Wednesday, 15 April 2015

King of the Zombies (1941)

This horror-comedy is undermined by two major flaws.

The first is that most of the quote comedy unquote is based around how cowardly, gullible or foolish the main African American character is.  While actor Mantan Moreland is clearly in on the joke - he made a career of such roles in the 30s and 40s - it's frankly not a very funny joke.  Not even his considerable on-screen charisma can prevent it from being cringe-inducing.

The second flaw is that the writer seems to think that being a comedy means you can just handwave plot points.  No, Mr Edmond Kelso, it does not.

We begin on an aircraft, somewhere in the Caribbean.  Low on fuel and unable to find their destination, the crew homes in on a strange radio transmission in a foreign language.  This allows them to crash-land on an island.  There they find a Doctor Sangre and his household.  Sangre claims to be an Austrian national who fled the country after his homeland was absorbed by Nazi Germany.

Nobody bothers to ask Sangre why an Austrian like himself would have a Spanish surname, but that's not one of the handwaved plot points I've mentioned.

Anyway, Sangre is of course an evil foreign spy, and in fact has a US Admiral tucked away in his cellar.  Which, given that this film predates US entry into World War 2 by seven months, goes to show that Hollywood could see which way the wind was blowing.

Unable to torture information out of the Admiral, Sangre does the only sensible thing and turns to hypnosis: he mesmerises an army of zombies and also attempts some sort of mind transference malarkey to learn what he wishes to know.  The hands, they begin waving.

Naturally the newcomers throw a crimp in the Doctor's plans.  He attempts to resolve this by hypnotising them into zombies, one by one, but in the second case his efforts don't work.  Why not?  Wavy hands!  Why doesn't the presumably experienced mesmerist notice his failure?  Wavy hands!  Why in the climactic battle can his hypnotised horde be overcome with what amounts to "Hey bro, we're bros, don't be murdering me"?  WAVY HANDS!


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