King of the Zombies (May 14, 1941)
Released May 14, 1941: A plane gets lost over the ocean near the Bermuda Triangle, and they crash land on an island with a mad voodoo doctor that creates Zombies.
Directed by Jean Yarbrough
Written by Edmond Kelso.
The Actors: Dick Purcell (James 'Mac' McCarthy), Joan Woodbury (Barbara Winslow), Mantan Moreland (Jefferson 'Jeff' Jackson), Henry Victor (Dr. Miklos Sangre), John Archer (Bill Summers), Patricia Stacey (Alyce Sangre), Guy Usher (Admiral Arthur Wainwright), Marguerite Whitten (Samantha the maid), Leigh Whipper (Momba the butler), Madame Sul-Te-Wan (Tahama, the cook and high priestess), James Davis (Lazarus, a zombie), Laurence Criner (Dr. Couillie), Josephine Whitten (native girl).
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A small plane with a pilot, a passenger and his servant get lost off of Florida between Cuba and the Bahamas, and they crash on a small mysterious island, inhabited by a mad voodoo doctor, his zombie wife and a young girl that they say is the Doctor's neice. Jeff Jackson (Mantan Moreland) the servant is in the kitchen with the cook and the maid, when he sees two zombies approaching. He runs off to find the pilot and his employer to tell them, but when they all return to the kitchen, the zombies are gone, and the maid and cook deny seeing any zombies. Later, as Jeff is trying to sleep in the same bedroom as the pilot and his employer, a zombie woman seems to walk right through the wall and approaches the men sleeping in the bed, with Jeff watching. The zombie woman retreats before Jeff can awaken the men, and they are not sure that Jeff is really seeing these things, but they start investigating and find strange goings on.
This movie was made in the spring of 1941, just as the U.S. was preparing for war with Germany and Japan, so of course the screenwriter added a German war angle. It seems that the mad doctor communicates via short wave radio with a German speaking voice on the other end. And they previously had captured Admiral Arthur Wainwright and have him held prisoner in the basement. The doctor is trying to transfer the Admiral's soul into one of his voodoo zombies, and then extract valuable war information from him to convey to the German voice on the radio.
Although the plot is played out in a manner that doesn't inspire fear in the viewer, it is interesting enough to be very entertaining, and the bits of comic wit add smiles to break up the fear. For instance, Jeff is eating pie in the kitchen, and when the maid asks if he wants another piece, he says, "Sure," she comments that he's already had six pieces of pie. When he comments that another slice of pie is still a good thing, she replies that he is the most 'pious' man she's ever met. Great play on words there :~)
Jeff is later hypnotized and becomes a zombie and joins the crew of zombies, and it takes the maid with a shaker of salt to pull him out of his trance. Will the voodoo doctor succeed in transferring the Admiral's mind to one of the zombies? Will Jeff and his employer find the Admiral and save him? Will the Zombies rule the island? Watch and see!