Tall, Dark, and Dead – 96 – King of the Zombies

Title: King of the Zombies
Year: 1941
Director: Jean Yarbrough
Leads: Dick Purcell, Joan Woodbury, Mantan Moreland, Henry Victor

Favorite quote: “What’s a museum?”
“A place that keeps dead things.”
“Oh, like here!”

Thoughts: Sadly, whenever I see poor Mantan Moreland in a film’s credits, my first thought is, “Oh, this is going to be uncomfortable.”

King of the Zombies is one of a number of 1940s zombie comedies that incorporate references to the looming threat of the Nazis. Unfortunately, the “comedy” is often based on racial and gender stereotypes. I actually found King harder to watch than Revenge, simply because it seemed to feature much more trenchant, unfunny racist commentary – see “uncomfortable.” Moreland was an absolutely hilarious, skilled actor. It’s so sad that he had to make his living propagating the form of humor that he did.

This movie serves as a great example of the confusion attending early zombies – whether they’re technically living or dead, whether they’re created via hypnosis, chemical control, spiritual control, etc. There’s a fantastic scene where Dr. Sangre turns Moreland into a zombie, during which he has (the very alive, very healthy) man repeat, “I am dead. I am dead.”

The Nazi doctor, in this instance, is apparently making liberal use of both zombie legend (in which his servants seem to fervently believe, to the point of talking openly about the zombies amongst them) and world transmigration lore. Via a combination of hypnotism and voodoo ritual, he seeks to transfer the souls/minds of his Allied “guests” into controlled vessels (sacrificing his wife and niece to do so), in order to access military secrets to radio on to the Nazis. Yes.

Interestingly, in the end we find that salt cures zombies – it was coffee, before. Also, in this movie zombies have no reflection. Possibly a psychological manifestation of the mind control to which they are subject? If one has been convinced that he is dead, after all – doesn’t that mean that he has no existence?

Oh, and I’m stealing the phrase “marble orchard.”

Links: King of the Zombies at IMDB
King of the Zombies on Wikipedia

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