The recent fascination with zombies is not new, but the current fascination with zombies who are obsessed with "getting head", so to speak, is not the same as the zombies of old. Zombies of the 30's-50's are as different from the current zombie as Klingons from Star Trek:TOS are from the more recent permutations of Klingons.
The first zombie movie is generally agreed to be Bela Lugosi's White Zombie. My personal opinion is that early zombies were indistinguishable from someone in a hypnotic trance. They certainly weren't the lumbering, brain-seeking undead creatures from Night of the Living Dead. And they weren't nearly as frightening as the CGI enhanced virus sufferers of I am Legend.
Nonetheless a few good (and many not so good) zombie movies were made in pre-Living Dead era. (I arbitrarily choose Night of the Living Dead as the transition point, although you are free to disagree.) One of the better movies of this period is King of the Zombies. And one of the worst is Teenage Zombies.
Both of these I acquired through a company called Synergy Entertainment which put out about a dozen or so public domain movies accompanied with a t-shirt emblazoned with a movie poster of that movie. I reasoned that even if the movie sucked I still got a decent t-shirt. LOL. And a few of them did suck, but I still wear the t-shirts.
King of the Zombies (1941)
This movie is called a horror comedy (less emphasis on the horror and more on the comedy). The movie stars Dick Purcell as the pilot "Mac", John Archer as Mr. Bill, and Mantan Moreland in an early comedic role as Jeff. The movie starts out with a plane carrying the three lost over the Caribbean. One of the men mentions its the same area where Admiral Wainwright was lost the week before (remember that because it becomes important). The three crash land on a remote island.
They find a mansion on the island and are made guests by the head of the mansion, Dr. Sangre. The two white men are made comfortable in the guest room, but Jeff is sent down to the servants' quarters. Much of the humor by the way, politically incorrect as it may be viewed today, centers around Jeff (Mantan Moreland) and his jittery reaction to the zombies he sees but which the two white men think is just his imagination.
Jeff has a brief conversation with the maid (Marguerite Whitten) who introduces him to the zombies, but feigns ignorance when later questioned by Mac and Bill. Meanwhile they all become suspicious of this Dr. Sangre and the fact that he claims there is no radio to contact the outside world, but both hear one in their bedroom.
They snoop around and come upon a discovery. Dr. Sangre has taken Admiral Wainwright, who had crashed on the same island, prisoner, and is using a combination of voodoo and hypnotism to try to get secret information out of him. So it turns out, as I stated earlier, that some of the zombies are only hypnotized human beings... Still there is some voodoo and some of the zombies are real, even if they do look like hypnotized live humans.
Oh, an interesting side note: Believe it or not King of the Zombies was nominated for an Academy Award. True! Along with the likes of Citizen Kane, Sergeant York, Suspicion, and the eventual winner, All That Money Can Buy, King of the Zombies was nominated for an Oscar in the category of Music (Best Score of a Dramatic Picture).
Teenage Zombies (1960)
This second movie, Teenage Zombies, is on many lists as being among the worst movies of all time. Although I think its a stretch calling it a movie. It's only 70 minutes long. If you took all the purloined stock footage out of it. It would be about 65 minutes long. And then there are 3 separate scenes involving a search (the teenagers on the island searching for their boat...twice and the sheriff and one of the other teenagers searching for the rest of the teenagers) each of which is about 3-5 minutes long. Now we are talking about a 45 minute film. That's like an hour long TV show with commercials. Except the commercials would be more interesting than the show...
The movie starts with some teenagers in a malt shoppe discussing what they want to do for the afternoon. Two couples want to go water-skiing, while the third couple has committed to horseback riding. After agreeing to meet later the couples go their separate ways. The two couples who went water-skiing find a strange island they want to investigate. Upon seeing a strange woman with a bunch of lumbering men who freak them out they go back to where their boat was, but its not there. Thus instigating one of those interminable search scenes.
The girls get tired, so they stop to reast while the boys continue the search. But the girls disappear. The boys find a house operated by the woman they saw earlier, and shortly become prisoners of the woman, along with the girls who were captured earlier. The other pair, who went horseback riding decide to go looking for their friends and find the same island and same woman who tells them "nobody comes to the island" but as theyleave they see two strange men pull up to the island.
There's very little more to this bizarre but trivial movie. The woman is in cahoots with the men (from the East, probably Russia) who are trying to develop a pill or a gas to turn everyone in the United States into docile zombie slaves. More or less, a hypnotic trance from which they can never be brought out of. Its up to the teenagers to foil the plot.
This movie is so bad, I couldn't even locate any stills from the movie to augment this section of the review. It won't petrify your brain to watch it, but you'll wonder later what happened to that lost hour. Fast forward through the search scenes and it will only seem like an hour, though...
That's it from the backseat of the Plymouth Fury, this time, kiddies. Drive safely going home.
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