Revolt of the Zombies (1936)

So you see, there were these mysterious French/Cambodian troops who showed up mysteriously on the front lines during World War I and won a huge victory.

But what history doesn’t record is that they were, in fact, zombies, and the Cambodian high priest who brought them into battle was controlling them using an ancient Cambodian formula.

But it’s just too much for the High Command to accept, so they throw him in prison for life and he’s killed before he can reveal his secret.

So far so good.

After the war, they send an expedition into Angkor Wat to learn his secret formula, but have little luck…until the nice young guy who just can’t assert himself finds the secret thanks to his incredible intelligence, and soon has everyone around him under his power.

At which point it all turns into a romance.


There’s a lot of good material here.  Bela Lugosi even puts in an appearance (well…sorta.  More on that later).  In fact, there’s plenty of potential for this to turn into a nice B-grade melodrama.  But this one was put out by one of the so-called Poverty Row filmmakers, so it is slow.  And dull.

Even if it is only an hour long.

Victor Halperin, who directed and co-wrote this one, also directed White Zombie and he intended this film as a sequel to his earlier effort.  Now White Zombie might not be the best of the Thirties horror cycle, but it was a reasonably good minor effort.  You can’t say that about Revolt of the Zombies, however, as there is just too little going on most of the time.  The sequence with Armand Loque searching for the formula, which involves a lot of passages, statues and even a long trip through a swampy stream (on a sound stage, of course) is perhaps the film’s finest moment (even if one suspects that they borrowed the sets from a more richly endowed production — and it’s slow), although there’s a pretty good moment at the beginning when we see bullet holes appear in the zombies as the Germans shoot at them.

And then there are those terrible hypnotic eyes, so powerful that they fill the screen as those incredible powers get used.  They are also extremely familiar as they are actually Bela Lugosi’s eyes.

Mind you, he doesn’t appear in the rest of the film (although I believe Victor did try to talk him into appearing).  But Bela wasn’t quite as desperate in 1936 as he would be in later years, and Victor just used the close up of his eyes from White Zombie.

Not that I think he paid Bela for using them.

I also realized, as I wrote this, that the romance in White Zombie is actually the inverse of this one.  Armand actually realizes from the start that zombie love just isn’t that satisfying, although he still doesn’t do very well getting the girl’s affections.  But hey, at least he was willing to die trying!

Oh, well.  It’s all too familiar if you’ve seen enough of these low budget programmers, churned out by minor companies and sold through the states’ rights system that would have these films wandering around the theaters for years until the prints wore out.  The description sounds interesting, the ideas may be clever, but somehow it just doesn’t live up to the promise.

Let’s face it, it’s like buying a frozen dinner.  Sometimes you get lucky and find something tasty.

But you certainly don’t expect it when you pull that enchilada meal out of the microwave.

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