Revolt of the Zombies (1936) Review: Lovers are Douchebags
“Weirdest story in 2000 years!”
Synopsis: An international expedition is sent into Cambodia to destroy an ancient formula that turns men into zombies.
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The first half of Revolt of the Zombies is a very Indiana Jones-esque adventure. Unfortunately, though the acting is generally acceptable, none of the leads have Harrison Ford’s charisma.
We open on an Allied camp at the end of World War I, where a monk from a French Cambodian regiment is offering to make zombies that can overrun the trenches and end the war. (It’s important to note here that the titular zombies in this movie are of the voodoo/mind control variety, not the undead variety.) None of the officers believe the monk, but he goes ahead and proves his powers anyway. The Allies are frightened and order him to give up his secret; he refuses; they decide to throw him in prison for life so he can’t use his powers anymore. I’m really not sure how locking up someone with telepathy is supposed to help, but whatever.
At this point, the monk is murdered, but the Allies are concerned enough about his powers that they decide to send a team of officers/archaeologists/gentlemen to Cambodia after the war to make sure the secret is destroyed forever. The team conducts some dubious archaeological digs around Angkor, and various bad things happen to them.
In Angkor, the movie takes a left turn into the drama/romance genre. One of the gentlemen, Armand (Dean Jagger) falls in love with Claire (Dorothy Stone) and proposes. Since Claire is the only female in the camp, I’m not sure how flattered she should be. (Side note: who the fuck thinks it’s a good idea to bring their daughter along on an archaeological expedition in a foreign country where she’ll be living in a camp full of men?) Anyway, Claire doesn’t actually love Armand – she’s just using the proposal to goad Clifford, whom she actually loves, into fighting for her. That goes over about as well as you’d assume, and Armand is left crushed.
Once Claire and Clifford get together, Armand throws himself into his work, ends up accidentally discovering the secret of the zombies. Naturally, he then decides the best way to get Claire to love him is to stage a coup on the minds of everyone around her until she pretty much doesn’t have a choice. Ah, young love.
Because the zombies aren’t dead, but rather mind controlled, there aren’t many special effects to speak of in Revolt of the Zombies – which is for the best, because the effects they do use are rather silly. Still, neither the mediocre effects nor the fairly lackluster acting really hurt the story too badly. Dean Jagger has some great moments, and I enjoyed Mazovia (Roy D’Arcy) skulking around and generally looking like the most villainous villain to ever villain.
Revolt of the Zombies has the standard racism that’s especially prevalent in older movies, where anything supernatural has to be explained by the kooky beliefs and mystical powers of some non-white race. Most of the Cambodian characters are white, though the few Asian actors they were able to swing do get priority in the shots. The end result isn’t terrible, but neither is it especially flattering.
The titular revolt finally comes up in the last few minutes of the movie, and is pretty underwhelming. The zombies at this point aren’t actually zombies anymore, but I guess “Revolt of the Humans” doesn’t have the same ring to it. Anyway, there’s some disorganized milling about, several repeated shots of stock footage, and some mildly threatening bayonetting, and then the movie is over. It’s a bit of a let down – moreso because the second half of the movie is mostly Armand whining and by the end, you’re looking forward to seeing him get his comeuppance.
I wasn’t bored, but neither was I overly entertained. Revolt of the Zombies is probably better as a background flick than top-billing for a movie night.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: C-
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