Lawl, remember when people in The Horror Community were convinced that WHITE ZOMBIE was some kind of forgotten classic? And then it was released on VHS and people saw it and were just like, "Oh."
It still has its defenders, but there's no denying that it's pretty creaky and B-movieish. It mostly seems to derive its fame from a Bela Lugosi performance and the fact that a momentarily-popular 90s metal band cribbed its name. Otherwise, what we've got is pretty much assembly-line voodoo horror. An engaged couple (Madge Bellamy and John Harron) travel to Haiti, where heavily-eyebrowed "Murder" LeGrende is resurrecting local corpses to work in his sugar mill.
The zombies don't look like that (I wish they did!), but they are all black, being Haitian and such. The zombie color barrier gets broken when LeGrende zombies the bride-to-be, giving us the white zombie the title promised. The zombies on display are purely pre-Romero, so they don't really attack or get aggressive. Their blank, sleepwalker style is pretty creepy in small doses and is pretty effective in the mill scenes.
Basically, though, if you like WHITE ZOMBIE, it's probably going to be because of Lugosi's usual Lugosy performance. Bela sneers, snarls, and cackles his way well past the rest of the cast here. His interaction with a buzzard is my favorite part of WHITE ZOMBIE, for real.
It's pretty hilar that, while black zombies labor all day at the sugar mill, the white zombie gets to sit around playing a piano and moping. You can't hurt a corpse's feelings, so let me posit that Madge Bellamy was a pretty terrible actress and it was kind of fortunate that she stopped talking after becoming a zombie. That Ozark honk, my god. Apparently, WHITE ZOMBIE was the apex of her career, as her prior filmography included stuff like ANKLES PREFERRED and BERTHA, THE SEWING MACHINE GIRL. Unfortunately, she's a big giant roadblock standing in the way of enjoyment of this film. Lugosi's really fun, some of the other actors are pleasant, others are merely okay. But Bellamy is fairly atrocious and her character is the whole pivot upon which the film turns, so...
My estimation for WHITE ZOMBIE drops every time I see and hopefully this will be the last time. It doesn't scrape the very bottom of genre fare for its era, but it's really nothing special, curio reputation aside. Chop it down to Lugosi, the screeching buzzards, and the mill scenes and you might have a diverting 15-minute movie. But, at over one hour, it's far too long and light to really love.