And the Dead Shall Rise...
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"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
"I thought I was a little
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 extract 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.
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.
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
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
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 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
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.
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
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 his 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
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 zombie 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,
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
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.
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Poster and lobby card stills courtesy of Ronald V. Borst
and DVD Search