Friday, March 2, 2012

King of the Zombies

King of the Zombies (1941)

Set, I guess, during World War 2, three dudes (John Archer, Mantan Moreland and Dick Purcell) are forced to land on a mysterious island when their plane runs out of fuel. The island is inhabited by a creepy "Austrian" dude (Henry Victor - the role was apparently turned down by Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre), his spaced out wife (Patricia Stacey), her neice (Joan Woodbury), their servants and possibly some indiginous people but fuck them. Though their host is decidedly nefarious looking, it takes the three American dudes the whole movie to figure out that he is dabbling in hypnotism, voodoo and some Irish pagan shit.

This movie is supposed to be a comedy and it's would almost be funny if it wasn't so depressing. It's so slow paced - the run time is a little over an hour and yet nothing happens at all until around thirty minutes in, and even then it's nothing to write home about.

The writing is bizarre, with characters coming to nonsensical conclusions. For example, the white guys finally start to believe that something fishy is going on when they find an earring on their bedroom floor that wasn't there before. Then later, they notice that the earring matches the pair that their host's sleepwalking wife is wearing, but those are one of a kind and she's currently wearing both of them so something strange is clearly going on... and then the mysterious earrings are never mentioned again. What the fuck?!

In the middle of the movie the tone suddenly shift from horror-comedy to what feels like one of the weirdest sitcoms ever. Mantan Moreland has been hypnotised into thinking he has been turned into a zombie (I don't know why the evil guy even bothered with that shit when he had a bonafied voodude on hand) and comes down to get supper with the rest of the zombies, then starts holloring at the maid (Maguerite Whitten) "Woman! Where is my supper?"

At the end of the movie too they try to jam all this stuff that they thought was interesting together and make it make sense. There are genuine voodoo zombies, there are people hypnotized into thinking they are zombies, and there is something to do with transmogrification or whatever, all of which when dealt with alone are sort of interesting, but all together just seem like overkill.

The photography was crappy - some of the scenes shot at quite a distance for no evident reason other than they ran out of time or film to shoot close ups, and the video quality was terrible, a warning sign in and of itself. It's not a good sign when clearly nobody bothered to try and preserve the film. It's probably just chance that it's still around for our viewing pleasure.

But the most embarrassing part was Jeff, the dim witted, easily frightened, wise cracking, googly eyed black man, who got lines like "I thought I was a little off colour to be a ghost", "I ain't goin' in that house, I is stayin right here til I changes mah mind", and "lawdy lawdy! them zombies tried tah have me fo suppah!" Fuck. Okay, okay, it was a different time, this is quite a few steps up from white dudes in black face and it was sort of unusual to even have a prominent black character especially in a horror flick, but still. This shit is just sad.


Directed by: Jean Yarbrough.  Written by: Edmond Kelso.  Starring: John Archer, Mantan Moreland, Joan Woodbury, Henry Victor, Dick Purcell, Marguerite Whitten.

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