King of the Zombies (1941)

Rating: C+

Dir: Jean Yarbrough
Star: Mantan Moreland, John Archer, Henry Victor, Dick Purcell

This was a cheap entry in the slew of walking dead films such as I Walked With a Zombie, popular in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. It’s from Monogram; a running-time measuring a brisk 67 minutes suggests a life on the bottom half of a double-bill, accompanying a more illustrious cinematic work, and little else about the film dissuades you from this impression. Three men crashland their plane on a Caribbean island, owned by mysterious ‘Austrian’, Dr. Sangre – given the date is 1941, no prizes for guessing his true sympathies. The black manservant, Jefferson (Moreland), keeps seeing zombies; he can’t get the other two to believe him, but they eventually realise the Doctor is up to no good, and discover he is using hypnotism in his evil scheme.

The script is a not-exactly slick blend of horror and comedy, though the latter aspect is lifted by Moreland’s wonderful performance, which fully lives up to lines like, “If there’s one thing I wouldn’t wanna be twice – zombies is both of ’em!” His energy and enthusiasm lights up the film, and stands out, since most of the rest of the cast appear to be played by zombies, with Archer particularly bland as the hero. However, his attempts to engage in fisticuffs with a zombie – rather than the modern practice of shooting them in the head – is naively charming. It sums up the perils and delights of these cheap box-sets: definitely no classic (though the score was Oscar-nominated!), yet still entertaining fare.