Retro Review: King of the Zombies


Directed by: Jean Yarbrough
Running Time: 67 minutes
Body Count:  1

Watching King of the Zombies reminded me of a scene from Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter.  Remember when they were all lounging around that final night, drinking beer and laughing at the old black and white porno movie?  Well metaphorically speaking, being a fan of zombie films and watching King of the Zombies is like being in heat and turning on that porn film from Part 4.

If nothing else, watching zombie films from the true B&W era will show you that the flesh eating, graphic-violence zombie films didnt really start until George Romero re-biographied the zombie character.  Before this time, zombies were usually servants to some evil master – carrying out his evil biddings, whether they be to scare someone to death with a visit in the middle of the night, or to gather secret information for the Axis, say. 

This 1941 film was a spawn of “Poverty Row’s” Monogram Studios, which was sort-of famous for their low budget productions.  Moreso than the type of horror film most are familiar with when approaching Dracula or Frankenstein, this movie comes across more as a witty adventure, containing scenes where people become zombies and then mutter lines like “Move over boys, I’m one of the gang now…”

Plotwise, while inn 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 servant (Mantan Moreland) crashland their plane onto a remote island.  There, they stumble upon a mansion owned by the mysterious Dr. Sangre (Henry Victor).

Late one evening, Dr. Sangre’s maid lets the pilot know that the mansion is crawling with zombies.  She demonstrates this by clapping her hands together, and summoning one of them.  Thats how zombies were back in the day – servants.  Eventually a couple of the main characters are hypnotized into thinking theyre zombies, until the evil main character Sangre is destroyed in a pit of fire – when after, of course, they are released from their trance. 

Final Analysis:  Depending on how old you are – this is the kind of film that would have played on a Late Late movie some Saturday night on your pre-cable WOR network.  Back in the day, Saturday mornings were Bugs Bunny, monster movies, and black and white horror.  This is one of the films that would have aired.  Playing out more like an Abbot and Costello than it does a Night of the Living Dead, King of the Zombies is worth a memory and a chuckle to the older – but will probably only entertain a small handful from this generation of eye-candy and fear factors.

You can purchase King of the Zombies alone or as part of the recently released Horror Classics 4 Pack, Vol. 1 (2006) at Amazon.com

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