The Revolt of the Zombies (1936)

revoltofthezombies1

*. What is it about zombies that attracts so much litigation over copyright? The fallout from the Night of the Living Dead debacle had the franchise split in two over who could use the words “dead” and “living dead” in their titles. But there was an earlier precedent for such disputes. This film was a sequel to White Zombie (it was made by the same director, Victor Halperin), and the owners of that film claimed an exclusive right to use the word “zombie” in a movie title! To modern ears this sounds remarkable, but even more remarkable is the fact that they won the case (or at least won a judgment that said this movie couldn’t be promoted as a sequel).
*. Which is all a bit silly becuase this movie isn’t a sequel to White Zombie at all. Though Lugosi’s eyes inexplicably get superimposed over the screen to show the exercise of the zombiemaster’s control.
*. The set-up here is fascinating. It’s the First World War and “a regiment of French Cambodians from the vicinity of the lost city in Angkor [have] arrived on the Franco-Austrian front.” Though I’m not sure where the Franco-Austrian front was, or whether any French Cambodians actually formed a front-line regiment in that conflict. In any event, the last descendant of a long line of Khmer priest-kings has the power to turn the men in this regiment into “robot soldiers” that keep coming even after being hit with multiple gunshots to their bare chests. Such a power (which “may mean the destruction of the white race!”) obviously needs to be investigated, and so an international expedition is sent off to Cambodia to discover the secret of this new model zombie army.
*. From such a promising beginning it all goes downhill. It’s poorly written, poorly directed, poorly acted, and surprisingly hard to follow. The “local colour” is just rear-projected backdrops. Most of the movie consists of people talking in rooms.
*. With no zombies! These are not the living dead but just people who have been drugged into doing what their master commands.
*. It’s interesting to note how, in what is not really a zombie movie, we have introduced what will become a genre staple, with the hands of the zombie hordes breaking through doors and windows. I’m not sure, but this may be the first time zombies did this on film.
*. Also new is the idea of the “revolt” of the lower orders, who rise up against their masters. Before this, zombies were just slave labour. Now they have achieved class consciousness!
*. Are we supposed to believe that the bad guy wades through all that water only to step out of it with his pants completely dry?
*. Once you’ve got your hands on the secret formula of the Great King of the Khmer, who better to use as your guinea pig but your native houseboy? “If I succeed with you I will have acquired a knowledge that will make me the most important man in the world!”
*. But importance isn’t really what he’s after. He wants the girl. This idea of the villain stealing the nice guy’s lady love is what drives the plot in White Zombie as well. And I suppose Dracula as well. There must be something in our evolutionary biology that makes this such an anxious archetype. It’s reproductive dirty pool and can’t be countenanced.

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