King of the Zombies:
Here we go with another “classic” zombie flick. Most of these older films center around the use of Haitian voodoo to resurrect and enslave the dead. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the poster.
The interesting thing here is that the character in the upper right bears a bit of a resemblance to Bella Lugosi and I actually mistook it for him at first. It turns out he was originally slated to play that character but wasn’t available when it came time to make the movie. So after Peter Lorre passed on the part another actor was chosen. Oddly when I really look it doesn’t look anything like Bella, but it has the same sort of lighting and atmosphere he was known for so at a glance it’s easy to see why one would make that mistake.
When it comes to the movie there isn’t much to say.
It’s a pretty bad early example of horror comedy along the lines of Bob Hope and Abbot and Costello minus Bob Hope and Abbot and Costello. One thing that jumped out at me at first was the appearance of Mantan Moreland, an early black comic of the “Yessum, nassum, yessir massa sah,” variety. He’s one of those actors I’ve seen before but never knew what his name was.
Mantan’s character is really the key to this film. This is ANOTHER in a long line of movies from the time that just don’t suit modern tastes. Their take on African Americans, other minorities and women are pretty out of step with today.
Oddly enough though, Mantan’s character and Mantan himself pretty much carry the movie. He’s the most talented and entertaining person in the film and the funniest. In fact the only humor in the movie is on him with everyone else playing it straight. Since it is a horror comedy, they’ve basically placed the fate of the film in his hands.
This is the irony of this movie. Mantan plays a manservant, a seemingly lowly position. As an African American he was a sort of a second or third class citizen at the time often seen as being less intelligent or beneath white people. Yet in this movie he’s the only one who knows what the hell is going on and the only one smart enough to try to do something about it showing someone thought he was a lot smarter than society did.
One more point of note of this film is that the bad guys are apparently Nazis. At the time the movie was made America hadn’t entered the war yet and the Nazis were on the march across Europe. So it fit the atmosphere at the time to have the bad guys be some sort of spies from Europe although they are never clearly identified as begin Nazis at the time.