Director: Victor Halperin
Writers: Victor Halperin, Howard Higgin, Rollo Lloyd
Release year: 1936
Revolt of the Common People
With the ending of World War I, an international expedition is sent to Cambodia in an attempt to seek and destroy an ancient formula that turns men into zombies.
(Spoilers follow… but do read on for fun’s sake.)
Throughout B-movie history, countless directors have been known to display similar behaviour. What do you do when you’ve just had a mildly successful horror-hit to uplift your resumé? You simple produce a similarly themed movie a couple of years later in an attempt to repeat that success. Director Victor Halperin had such a modest success in 1932, with the movie . While that one was an atmospheric little chiller with a tragic storyline, Halperin placed the same concept in a different setting without the charismatic Bela Lugosi playing the villain this time. The result was REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES, a movie that sadly misfired on all levels.
Oh, and in case you should wonder why on earth Bela Lugosi’s eyes are featured in this movie: Director Halperin just lifted those stills from and put them in REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES whenever people get mesmerized and are under the influence of the evil formula. Pretty cheap trick, isn’t it?
All kidding aside, the first 10 minutes or so of the movie indeed look promising. In the exposition we learn, through the confessions of a captive oriental priest, about the alleged existence of a platoon of zombie soldiers fighting a war in a French colonial regiment. Bullets do not seem to harm them. We are presented wonderful, yet clumsily staged flashbacks of the zombie soldiers marching onward.
As said, an ancient formula would be responsible for this supernatural phenomenon, thus the men in charge order an expedition of representatives from all Allies to forever destroy this formula.
Colonel Mazovia (Roy D’Arcy) is – without further ado – presented as the villain with evil intent, simply because his presence feels vaguely reminiscent of Bela Lugosi and the man somehow manages to look like a cross between Vincent Price, Fu Manchu and Jonathan Davis. I kid you not. And Col. Mazovia also provides us a very unpredictable twist in the middle of the movie. Because – to put it quite frankly – he gets killed off and a new antagonist rises to the occasion: Armand Loque (Dean Jagger), for it is him who discovers the formula first (in some swampy ruins) and puts it to good use.
Col. Mazovia Armand
And the movie goes down the drain even further. Armand is a jealous idiot, very much in love with Claire Duval (Dorothy Stone) whom on her terms is in love with Clifford (Robert Noland). This whole love triangle thing needs no further elaboration because it is as dull as it gets. So, Armand gains the formula to possess people’s will. And guess what he does with that knowledge… He prefers to play Jedi mind-tricks with his fellow expedition members to win over the woman he loves instead of building an army of zombies and go for world domination.
It all results in a silly film – with an inappropriate musical score on top – that uses every possible excuse to *not* get on with the story. On a technical/visual level, the first half of the movie is the most interesting, as it persistently maintains the over-use of backdrops and ‘blue screen’ projections to such an extend it becomes painfully funny. The scenes where Armand follows an oriental worker into the swamps is one of the highlights in these matters.
On a further note, I’d like to point out that – aside from the apparently indestructible soldiers in the opening-scene – not a single zombie appears in this movie (at least not the kind of zombies the way they were defined by George A. Romero‘sin 1968). Mindless slaves, yes, enough of them in REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES, even though they don’t exactly do anything. And by the time the moment of their revolt comes around, it’s because Armand lost power over them. So in the end, it’s just common people revolting.
The ending itself is classic in the true sense of the word. Let me try to explain it in a visual manner.
The common people shoot and kill Armand (in the belly):
Claire reacts terrified and goes:
And then good guy Clifford gets the girl:
So, REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES is proof that not all black & white classics deserve to be called “Classics”.
You can watch the full movie here.