Spoiler Alert! I don’t know why I bother with these Spoiler Alerts. Real movie reviewers never do. Then again, I think it’s clear I’m not a real reviewer. You probably didn’t need a Spoiler Alert to tell you that.
I was thinking of Monster Movie Monday when I watched King of the Zombies (1941) on Steven’s collection of 50 Horror Classics (so I missed it by a day). Speaking of spoiler alerts, the blurb in the booklet that comes with the collection tells you almost everything. I should have known better than to read it. Really, the word “zombies” in the title tells me everything I needed to know.
The movie opens on three guys on a plane about to make an emergency landing on — what else? — a mysterious, uncharted island. They seem to be getting some radio transmission from the island but they can’t understand it. This makes them hopeful (radio transmission) rather than suspicious (can’t understand it). Of course, the characters don’t know they’re in a monster movie. That kind of ironic pose did not happen in movies till much later (although I do seem to remember Heckle and Jeckle knowing they are cartoon characters. Does that count?) (But I digress).
The three guys are the pilot, a jaunty Irishman; the purported hero; and his valet, a black man. I guess they referred to African Americans as “colored” at this time.
It is no secret that movies of this era reflect the racism rampant in the country at that time. When black people got parts in movies they were usually servants or natives. They sometimes got to sing songs. They sometimes got to act really scared. They were often the comic relief. In this movie, the valet gets to act scared, provides comic relief and is easily the most interesting character in the picture.
The proprietor of the island assures the three that he has no radio, although he is happy to welcome them as his guests. He has a catatonic wife, a beautiful niece and an extremely creepy butler. The Valet is not best pleased when the bad guy (oh you knew he was the bad guy as soon as I mentioned him; I’m not going to keep calling him the proprietor for the rest of the post) sends him off with the creepy butler to the servants’ quarters.
Things look up for Valet when he meets a pretty maid in the kitchen. They take a turn for the worse when she warns him of zombies — dead people who walk. Oh, there’s also an old witch-doctor-looking woman brewing something in a pot.
A lot of time is wasted with Valet seeing zombies and his boss and the pilot not believing him. Not a whole lot is done with the catatonic wife and beautiful niece (it’s the wife’s niece; she’s only related to the Bad Guy by marriage, in case anybody was worried).
That was actually OK with me, because Valet and Pretty Maid were my favorite characters anyways. The Irish Pilot was pretty cool, too, but he didn’t really have enough to do, except die and get made into a zombie. Oops. Well, that’s why I put in the Spoiler Alert.
The zombies in this picture, once again, are not flesh-eating monsters. In fact, Pretty Maid serves them up some stew-looking stuff that is apparently pretty bland. She realizes Valet has not in fact become a zombie when he asks for salt. Apparently zombies can’t eat salt (high blood pressure in the undead? News to me, but, whatever). She puts too much on just to be sure, so I don’t think the poor guy gets any dinner.
I kind of stopped paying attention by the end. I seem to think the zombies revolted; in fact, I remember reading that on the blurb. As in Revolt of the Zombies, it’s not such a much.
I feel I should mention that I watched this movie almost two weeks ago and have been having trouble with the write-up. In these not-as-post-racial-as-one-would-hope times, I hesitated over my description of the black characters. Then I thought maybe I could write a whole blog post thrashing out my dilemma. Before I wrote that post, I re-read my draft of this one and thought, “Hmmm, it’s not so bad. Maybe I’ll publish it after all.”