The aim of horror films and books is to cause fear and trepidation while at the same time entertaining and fascinating the viewers and readers. This discussion will look at two works of horror fiction, the film White Zombie by Victor Halperin and the tale The Thing on the Doorstep by H.P. Lovecraft. The discussion will explore the similarities and differences between the two works, with regard to the plot, characters, themes, and how these are used to bring about the effect of horror.
White Zombie is the story of a girl’s conversion into a zombie. The film is set in Haiti, the originators of the voodoo culture. Voodoo culture involves the use of black magic to bring the dead back to life as zombies.
Neil Parker and Madeleine Short plan to get married, but an affluent Charles Beaumont sees Madeleine and falls in love with her. Murder Legendre is a master of voodoo cults who with the assistance of his zombie bodyguards steals dead bodies from graves for the cult purposes.
Charles seeks Murder’s assistance in order to win Madeleine’s love. Murder tells him that the only way is to turn Madeleine into a zombie through the use of a portion. Charles takes the portion and gives it to Madeleine, who dies shortly after her wedding to Neil. Charles and Murder go to her grave where they resurrect her, but as a zombie. Neil, on finding his wife’s empty grave, seeks help from a missionary, Dr. Bruner, who reveals that Murder has been using black magic to convert many of his enemies into zombies.
Charles’ plea to have Murder return Madeleine back to life falls on deaf ears. The portion begins to act on Charles too and he starts transforming into a zombie. Neil and Bruner defeat the zombies at the cliff and when Murder dies, Madeleine leaves her zombie state and returns back to life.
On the other hand, The Thing on the Doorstep is a horror tale that tells a zombie story about how Daniel Upton, the narrator, killed his friend Edward Derby, but he claims that he is not a murderer and hopes this story will prove his innocence. Daniel talks about his friend’s life, including his wedding to Asenath Waite. Edward tells Daniel odd stories about his wife and he believes that Ephraim Waite, her dead father, might still be alive.
Edward starts having seizures and illogical speech, and in one of these moments, he tells his friend Daniel that Ephraim lives in the body of his wife. Edward visits his friend Daniel and starts ranting about Asenath and Ephraim. Daniel takes him to Arkham Sanitarium, an asylum for insane people. Daniel is called and informed that Edward has been restored to health but he can see that it is not true.
His friend’s behavior looks different. Later, a weird looking creature visits Daniel with a letter from Edward. In the letter, Edward explains that he killed and buried his wife but she possessed his body at the Sanitarium. The messenger on Daniel’s doorstep was actually Edward living in his wife’s corpse. The letter urges Daniel to go to the Sanitarium and kill Edward, which he does. The Thing on the Doorstep was modified into a modern story and a movie produced in 2005.
In The Thing on the Doorstep, the story is narrated in first-person. The author creates suspense and tension by divulging scanty details of the terrifying story and leaving the rest to imagination. People are usually scared the most by the unknown because they keep imagining the worst possible scenarios. The readers get the details only through the narrator’s perspective, a mere onlooker, and not the one going through those experiences. Therefore, he can’t be able to tell the complete details (Giunta par 4).
There are several similarities between the two works. Firstly, both works apply the character traits of zombies to create fear. Zombies are imaginary beings, which are portrayed in horror fiction as walking corpses that are senseless. In White Zombie, zombies are portrayed as submissive creatures that are being controlled by human characters.
The zombies have a master, Murder Legendre. In The Thing on the door, zombies are beings with power and that control and torment human characters. When Asenath and Ephraim become zombies, they torment Edward. White Zombie and The Thing on the Doorstep are similar in that they are both successful in applying various devices to create the intended motive of horror fiction, which is fear.
Another similarity is the element of the voodoo culture of using black magic to bring the dead back to life as zombies. In White Zombie Murder uses black magic to bring Madeleine back to life. In The Thing on the Doorstep, both Ephraim and Asenath come back to life and reside in Edward’s body.
The director of White Zombie uses horrifying imagery and creepy shadows to cause fear to the viewers. He uses music to create a somber mood to rhyme with the ghostly scenes. In addition, it uses some sounds like the cry of a vulture and squeaking of the grinding mill to frighten the audience (Rhodes and Turner 20). On the other hand, in The Thing on the Doorstep, the author’s description of the messenger at Daniel’s doorstep is very frightening.
The creature has peculiar features and it stinks. Also the revelation that that creature was actually his friend Edward is horrendous. The urgency with which the letter implores Daniel to go and kill his friend Edward, who was actually Asenath, is spellbinding. It leaves the reader anxious and thinking of the possible danger that may befall the world if Daniel does not act according to Edward’s instructions.
Another clear similarity is that both works of fiction were produced in 1930’s, a time at which zombies were beginning to be featured in works of fiction. During this time, zombies were portrayed as brainless creatures that were subject to a master, unlike in the present day films where zombies are depicted as more powerful than human beings and actually eating human flesh and causing a lot of havoc and distress to them.
The above discussion has done a comparative analysis between White Zombie and The Thing on the Doorstep, two distinctive works of horror fiction that were done in the 1930’s. The discussion has sought to highlight the similarities between these two exceptional pieces of work. Despite the fact that one is a film and another book, these works are analogous in numerous ways, including bringing the effect of fear and horror through the use of zombies.
Giunta, Venessa. “Just Read: The Thing on the Doorstep by H.P. Lovecraft.” WordPress, 2011.
Rhodes, Gary, and Turner George. White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film. USA: McFarland, 2006. Print