The word "zombie" was not used until 1929, yet since then, zombies have been used as a subject for horror movies as frequently as other famous movie monsters. The Missing Link explores the early cinema of the living-dead.

The Missing Link Proudly Presents

And the Dead Shall Rise...
Part 2

Return to Part 1

King of the Zombies (1941)"Poverty row's" Monogram studios, renowned for their low budget productions, offered their version of a zombie tale with King of the Zombies in 1941.
Despite the wooden acting and slim storyline involving a Nazi doctor, this is undoubtedly character actor Mantan Moreland's film who manages some amusing one-liners that belie his character's inconsequential inclusion as just a "scared black" comedy relief device.

"I thought I was a little off-colour
to be a ghost"
- Moreland.

In search of missing Admiral Wainwright, (Guy Usher), whose plane crashed somewhere in the Caribbean en route to Panama, pilot James McCarthy, (Dick Purcell), investigator Bill Summers, (John Archer), and his manservant Jeff, (Mantan Moreland), find themselves having to crashland their own plane onto a remote island where they stumble upon a spooky mansion owned by the mysterious Dr. Sangre, (Henry Victor). Despite receiving a radio signal just before their crash, Sangre denies possessing a radio transmitter, or of ever seeing the Admiral.
In the servant's quarters Jeff meets Samantha, (Marguerite Whitten), Dr. Sangre's maid who informs Jeff that the mansion is crawling with zombies including Sangre's wife, that can be summoned with a clap of the hands as she demonstrates.  During the night Bill and James meet the Dr.'s niece Barbara, (Joan Woodbury), who is desperate to take her aunt, Mrs. Sangre, (Patricia Stacey), away from the island, convinced she has been hypnotised by the doctor.
Secretly the Admiral is being held by Sangre and the local voodoo cult to extractJames attacks Dr. Sangre in King of the Zombies (1941) information about the Canal Zone fortifications that he can relay to his Nazi superiors.
James and Jeff are hypnotised into thinking they are now zombies, with Jeff commenting to the other walking dead, "move over boys, I'm one of the gang now" , while Bill attempts to find them and stumbles onto a voodoo ceremony that will transfer the details of the Admiral's mind into Barbara. When Sangre sends his zombies to kill him, James, still in a stupor, recognises Bill and leads them to slay Sangre. When Sangre perishes in a pit of flame, James, Jeff and the Admiral are released from their trance.
Ludicrously plotted, the film still holds the attention on a Saturday morning and although not a classic it is a good representation of the output of many of the "poverty row" studios during this period. Included in this general classification is the equally preposterous Revenge of the Zombies, (aka: The Corpse Vanished), also released by Monogram in 1943.

"Ahhhhh-ooooooo!"

Unfortunately the plot of Revenge.. is simply a retread of King of the Zombies (1941) which is not surprising since the film uses many of the same cast and crew. However, this time around Mantan Moreland isn't given enough of the script's dialogue to help the weak plot.

Mantan Moreland in Revenge of the Zombies (1943)John Carradine is Dr. von Altmann, a nazi in the Louisiana manse who is creating zombies in experiments to help the Fatherland. Even his wife Lila, has not escaped zombificaton, so when her brother Scott Warrington, his friend investigator Larry Adams and manservant Jeff, (Mantan Moreland), arrive to pay their respects to the deceased Lila, they are surprised to glimpse her walking towards Altmann's laboratory. Naturally Altmann denies everything, but the trio are suspicious especially after Jeff witnesses a host of zombies being called from their graves in the curious manner of shouting "ahhhhh-ooooo" from the cemetery gates. Although Altmann's experiments are modestly successful, he has not managed to gain complete control over Lila's walking corpse, and in a final gesture Lila leads the zombies against Altmann and then drowns with him in the swamp.
Intended as a cheap B-movie, this offers nothing more than is expected of it. Although Carradine and Moreland perform well, nothing can drag this above being an average time filler.
I Walked With a Zombie (1943)An exceedingly better zombie film was also released in 1943 titled I Walked With a Zombie. Based loosely on the novel Jane Eyre, the film has deservedly held a substantial reputation among movie aficionados for it's poetic quality and dream-like atmosphere, "trademarks" typified by the output of producer Val Lewton at RKO Studios, who, on a low budget, could make memorable horror films that oozed with eerie foreboding. His first for RKO is the renowned classic The Cat People (1942) directed by Jacques Tourneur and starring Simone Simon that told its tale of repressed sexuality with mere suggestion combined with an extraordinary use of light and shadow not seen since the early days of German cinema.
What came to be referred to as "Val Lewton's style" continued with I Walked With a Zombie, although credit should be given to the skills of director Jacques Tourneur, who in partnership with Lewton helped create the haunting atmosphere that made their series, including The Leopard Man (1943), such a success. Lewton later partnered with editor Mark Robson who he elevated to director on other films including The Seventh Victim (1943), The Ghost Ship (1943) and Bedlam (1946).

Nurse Betsy Connell, (Frances Dee), is hired by Paul Holland and his family who live on the remote West Indies island of San Sebastian, to care for Jessica Holland, (Christine Gordon), who has undergone a mental transformation, seemingly from a severe tropical fever, and walks about the halls of I Walked With a Zombie (1943)gothic Fort Holland as if in a constant trance. Betsy arrives only to find that the island's residents know a lot about the Holland family scandel concerning Jessica and Wesley and are preoccupied by the influence of the local voodoo leaders. After a while Betsy falls in love with Jessica's husband, Paul, (Tom Conway), despite the advances of his alcoholic stepbrother, Wesley Rand, (James Ellison), and resolves to cure Jessica one way or another to restore Paul's happiness by attending one of the mysterious voodoo ceremonies. After a nightmarish trek through the cane fields, Betsy learns that Mrs. Rand, (Edith Barrett), Paul's mother, believes she was responsible for putting Jessica in a zombified state when she discovered that Jessica was going to run off with Wesley and break up the family.
Under voodoo possession, Wesley follows Jessica when she is summoned by the voodoo cult and stabs her. With her body, under the watchful eye of tall zombie Carrefour, he walks with her in death out to sea.
The film's most haunting moment occurs when Betsy walks through the sugar cane field on her way to the ceremony and encounters the sinister zombie guardian Carrefour portrayed by Darby Jones. Although only on the screen for a few seconds, the striking effect of the scene has remained a horror film icon ever since. The film slowly builds the atmosphere, and the eerie scenes elevate it to classic status and a timeless slice of zombie poetry.

Voodoo Man (1944)Monogram's grade-Z productions so far had failed to create any impact on the film world, and the same can be said of their next zombie excursion, Voodoo Man (1944). Despite starring Bela Lugosi who had by this time fallen on such hard times that he was grateful to be hired by any studio, the film remains fairly inconsequential and essentially repeats the plot of Monograms' The Corpse Vanishes (1942).
Dr. Marlowe, (Bela Lugosi), practises voodoo and although his wife has been in a zombie-like state for over twenty years, he decides to capture young girls and use hisBela Lugosi and George Zucco in Voodoo Man (1944) voodoo powers to transfer their vitality to his wife. However, all his efforts fail and the results are a slew of pretty zombies that he keeps in the basement, much to the delight of his mentally deficient manservant, (John Carradine).
Even with the help of such stalwarts as Lugosi, Carradine and George Zucco, nothing can raise the film to any level of excitement, although some unintentionally amusing moments are provided by Carradine's character.

Things went from bad to worse for the zombie with the risible comedy Zombies on Broadway (1945) made by RKO as a vehicle for comedians Wally Brown and Alan Carney to rival Universal's Abbott and Costello movies. Abbott and Costello had nothing to fear and poor Bela Lugosi's career was pushed further into decline.
Brown and Carney play two press agents sent to the West Indies to obtain a zombieBela Lugosi in Zombies On Broadway (1945) by the crooked owners of a New York night club called The Zombie Hut. They encounter occult expert Dr. Richard Renault, (Bela Lugosi), who creates zombies with an injection of a secret formula.
Lugosi does his best with the thin plot and I Walked With a Zombie's Darby Jones makes an appearance amid the borrowed jungle footage from a Tarzan film. Needless to say the comic shennagians that ensue are generally unamusing.

The zombie had seemed to hit rock bottom in the cinema by 1945, but through the years, after Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952) The Zombies of Mora Tau (1957), and Hammer's Plague of the Zombies (1966), the living dead found themselves in the hands of George Romero who released Night of the Living Dead (1968). These flesh-eating creatures injected new "life" into the zombie picture and since then they have been so busy on the screen that they haven't been back to their graves for some time.

Return to Part 1

Poster and lobby card stills courtesy of Ronald V. Borst

Video and DVD Search Zoetrope