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Fri, Nov. 22

One Man’s Rant: A movie recommendation … or not

Every once in a while, my wife and I feel the need to watch a really, really bad movie. I’m not here to explain why except that there are lots of movies to choose from. So the selection is usually an easy one.

Last night, we hit the jackpot with something called “White Zombie,” featuring the heartthrob of millions, Bela Lugosi. Predictably, our recommendation is, if you have an hour and 10 minutes to kill, a better option than watching this movie would be to drive white hot pokers under your fingernails.

The plot of this 70-minute black and white cine-mistake involves two young people who decide to wed – in Haiti, one of the most romantic pieces of paradise in the western hemisphere, right? But wait, they want a nighttime wedding ceremony, the playtime of every zombie on the island. Mixing zombies, Haiti, nighttime and Bela Lugosi into a stew is akin to throwing raw meat into a room of starving, slavering pit bulls. More screams, shrieks and howls of agony were stuffed into the 70 minutes of this film than have been heard, in some quarters, since the November presidential election.

White Zombie was filmed in 1932, deep into the Great Depression. I’m thinking there was plenty of depression out on the streets; why would people walk into a theater for an extra-strength dose of it in a movie theater?

Surprisingly, White Zombie is listed in 10th place among the 13 greatest zombie movies so far. It is also considered to be the first full-length zombie movie ever done. Who knew?

Bela Lugosi was an important part of my Friday nights in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as a boy. “Shock Theater” presented Friday night horror movies on television and was, probably, one of my favorite programs at the time. I spent many a relaxing evening watching mummies drag young people into the swamps and monsters ripping throats out of and body parts off of various unfortunate souls. And, of course, I witnessed the many transgressions of Dracula and Frankenstein portrayed by either Lugosi or Boris Karloff.

Friday’s TV viewing was a much-anticipated adventure. The parents would frequently go out socializing and my older sister, most likely, had a date. My unwavering routine was to jump into my pajamas, cook up a huge bowl of popcorn, wrestle a bottle of Coke out of the fridge and turn on the TV for a couple of hours of spine-tingling engagement. My attention was solidly affixed to the action on the tube, but during the Shock Theater hours from 10 p.m. to midnight, I kept careful track of every threatening shadow in the room and down the darkened hallway.

I was a sophisticated TV viewer in those early days. I welcomed a steady entertainment diet of werewolves, phantoms and masked miscreants, but I never warmed up to the zombie culture. Somehow, seeing dead people regain life, even if they were unenthusiastic about it, just wasn’t believable enough. I had fewer reservations, however, accepting that someone just might transform into a wolf during a full moon. After all, plenty of strange things happen when the moon is full. If you want proof, I refer you to “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

Bela Lugosi died in 1956 of a heart attack. His son and fifth wife decided that he should be buried in his Dracula cloak. I haven’t yet decided what my funereal costume will be. My wife made a cloak for me a few years ago. But it’s red.

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