline won't be grateful when her brain is working again, and she understands what he's done to her. After Legendre uses his influence to send Madeline away, Charles offers to Murder that he'd rather see hatred in her eyes, than that dreadful emptiness. Legendre concedes that destroying so beautiful a creature is a pity.
Butler has accompanied his master, and is summoned to pour a toast of wine for Charles and Murder as they seem to agree to restoring Madeline. Outside of his view, Murder clearly slips powder into Charles' glass before handing it to him, however. Charles tastes the difference in the wine, but it's already too late. Murder quotes back the line he'd offered with drugging Madeline: 'Only a pinprick on a flower, or in a glass of wine' is enough. He smiles greasily in Charles' face. Beaumont calls him a devil and asks what he's up to, to which Murder tells him that he has his own plans for Mrs. Parker, and he can't have Charles disagreeing.
Butler Silver stands around awkwardly until Charles shouts at him for help. But when Silver tries to strike down Murder with his serving plate, he gets the hypno-gaze and is suddenly powerless to intervene. Butler's view of Murder blurs out. From a side door, a legion of Legendre's zombies arrive - showing that Charles' sudden coldfeet in regards to Maddie was coincidental to Murder's plan to get him out of the way. He was doomed the moment that Murder entered the room.
To Charles' horror, the zombies pick up the stiff as a board Silver, and carry him away. Butler's body may be paralyzed, but his mind is free and he yells in horror as the zombies carry him off. Meanwhile, Charles begs Murder not to do whatever he plans, which naturally falls on deaf ears.
Commentary: I LOVE this whole scene. It is truly horrible to see even such a douche as Charles powerless to do anything about Legendre's plans. And Bela is knocking it out of the park in this scene. And again, I was left with having to not continually fill the whole review with screen caps!
The only thing that throws off the scene is the stupid choice of music - again. Stock Adventure Music doesn't belong in this movie!
Scene 30: With Butler, he continues to shout out in terror. The zombies carry him to a hole in the ground, and toss him into an underground stream below. We hear his dying screams as his body is too paralyzed for him to save himself.
Commentary: Chilling! Another great scene.
Scene 31: Back with Murder, he prepares for the ceremony to zombify Charles as the drug begins to take its affect. Charles begs him not to do this to him, but... yeah....
Scene 32: We return to Neil and [Joseph], trudging their way through the jungle on horseback. Drums beat through the air.
Neil and Dr. Bruner are briefly joined by other travelers, and look on in amusement as a local witchdoctor hands out protective charms to another wagoneer. But this 'meet' isn't as random as first presented. Neil is suffering under the humidity and heat, insisting on wearing a linen suit as he's done. Dr. Gruner sends him over to a shaded area to get some rest. As soon as he's out of the way, [Joseph] consults with the charmer on the way ahead, despite our trinket-giver insisting that they're all walking into danger, and Dr. Bruner and his companion should turn back.
Our trinket-giver is also a data-dumper. He basically tells Dr. Bruner where to find the evil source of the zombies, and drops Murder's name to [Joseph's] obvious shock that he's involved.
Scene 33: With Neil resting, Dr. Bruner has made the trek to Murder's castle by the seaside alone but soon returns to Neil's side to tend to him and make sure he's drinking enough water. We've seen that Legendre uses a trained hawk as well as zombies, and now we see he's shipped in a buzzard to serve him to. The bird screeches as it looks down on Dr. Bruner and Neil.
[Its screech sounds suspiciously like a man off-camera trying to mimic a bird cry and not coming close. And also standing right on top of the mic, so it's ear-splittingly loud.]
Bruner drives the bird away, and quotes that vultures always hover over the house of the living dead. Neil sits up enough to whine that he must go to Madeline, but he's lookin' like death-warmed-over.
Dr. Bruner settles him down, a bit. He offers that he'll go up and see what he can find out.
Commentary: This scene was annoyingly pointless. The film is only running 65 minutes on my copy so you wouldn't think that filler would be necessary but here we are.
Scene 34: Upstairs in Murder's castle, Maddie goes out onto a balcony unbidden. One of her assigned maids suggests that maybe she is remembering something, but the other maid says that when they're like that, they never remember anything.
Commentary: I'm a little confused. I think these two are Charles' maids, and we saw them toward the beginning of the film during the wedding prep. It's confusing me why Legendre wouldn't have zombied them right after killing Silver, and drugging up Beaumont. I mean storywise it's to suggest that Maddie isn't 'destroyed', and could be rescued but I'm not buying these two randos being left to their free will [or semblance, likely they're waiting to be controlled like Butler had been] once Murder had removed Charles.
Scene 35: As Madeline gazes out at the sea, she hums a tune that is carried on the wind to where Neil is lying down. He hears Maddie's tune on the breeze and sits up with a smile, reaching out for her. He finally stands up. On the balcony, Maddie again gives a hint that she's really seeing from the castle balcony - not quite as under thrall as Legendre and Beaumont presumed.
Commentary: Hmm... is this one of the first uses of diagonal split screening? It's a nice place to put the effect, but then they unnecessarily screen-wipe-cut just to be fancy-schmancy. And then they open-theatre-curtain-wipe right on top of that. Calm down, Mr. Halperin - it's nice that you discovered a new toy, but lets not wear it out immediately [I um... retroactively tell him via time-travel]. Oh, then there is another diagonal wipe that sweeps right-to-left.
In addition to this unnecessary flourish, Maddie's humming is carried over to the soundtrack after she herself has stopped. This soundtrack intrusion is again unwelcomed in this case.
Scene 36: Neil, convinced of Madeline's presence close by, follows along after [Joseph]. In the meantime, Maddie wanders back into her room.
Scene 37: Mads ends up back at her mirror, where she sits placidly. The maids uncomfortably tend to her as best they can, but one our maids can't take seeing her mistress this way. She tells the other maid that she's going to run for it.
Other maid warns that if Murder finds her, she'll end up like their mistress. This seems to convince Running Maid not to follow through, for the moment. In the meantime, Madeline shows more signs that she may be coming out from under the drug stupor, as she gazes around the room.
Commentary: Look. There is a strong indication that Neil and Madeline are sharing some sort of psychic rapport and that he can sense where she is, while she can sense him approaching and that is helping her escape her mind-whammy. I'm deliberately choosing to ignore it, unless it's stated baldly, because it's stupid. Love isn't going to give you a psychic link.
Scene 38: With Neil now on the grounds, Madeline again acts without instruction, going back out to the balcony suddenly.
Scene 39: Meanwhile, Murder watches as Charles slumps over in a chair, coming under the paralyzing effects of the zombie-makin'-drug. He sits down across from him and asks if Charles can still hear his voice. Murder tells Charles it's unfortunate that he can no longer speak, as it would be interesting to hear the symptoms he's experiencing. Charles struggles to entreat Legendre, but the man picks up more wax to begin carving Charles' effigy.
He goes on to explain to Beaumont that he's the first man to realize beforehand what was happening. Beaumont is able to reach out enough to take Murder's hand, but this is looked on with amusement.
Murder reminds Charles that he once refused to shake his hand. He pats the grasping hand patronizingly, before retracting the contact and brushing off his hands.
Commentary: Another wonderful moment with Bela. I love Murder Legendre as the villain to be afraid of and to loathe, and that's due mostly to Bela being on his A-game.
Scene 40: While Murder is taunting Charles and preparing for his final zombiehood, Neil manages to unsteadily find entrance to his home. He finds his way to the music room, where Murder is wax-carving, and Charles is slumping.
Legendre seems to sense there is something not right [and I'll buy his psychic powers, unlike the love-connection between our newlyweds giving sensing abilities], and he stands up to gaze up at the stairs where Neil arrived. But Neil, still being very ill, has collapsed onto a sitting sofa. He's found there unconscious by the security-minded Legendre.
At first Murder looks a little put out by the intrusion, but then gets a ghastley smile on his mug. Legendre stares down at Parker, and gets the intense whammy-eye look. We pan closer and closer onto Murder's eyes (and his most unfortunate tangle of thick eyebrow hair).
Commentary: More irritating soundtrack.
Scene 41: In the meantime, Madeline is resting on her bed fully clothed. She suddenly sits up, as if summoned and wanders - presumably - toward Legendre. As she's making her way toward the music room, following the same path as her husband, Murder returns to the still-not-paralyzed-fully Charles. Maddie passes by her fallen husband without reaction.
Scene 42: It turns out that Madeline has been purposely summoned from her rest by her master. As Charles watches in continuing horror, the zombied Maddie picks up the dagger that Murder had been using to carve the Charles effigy. She is sent back to kill off Neil.
Commentary: All of this excellently filmed, and Murder's glee and Charles' continued pained horror are excellently acted -- seriously, Bela has some great facial expressions going on. But - dammit - that frickin' inappropriate score! It's distracting and annoying, and it just won't stay out of the way.
Scene 43: Madeline stares for a moment at Neil's exposed throat and pulls her arm back to sink the dagger deep into it. She hesitates, and Murder has to exert his extra will at her before she's ready to again plunge the knife home. But as she pulls back to bring the fatal blow down, an arm from behind a column grabs her wrist suddenly.
She drops the dagger, as the mysterious hand withdraws, its owner remaining out of sight. Legendre again focuses his will on getting Madeline to complete the murder of her husband, but she balks - now actively resisting.
Instead she dashes down the stairs, and past Murder across the floor of the music parlor to his puzzlement. In the meantime, Neil has returned to consciousness and though he shouts her name, she continues her flight away from the room.
Neil rushes after her, ignoring both Murder and Charles.
Scene 44: Maddie has run outside, where she stands at the precipice over the roiling sea below. She looks around with confusion for a moment before teetering on the edge, apparently with an impulse to throw herself to the sea to escape the hold of Legendre. Neil finds her in time to grab her, before her will can overcome Murder's enough to fling herself over the edge.
While Neil expresses his great relief that she lives, she remains unresponsive to his overtures. In the background, we see Murder has joined them. A combination of Neil's focus on Maddie's state, and the movieverse-character's usual lack of peripheral vision means that Murder's arrival is unnoticed. Neil guides Maddie to a bench, where he continues trying to get her to respond to him.
In the meantime, Murder again puts on the concentration, and summons his zombie henchman to him with Neil only now realizing he and Maddie aren't alone.
Scene 45: Neil strides over to Murder demanding to know who he is, and who the zombies closing in are. Murder responds that to him, the zombies are death, said cheerfully.
Neil is backed against the cliff face. He does have a revolver tucked in his jacket, and shoots the strongest looking zombie, but this is ineffective with a gut shot. He continues to wildly fire at the closing zombies with no ill effect against them [I can buy them ignoring injury, but one guy takes like three shots that must've taken out his legs and crotch -- I can't buy the bullet immunity. I have the same problem with the zombies-that-are-still-men in Revolt of the Zombies. These are still people and would still be impacted by damage sustained, even they aren't feeling anything].
Neil is left trapped against a fatal plunge to the sea below, since he apparently isn't willing to shoot at Murder Legendre.
Scene 46: Thankfully for him, our mysterious hand-person reappears and is unshockingly, Dr. Bruner. He's able to slip up behind Murder and club him in the back of the head. This doesn't stop the zombies' last orders though, and they continue to push at Neil to go over the cliffside. [Joseph] shouts for Neil to duck, and when the young man throws himself to the ground and rolls away from the precipice, the zombies continue crowding toward it. Each of them plunges over the side themselves, without orders to stop.
In the meantime, Madeline is again looking confused and as if she's coming out from under the thrall she'd been in. Dr. Bruner brings this to Neil's attention.
Neil stares at her with longing gaze, until she finally breaks into a smile. She's able to touch Neil's face tenderly, before resuming her blank expression and sitting unresponsive. This is due to Legendre, who has returned to wakefulness behind them.
Scene 47: Dr. Bruner looks behind them, to realize that not only is Legendre awake, but that he's fleeing and he's their only hope of getting Madeline truly back. The two men take off after him.
Their chase is greeted by Legendre with a cunning smile, as the man pulls a capsule from his waist coat. When he throws this at the ground at their feet, Neil and [Joseph] are engulfed in a choking gas. As they're left reeling from the drug released, Murder's vulture screeches from the cliffside. Legendre goes into focus-mode, exerting his will toward the coughing men.
But just as it appears that all is lost, and Murder has won again, from the steps behind him comes a stumbling Charles. He's recovered enough to walk and one of his arms is working. He tackles Murder, and shoves the zombie-maker over the side of the cliff, sending him [or at least, his mannequin] to his death. Alas for Charles, it's a case of death=redemption, as he loses his balance and also follows Legendre over the side.
Commentary: I liked this. I wasn't expecting Charles Beaumont to play the hero here, finally and was wondering just how they were going to wrap up his part. I had been thinking that the run time was going to run out, and he was just going to be left as a dangling thread, waiting slumped in the chair in the music parlor. I'm glad they gave him and ending, and I'm okay with his being self-sacrificed to end Legendre's threat. I had thought that it would be Dr. Bruner, and would've been fine with that, too.
I had trouble seeing Neil as any type of hero at all, once he'd lost his gun, and he didn't shock.
Scene 48: With Legendre's death, Maddie can once again fight free of her zombification. They're about to have a passionate reunion kiss of relief, when Dr. Bruner rudely interrupts for a match to his pipe.
Commentary: And sudden end. No thoughts given to the slaves in the mill or final thoughts on Charles' sacrifice to try to redeem himself for his appalling behavior, or cathartic outpouring of emotion by Maddie over her ordeal. Just a lame joke about the preacher's pipe fetish, and to black.
The Good: Near the very beginning, I did like the shot of the highlighted eyes drifting over the scene, spying on our betrothed. And I liked how the eyes merge into the scene of Murder Legendre, telling us visually that he was the spy.
I loved the handling of Charles Beaumont's apparent first view of Murder Legendre's sugar mill setup, and the ground up zombie who is destroyed without a sound of protest was nicely done. I also liked Charles meeting with Legendre shortly afterward, and how we see the resentment of Murder toward Charles through nothing more than an outstretched hand in greeting turning into a clenched fist. This whole scene was beautifully shot from his arrival, through his meeting with Murder, where he starts to realize he hasn't thought through what asking for Legendre's help would entail, to his exit.
I really loved Bela's performance throughout, especially when he's without dialog and it's just him and his expressive face doing the work. And later in the film, after he has Charles Beaumont falling under his powers, his performance is excellent. Chilling, patronizing, unfeeling... Bela shines in this. If this isn't his best performance on-camera, it's gotta be in his top three, surely.
There are some really great shots by Victor Halperin. The first mill scene is one, but I also loved the shot of Madeline being conveyed in her coffin to her mausoleum, as well. And there are other shots that are nicely composed. I had trouble stopping myself from just screen-capping every other scene.
I'm also giving a kudo to Arthur Martinelli for the cinematography. There are so many beautiful shots composed.
The Bad: I don't like the introduction to this whole plot. It's weird that the script has everyone, seemingly, knowing that their dead loved ones are being grave-snatched. They know where the zombies are being put to work. And neither Murder, nor the sugar mill operator seem to be trying to keep their roles in the plot secreted. It makes zero sense that this untenable situation hasn't already been violently taken care of by the locals.
Madge Bellamy's line recitations are so awkward. Her dialog is sparse and short, so it doesn't drag down anything - but that scene where she's trying to convince Charles to stop trying to convince her to run away with him is just bad. I can't believe they didn't have a better take. She also has a habit of looking supremely unaffected by her own wedding, with her blank gaze.
Y'know, usually a soundtrack isn't in The Good or The Bad because it's doing its job unobtrusively which is as it should be, generally. But there are sound track choices throughout the film that are so incongruous, that it throws off the mood of entire scenes! And, it is so unnecessary in most cases too -- where a soundtrack wasn't needed, and would've made the scenes unbearably tense if it was left out, or the music is just plain WRONG. Disappointing.
Other Thoughts: So, I didn't like the way that 'Murder' was portrayed right out of the gate. He's so creeptastic and obvious about it, that it just struck me as weird that the entire island wouldn't have gotten his number, assumed he was the body-snatcher everyone is so concerned about, and done away with him on a dark night themselves, long before the future Mr. & Mrs. could be threatened. But after the plot kicks in, Bela's acting and the Murder character overcomes any misgivings.
Acting wise, I found Robert Frazer somewhat of a mixed bag. He's mostly good in his role as the slimy pervert, who doesn't seem to fully recognize that he's a slimy pervert. But there are certain scenes that are awkward. I can't tell if maybe this was second unit stuff and Halperin wasn't there to guide the performance, or if Rob was just uncomfortable with close ups.
The Score: Well, when I started this, my stomach sank that I was going to watch a 'classic', just to end up disliking it. Thankfully, once the meat of the plot gets going, I was captivated! I ended up really enjoying this one.
4.50 out of 5 stars