The story goes that an army of slave laborers made up of zombified corpses were responsible for building Angkor Watt. This may sound ludicrous when compared to the flesh and brain eating creatures we know today. But the zombie story presented here grows out of the Haitian Voo Doo mythology and simply extends it to Cambodia.
This movie, like its predecessor really carries on in the vein of the sort of white imperialist ignorance of foreign cultures particularly asian and african that was popular at the time. The great white military men are the heroes and just dealing with the crazy and exotic backwards beliefs of the local primitives. Maybe that’s a bit harsh but it seems to be a standard trend of the serials and fiction of the time.
The movie is full of all sorts of wild set pieces of the time. A gong that opens a hidden door, a hidden ancient secret inscribed on a tablet, the beautiful woman all the men are fighting over. It seems everyone in these movies wants to marry the fickle femme fatal who bounces back and forth between one love and the other unable to make up her silly mind.
The use of zombie mind control over a woman in order to gain her sexual favor seems to be a hold over from the previous film and is again a sign of the times when it was made.
Three things of interest popped up in connection with this film when I was casting about for information to write this blog entry.
One is that Bella Lugosi’s eyes were used in the film even though he doesn’t otherwise appear in it. His eyes are the same eyes from the first movie, White Zombie, which he did star in.
The second is that instead of sets several shots of real locations were used in making the film. They were done separately from principal photography with the actors and are more like documentary footage. An interesting fact about a lot of these old movies is that often times real tribes, local people and places were filmed and that footage interspersed with actors filmed in Hollywood. Oddly enough that archival footage has some historical significance like in the Tarzan movies where a tribe which was filmed at the time no longer exists as it did at the time.
The third thing I fond interesting was this note from the wikipedia entry about the film:
“In May 1936, however, the Halperins encountered legal troubles in the form of a suit from Amusement Securities Corporation, a company that had helped financeWhite Zombie. Amusement Securities alleged that its contract for the earlier film gave it the exclusive right to use the world “zombie” in motion picture titles. Amusement Securities sent letters to theaters who planned to showcase Revolt of the Zombies, warning them not to show the film. As the film’s premiere approached, Judge Waservogel of the New York State Supreme court ruled that screenings of the film could take place until a judgement in the suit was reached, and appointed attorney Henry Hoffman to referee the case. On June 27, 1936, Hoffman issued an opinion in favor of the plaintiffs, awarding Amusement Securities $11,500 in damages and legal fees and prohibiting the Halperins from promoting Revolt of the Zombies as a sequel to White Zombie.”
In the light of the sorts of patent infringement suits that are constantly in the news between companies like Apple and Samsung it’s interesting to see a similar battle played out over the use of the word “Zombie” in the title of the film.