Sunday, November 28, 2010

Revolt of the Zombies (1936)

Four years after completing White Zombie, the genius team came up with a sequel: Revolt of the Zombies. Instead of Voodoo zombies in Haiti, we have Buddhist zombies in Cambodia. Ah, a fresh take on things.

During the first world war a young army officer (Dean Jagger) tries to convince his superiors that an "oriental priest" can turn men into zombies to help with the war effort. The idea was poo-poo'd. A demonstration is in order.

The demonstration goes perhaps too well and the priest is arrested until he promises to divulge his secrets (Could spell the end of the white race!) He refuses and is murdered. A team is sent to Cambodia (apparently after the war, I think I missed that - YES, I was paying attention!) to find the secret of zombieism. Our hero leaves his post to go to Angkor to do some wildcat research, finds the secret, and is summarily fired before anyone will listen to him. Here is where the spoilers start.

In here we have a love triangle. Our hero has fallen in love with the General's daughter and she agreed to marry him, in hopes that it would make his best friend jealous. Works like a charm and and hero/patsy is left holding the bag. Hero is ditched and the lady and best friend become engaged. So, our Hero takes a page out of his friend and lady friend's playbook and decides he must be ruthless to get what he wants, and he wants that mediocre looking General's daughter back. I wonder if the power to turn men into zombies would come in handy?

In short, Jagger turns just about EVERYBODY into zombies and lords over them like a spoiled schoolboy. His love agrees to marry him if her true love is allowed to return to America unharmed. Then she starts with the head games, just like a woman.

"If you truly loved me, you'd release your control of everybody ...", Blah, blah, blah. wimin! Never satisfied! So, like a dork, he releases his control of the entire supporting cast and extras, who are none-too-pleased with him at this point. He's thinking he has won her true love, but instead every minor character comes crashing through the door to kill him. Roll credits.

How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways. The sets were uninteresting, the acting not good enough, the heroine, meh, and the story muddled and confused. However, at 65 minutes, it was almost short enough. Unlike White Zombie, the flaws swallow this movie whole.

Unlike many bad movies, this one could not have been fixed. The setting, story, and dialog would have to be redone. The only thing I would keep from this production is the name. It is by far the best part. What's the deal with making the hero the villain? There was a perfectly good villain character! He wore black, murdered a priest, and had a great menacing look. Before he could get going, bam, killed by a zombie! Sounds like a last minute rewrite to me.

Some argued that this was not zombieism but just mind control (figurative zombies), but in fact they are one in the same. Zombies, pre-Romero, are mindless servants, not undead ghouls. Here they were also referred to as "robots". There were no hint that anyone thought the zombies were dead, and that might be the missing part. Close enough for me.

I'm giving this forgettable film an AMRU of 2.5 and before anyone complains, allow me to explain. While every part of this movie was sub-standard (at best), it wasn't painful to watch. Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but whatever. This is what I rated it. Can't take it back.

Revolt isn't available via Netflix streaming and I'll be damned if I wait for a CD of THIS movie. I watched it off my TreeLine collection, but you can watch it here.

What's next in my Zombie-a-thon? Not sure. I'll ask around the blogosphere. According to IMDB, it's The Ghost Breakers, a Bob Hope comedy. Meh.

Friday, November 26, 2010

White Zombie (1932)

Shortly before I started this Blog, I watched White Zombie. The video quality was poor but it was good. Halloween was supposed to be the end of exclusive horror movies, but something happened. That something was AMC's The Walking Dead.

My 14 year old plays Zombie games and watches zombie movies when he goes over his friends house, I'm sure. We're a little strict. I decided that he should be allowed to see The Walking Dead, and we are enjoying it very much. So, what happened was the inevitable conversation about Zombies, their history in cinema and folklore, and even though he hates the 'crappy old movies' I always watch, he thought it a good idea to see all of the old zombie movies in chronological order. White Zombie comes first.

Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer) is a rich plantation owner in Haiti. He invites the hot Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy) and her fiancee (John Harron) to get married in his lush mansion. His true motives come clear when he starts making a play for the bride to be. Bad form, dude.

He is rebuffed, so he resorts to Plan B: have an evil scientist turn her into a zombie. Now THAT is hot. Evil scientist in question is our very own Bela Lugosi, fresh from his stint as Dracula. He overacts most evilly. I don't want to give anything away, but I'll say this: never trust anyone named 'Murder'.

The sets are lush (freshly rented from Universal), the acting good enough, the heroine hot, and the story nicely creepy. Also, at 69 minutes, wonderfully brief. I understand some five or six minutes were cut from the original, which is interesting because there were a few scenes that dragged. Those scenes must have been painful. I give some films credit for using white space effectively, here it was more like dead air. Still, a good creepy movie. And reasonably "historically" accurate. I've seen it twice now and I doubt I'll see it again, unless I get the opportunity to see a fully restored version on the big screen. Sadly, the Netflix streaming version was no better than the public domain copy. AMRU 3.5.

Now, here is a question I haven't seen addressed on other blogs: why is she a WHITE zombie? Is it because our virginal ingenue is adorned in white for her wedding? Or is it because she's a white chick? I'll try not to read too much into that.

How did the movie fare with my teenager? Not so well. He decided it would be ok if he doesn't see ALL of the zombie movies in order. Still, I'll give him the opportunity, but he may be unavailable. Next up would be the impossible to find (and pronounce) Ouanga, so it'll be White Zombie's sequel, the tragic Revolt of the Zombies. The things I do for this blog...

"Before we are through with this thing we may uncover sins that even the devil would be ashamed of."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Ghoul (1933)

The day before Halloween, I had the opportunity to sit with a beer and a bowl of popcorn and watch an old horror movie. The one I found was Boris Karloff's The Ghoul. Never heard of it before.

Dying Egyptologist Henry Morlant (Boris) spends much of his fortune on "The Eternal Light", an Egyptian relic that is supposed to give the holder life immortality. He orders his caretaker to wrap it into his hand on his deathbed. Professor Henry dies, but his caretaker apparently has sticky fingers, so Boris has to rise without it to seek his vengeance.

Enter into this is an Egyptian who wants to recover the stolen relic, and Boris' bickering niece and nephew (cousins to each other) who inherit his spooky mansion. Also in the mix is an untrustworthy lawyer (is there any other kind?), a vicar, and the niece's spinster friend.

The movie starts exactly as I hoped. Dark and spooky. Sadly, when the bickering cousins appear, the atmosphere is blown away. The niece's friend became comic relief and the horror elements can no longer be taken seriously. According to wikipedia, the movie was capitalizing on two of Karloff's earlier films, The Mummy and The Old Dark House. Also, I learned that the movie is based on a novel but strayed very far from the source material. IMDB says this is the first British talkie. Man, were they behind the times! Oh, and this was the film debut of Ralph Richardson as the vicar.

I liked The Ghoul, but clearly it wasn't a great film. Predictably, I give it an AMRU of 3.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wolf Blood (1925)

In searching for the oldest surviving "werewolf" movie, the best answer turned out to be 1925's Wolf Blood. Dick Bannister (how's that for a post-Victorian porn name) is the field boss of a Canadian logging camp. The leader of a rival camp is resorting to underhanded tactics, even shooting at the workers. Boss Dick calls on the owner to come and check things out.

The owner is the young socialite daughter that inherited the company. She and her much-too-old-for-her Doctor Fiance decide to go visit. Seems the socialite likes the company of the rugged lumberjack type, and Dick becomes rather smitten as well. He hasn't seen a woman in years, after all. For the sake of propriety, they decide to avoid each other's company.

Evil field boss from the rival company decides to dam an important logging river. Our hero pays him a visit. A fight ensues and Dick Hero is out numbered and left for dead in a ravine. The good-but-maybe-not-good-enough doctor finds him in the nick of time. Dick needs a blood transfusion, but the only person available is a horrible half-breed (hate those people, don't you?) who was kicked out of camp by our hero for selling the Devil's Elixir to the men. He refuses to help, but says he can get blood from his she-wolf. Oh, hey! A Wolf, just like in the title! Fancy that. And only half way through the movie.

Dick gets wolf blood, half-breed blabs all around town, men become suspicious, and doctor tells his love that now that he has wolf blood in him, he has become like an animal. Oddly, she don't mind.

Mostly, this is a love triangle with the wolf element added for drama. Barely a werewolf story, but close enough. It wasn't spectacular, but it held my interest. At just over an hour, it was tolerably short. I give it an AMRU of 3.

Go watch it here.