King of the Zombies (1941)

*. It’s kind of hard to say if this is a real zombie movie. The slow-moving slaves of Doctor Sangre are called zombies, and we see some kind of voodoo ceremony going on at the end, but in other regards the zombies seem to be merely hypnotized and/or drugged individuals. So I’m not sure.
*. The ending might have clinched it. We see Dr. Sangre blasting away with his pistol from a range of a couple of feet at the zombified Dick Purcell (“Mac”) to no effect whatsoever. Which would seem to indicate that Mac is indeed already dead. But later we are told that he is making a speedy recovery! Those “bullets didn’t help him any,” but pretty soon he’ll be “raring to go!”
*. Faithful manservant Jefferson Jackson believes in the zombies, but then he is afraid of ghosts and people wrapped in sheets that look like ghosts.
*. Of course Mantan Moreland’s character is a racist stereotype (he was still doing the same shtick as late as Spider Baby), but even so I think this movie is racist above and beyond the conventions of the time. Moreland is conspicuously not offered a drink with the others (though he wants one), and is sent to the servants’ quarters to sleep because he might set a “bad example” if he’s allowed to stay with the quality. It seems the secret island is a land that time forgot.
*. The irony is that Moreland is the only person worth watching on screen. The other actors look like zombies playing next to him. And at least one scene, where the maid Samantha argues with him over whether or not he has been zombified, is still hilarious.
*. It’s interesting how certain elements of these zombie movies became conventions. For example, in White Zombie we were introduced to the notion of coloured zombies doing hard labour while the pale blonde lady of the house wandered about in a trance. There must be something that appeals to the base (male) mind in this. We don’t really care much for other people. What we want are servants and obedient, silent lovers. However you want to read its origins, this movie repeats the same idea, as will later zombie efforts (most notably Val Lewton’s I Walked with a Zombie).
*. I like how the girl asks the men how soon they can repair their plane and leave. Hm. Well, seeing as they crash-landed in a jungle, and the plane looks like a total write-off, and no mention is made of there being an airfield on the island (only the boat that arrives every couple of weeks), then my guess would be . . . never.
*. Perhaps I wasn’t listening carefully enough, because I’m still not sure what Dr. Sangre’s plan was. Somehow he was channeling the Admiral’s consciousness into Barbara so he could get her to tell him about the American navy’s secret plans? Isn’t that a rather roundabout way of getting information out of someone?
*. Dr. Sangre’s political affiliation and agenda had to be left blank, as America wasn’t in the war yet. But we all know he’s a Nazi.
*. A zombie movie nominated for an Academy Award! The category was Best Music. It must have been something in that voodoo they do. It’s got a catchy beat.

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