Friday, May 30, 2014

King of the Zombies (1941)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Some movies are bad.  Some are so bad that it becomes their main attraction.  You know a movie is going to be well beyond bad when most of the reviews list the short running time as an asset.  I don’t know if King of the Zombies was that bad, but it came pretty close.

The movie starts with three men in a plane.   James “Mac” McCarthy is the pilot.  It’s his charge to fly Bill Summers and Jefferson “Jeff” Jackson over the Caribbean.  (Exactly where, I’m not sure.)  Jeff asks if this is the area where Admiral Arthur Wainwright’s plane went down, to which the answer is yes.  Mac is lost, but is able to pick up some sort of radio transmission.  They follow it and end up crashing on a jungle island.

In the middle of this jungle island is a mansion that looks more out of place than it sounds.  They knock and enter the mansion, which they initially assume to be empty.  They’re soon greeted by Dr. Miklos Sangre, who invites them to stay until they can either repair the plane or call for help.  He seems harmless enough so they agree.  Mac and Bill, both being white, are given rooms upstairs.  Jeff, being black, is told that he can stay in the servants’ quarters.  (Keep in mind that the movie was released in 1941.)

Jeff is almost immediately told about the local zombie population.  When Samantha, the maid, is able to produce zombies on cue, Jeff immediately runs up and tells Mac and Bill about what he saw.  Sangre reassures them that they’re not really zombies, but that does nothing to reassure Jeff.  Mac and Bill are finally convinced when they find an earring in their room.

Admiral Wainwright is actually on the island and Sangre is a spy.  Sangre is trying to use some sort of hypnosis to transfer memory from one person to another so that he can steal secrets and pass them along to the enemy.  (This also implies that the zombies aren’t really undead, but it’s not mentioned what happens to them at the end of the movie.)

In terms of scariness, the movie is lame by today’s standards.  The zombies don’t attack anyone.  They don’t even groan for brains.  I think that there may have been more strict decency standards.  Consider that there’s no bad language, sex, innuendo or nudity of any kind.  There’s very little violence and what violence there is tends to be very mild.  The only warning I would have for small children is the whole hypnosis/zombie aspect.  Some children might have a problem understanding it.

Another sign of the times was the racial aspect of the movie.  Sangre makes no attempt to apologize for having Jeff sleep in the servants’ quarters.  When he offers drinks to Mac and Bill, Jeff reaches to take the third glass.  Sangre denies him and takes the third glass for himself.  Jeff (and many of the other black characters) tend to talk with stereotypical accents.

It’s one of those movies you don’t have to think about and are probably better off for it.  I mean, who builds a mansion/castle/whatever in the middle of a tropical jungle?   There isn’t even a driveway or a walkway or anything.  It’s just trees right in front of the main door.  If you can get past the racial overtones, it ends up being a very silly movie.  I’m afraid I can’t give it more than one star, though.

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