Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

King of the Zombies (1941)



Notes: 67 minutes.
Dr. Miklos Sangre: Henry Victor
Jefferson “Jeff” Jackson: Mantan Moreland
Bill Summers: John Archer
James McCarthy: Dick Purcell
Samantha: Marguerite Whitten
Momba: Leigh Whipper

Directed: Jean Yarbrough
Screenplay: Edmond Kelso
Produced: Lindsley Parsons

McCarthy the pilot notes plane troubles to passengers Bill Summers and his “valet” Jeff on their way to the Bahamas. They’re lost, and there’s no radio contact until something in a strange language denotes a jungle island on which they crash-land. Jeff wakes up on a grave and provides some comic cowardice. The others assure him he’s still alive. He thought he was “a little off color to be a ghost.” They hear drums but find their way to a mansion with a doorbell. The Viennese doctor Sangre knows about the plane crash and alludes to the island rumor of evil spirits waiting to prey on the injured. Jeff gets no brandy, just freaked out by the cadaverous servant Momba. Sangre insists there could be no radio broadcasts from the island; the next boat is in two weeks. Jeff must stay in the servants’ quarters; Momba will lead the way. “Dat goblin?”

McCarthy notes that the strange language spoken to Momba is what he heard on the radio. Jeff meets Samantha, a kitchen maid, and Tahama, an old woman making a brew to ward off evil spirits. When hands are clapped, two zombies appear. “This place is a walking cemetery!” Jeff calls them “fugitives from the undertaker,” and “two perishables.” But when he tries to report to Bill and McCarthy, he is accused of being drunk.

Sangre’s wife Alice “suffers from a strange malady” — which of course looks like zombie-ism. She “lives but walks in the land of those beyond.” Miss Barbara Winslow, a niece, also lives with there. They are all Austrian refugees without passports. Another navy plane was lost recently, so where is Admiral Wainwright? Sangre has relics of “black magic, lycanthropy, voodoo,” and he talks about ancient druid transmigration of souls.

Jeff has a midnight scare, and reports it again. Sangre says, “zombies don’t eat meat.” Jeff will sleep in the other guys’ room. He sees Alice wandering through a secret passage, and the others again do not believe him until they find an earring. They snoop. Momba follows. The niece sneaks. She’s reading a book on hypnotism when Bill confronts her. Mac confronts zombies and accuses the doctor of having “apemen,” though he just means goons.

Visiting the downed plane, followed by zombies, the men find a generator. Tahama uses voodoo on the Admiral; the doctor is trying to get information and broadcasts in German. Samantha’s old porter boyfriend is a zombie. The doctor hypnotizes Jeff, who repeats, “I am dead. I am a zombie.” “Move over, boys, I’m one of the gang now.” Bill sees the niece trying to unhypnotize Alice. Mac is now zombie-like; Sangre diagnoses a kind of jungle fever and sends for a native doctor. But supposedly Mac dies and is quickly buried. He was “prying into things that did not concern him.” Transmigration rites begin for the Admiral. Tahama tells Samantha to feed the zombies. Since salt doesn’t dry Jeff up, he seems to come out of his zombie mode.

“Were any of them white?” Passages. Madame Sangre. Drums: “ain’t Gene Krupa!” Rites. Doc in monkey mask. Aztek? The niece and Mac are there. The doctor wears a cape. “Get them!” “Mac, go back!” The doctor falls into the fire pit. The Admiral contacts the Coast Guard. The doctor had killed his crew and tortured the Admiral, trying voodoo.


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