I wanted to have Monster Movie Monday, so I tried to find one I hadn’t seen yet in Steven’s collection of 50 Horror Classics. I thought I couldn’t go wrong with Revolt of the Zombies (1936). Then again, I’ve been fooled before.
Oh yeah, Spoiler Alert! I really don’t know how to write about a movie with spoiling something. In this case, I’m probably going to be giving something of a plot summary, so I may spoil everything.
The movie takes place during World War I. The first scene finds the main guy, a soldier, trying to warn his superiors about the danger of zombies, tireless, indestructible robot creatures doing the bidding of their master. Or he may be pitching them as a way to win the war. I was counting stitches on my knitting at the time, and I was really just waiting for the monsters to show up anyways. Predictably, the superior scorns the entire notion.
In the outer office, Main Guy has a conversation with his friend, a likable egotist, who advises him to be ruthless and run roughshod over people to get what he wants. I thought, “Ah! Here is the theme of the picture: ruthless vs not. OK, now bring on the monsters.”
During this scene, a guru-looking guy is standing by, straight and utterly motionless. I thought at first he was a zombie wandered in from another scene, but no, he’s a guy that has the secret of making zombies. He’s going to show people what zombies can do. I think. It got hard to follow at this point, although things cleared up a little when they get to Angkor Wat. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Switch to a battle scene where some Asian-looking soldiers (remember, movies of this era are not known for their diversity and sensitivity) have glazed, robotic expressions on their faces. They march slowly toward the European-looking soldiers (by the mustaches, I thought they were French). The robot-like ones are impervious to bullets and annihilate the others.
Excuse me, what? I mean, did that, in fact, just happen? And did Guru Guy make it happen, just to prove a point? If they ever explained exactly who Guru Guy is, I missed it. In my defense, I was still suffering from a cold and was a little fuzzy in the head (insert smart remark of your choice).
The next thing we know, Guru Guy is murdered as he prays in front of some statue. Might have been Buddha. Might have been some Chinese god. This movie really mixes it up with the ethnicities, as far as I could tell. The murderer wants the zombie-making secret. He doesn’t get it but at least he gets away with the murder, largely because the soldiers seem more exercised about loss of the zombie secret than the dead body.
Soon they are all in Angkor Wat, where they might find the secret. The expedition is led by an archaeologist with a beautiful daughter. I’m sure some of you were just waiting for a beautiful daughter to show up (you know who you are).
I was not very impressed with the set for Angkor Wat. It was very obviously a painted backdrop. You can get away with this on stage or sometimes in a movie when it’s seen through a window. Not a very big window. Didn’t they have some stock footage of some similar looking place they could have flashed, then put the outdoor scenes next to a wall or near a tent or something? Of course, one suspends one’s disbelief when watching a movie, but my disbelief was already hanging by a thin thread.
Main Guy tells Beautiful Daughter a story about some guy who gave up everything for the woman he loved. She likes that, but it seems she doesn’t like Main Guy as much as she likes his friend the Likable Egotist. She uses Main Guy to get him and does so — you guessed it — ruthlessly.
Now I like a love triangle as well as the next movie buff, but where are the zombies? Finally, Main Guy discovers the secret. In this movie, you can turn anybody into a zombie using some kind of mental telepathy. For the first zombie, Main Guy is burning some stuff in a petri dish and wafts the fumes toward his subject, but he doesn’t do that more than once. One guy he even zombie-izes from another room.
These zombies, by the way, are not the messed-up, flesh-eating monsters you may have been hoping for. They are merely robotic. Soon Main Guy has like a bazillion of them, including his former friends and bosses.
The only one he doesn’t zombie-ize is the Beautiful Daughter, because he still wants to marry her. She agrees to marry him in order to save her true love’s life.
So what wins out in the end? Ruthlessness or sacrifice for love? Well, I don’t want to give away the ending (despite having given away practically everything else), and, quite frankly, I’m not sure of the answer even having seen the ending. I will say that the Zombie revolt, when it finally happens, is not what I would call a revolt, and I don’t think if even lasts long enough to rate being the title of the movie.
On the whole, I found it an interesting movie, largely because I kept trying to figure out what sort of a picture it was. Supernatural adventure? Philosophical love story? I’m still not sure. Perhaps I’ll get some other movie buffs to watch it with me and we’ll have a discussion. Might rate another blog post. Or would that be too ruthless of me?