Watching King of the Zombies reminded me of a scene from Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter. Remember when they were all lounging around that final night, drinking beer and laughing at the old black and white nudie flick? Well metaphorically speaking, being a fan of zombie films and watching King of the Zombies is like being in heat and turning on that “porn” film from Part 4.
If nothing else, watching zombie films from the true B&W era will show you that the flesh eating, graphically violent zombie films didn’t really start until George Romero re-biographied the zombie character. Before this time, zombies were usually servants to some evil master – carrying out their evil biddings, whether they be to scare someone to death with a visit in the middle of the night, or to gather secret information for the Axis, say.
This 1941 film was a spawn of “Poverty Row’s” Monogram Studios, which was sort-of famous for their low budget productions. More so than the type of horror film most are familiar with when approaching Dracula or Frankenstein, this movie comes across more as a witty adventure, containing scenes where people become zombies and then mutter lines like “Move over boys, I’m one of the gang now…”
Plot wise, while in search of missing Admiral Wainwright (Guy Usher), whose plane crashed somewhere in the Caribbean en route to Panama, pilot James McCarthy (Dick Purcell), investigator Bill Summers (John Archer), and his servant (Mantan Moreland) crash land their plane onto a remote island. There, they stumble upon a mansion owned by the mysterious Dr. Sangre (Henry Victor).
Late one evening, Dr. Sangre’s maid lets the pilot know that the mansion is crawling with zombies. She demonstrates this by clapping her hands together, and summoning one of them. That’s how zombies were back in the day – servants. Eventually a couple of the main characters are hypnotized into thinking they’re zombies, until the evil main character Sangre is destroyed in a pit of fire – when after, of course, they are released from their trance.
Final Analysis: Depending on how old you are – this is the kind of film that would have played on a Late Late movie some Saturday night on your pre-cable WOR network. Back in the day, Saturdays were Bugs Bunny, wrestling, monster movies, and black and white horror. This is one of the films that would have aired. Playing out more like an Abbott and Costello than it does a Night of the Living Dead, King of the Zombies is worth a memory and a chuckle to the older – but will probably only entertain a small handful from our generation, which thrives on eye-candy and fear factors. Be careful when looking for a scare pre-1950 – there’s a high chance you may bore yourself to death.