Revolt of the Zombies is a 65 minute black and white horror – romance released in 1936. “It is one of the earliest zombie films.” Originally, Revolt of the Zombies, was “designed as a follow-up to the Halperin Brother’s phenomenally successful White Zombie.” But the production was plagued with problems. A camera crew was sent to Cambodia to film backgrounds. Principle filming was to start in February but was behind schedule and the script was not finished. Filming finally started on March 9, 1936 and finished just a couple of weeks later.
Then in May 1936, a company named Amusement Securities Corporation sued the Halperin Brothers. Amusement Securities had helped to finance the earlier film White Zombie and they alleged they had a contract that gave them the exclusive right to use the word “zombie” in films. Amusement Securities also sent letters to theaters warning them not to show Revolt of the Zombies or they would also be sued. A judge allowed screenings of Revolt of the Zombies to go ahead until a final judgment was reached.
In June 1936, a ruling came down that favored Amusement Securities. They were awarded $11,500 in damages. It was also ruled that Revolt of the Zombies could not be advertised as a sequel to White Zombie.
In fact, there is nothing at all that ties Revolt of the Zombies to White Zombie. The characters are all different. The location has changed from Haiti to Cambodia. The legends supposedly surrounding the zombies are different. The zombification technique starts out similar, drugs and mind control, but quickly becomes just mind control. True, both movies feature insipid blonde damsels in distress. And both damsels seem to drive men mad with lust even though the damsels have all the character of pieces of cardboard. But there are no other similarities. Well, there are the eyes. White Zombie featured glowing disembodied eyes whenever zombifying powers were being used. Bela Lugosi played the villain in White Zombie and those were his evil staring eyes. Those same eyes are used in Revolt of the Zombies whenever zombifying occurs. The eyes are never credited as Bela Lugosi’s eyes, but they are obviously the same eyes from White Zombie.
Revolt of the Zombies is set in Cambodia during World War I. French soldier Armand Louque has discovered that a local priest is descended from a legendary priest-king who had the power to create human “robots” and who used those “robots” to build Angkor Wat. Armand Louque believes the allied forces should form an expedition to search out the secret to creating zombies and destroy it before enemy forces can use it. Louque’s friend, American soldier Clifford Grayson, doesn’t believe in things like mind control and zombies. The allied forces eventually decide that they cannot currently spare soldiers for an expedition but that they will search for and destroy the secret after the war is over. One general voices their worry that the secret of zombification could “mean the destruction of the white race.” The local priest, who refuses to cooperate with the allies and share any information he has, is sentenced to life in solitary confinement so that the allies can ensure his secrets remain secret. But one member of the allied forces has his own agenda and murders the poor priest and steals a mysterious cloth that belonged to the priest.
After the war ends, an expedition heads to Angkor Wat to search for clues to zombie power. Among the expedition members are Armand Louque and his friend Cliff Grayson. Also in the expedition are General Duval and his blonde damsel daughter, Claire. Both Louque and Grayson fall immediately in love with Claire. She agrees to marry Louque while still making eyes at Grayson. Eventually Claire and Grayson admit their love and Claire breaks her engagement to Louque and breaks his heart. Unbeknownst to the love triangle and the other members of the company, General Mazovia, who murdered the local priest years earlier, is still determined to find the zombie secret. But now heart-broken Louque also wants to find the secret for his own agenda.
Here are a few interesting lines of dialogue from Revolt of the Zombies:
- Louque explains to Grayson, “Where according to their legends, Angkor was built by these robots. Thousands of tireless, feelingless human machines.” Grayson is not impressed, “Yes, yes, I know and they call them zombies.”
- Louque translates what the local priest says, “He says that the General keeps his ears in the ground like the ears of a corpse. Says he will not listen to words of wisdom.” Grayson responds, “What do you want to do? Get the General some earphones?”
- The expedition members watch a native dancer. Louque explains, “The dance is centuries old, I expect.” General Duval leers, “Yes, but the wiggle’s always the same.”
- Louque turns his servant into a zombie and justifies it to himself, “We are learning to be ruthless.” The zombie servant replies, “Yes, master.”
- Louque gloats about his power and thanks his victims, “You, my poor friends, for the unwilling contribution of your souls. You are giving me power to achieve the one thing I want and I am so grateful. No doubt you would all tear me limb from limb if I ever relinquish this control. But that shall never be.”
- Louque confronts Grayson, “If anyone or anything gets in your way you ride roughshod over him. Isn’t that your creed?” Grayson tries to explain, “Not creed. Just advice I gave a friend.” Louque sneers, “You also advised to forget intimate. If you want something, go after it, and get it. Isn’t that it?” Grayson regrets his advice, “You proved an apt pupil.” “I had a splendid teacher,” responds Louque. Grayson presses his former friend, “Now I’m the one who stands in your way.” Louque dismisses Grayson, “You are. But I’m removing you.”
- McDonald mourns what happened, “Whom the gods destroy, they first make mad.”
Overall, Revolt of the Zombies is a disappointing movie. The previous movie, White Zombie, was often bad but it did have some excellent qualities, too. Revolt of the Zombies, however, fails on all counts:
- The music at the very beginning is horribly mismatched – the music sounds like it should be played in a light weight family drama not a horror movie.
- Evil plotting Mazovia manages to accomplish absolutely nothing beyond killing the priest. He is no threat at all to anyone else.
- Claire, the love interest of Louque and Grayson is almost as dull and lifeless as the damsel in White Zombie. Why is she even on the expedition? The first words out of her mouth are “How do you like me in this hat?” (a safari helmet). Bletch.
- Also why did she bother to agreed to marry Louque? There was no pressure on her at all and she was mooning over Grayson from the very moment she saw him. And there is absolutely zero charisma between her and either of her two swains.
- Louque is an idiot. His journey from would-be hero to maniacal zombie master is totally unconvincing and he cannot gloat worth a darn.
- There are a couple of scenes where the actors are obviously running / walking in place in front of a background photo. So obvious that second grade students in a Christmas pageant could do a better acting job. It’s hilariously bad when one actor reaches up to brush a nonexistent branch out of his way.
- Why does the movie repeatedly use Bela Lugosi’s eyes as a sign that zombification is happening? His character from White Zombie has nothing at all to do with this film and the zombifying processes are completely different. It is just obviously a cheap effect.
- The rampaging mob of former zombies shuffle along at about the speed of a gaggle of snails. And movie goers get to watch them shuffle for at least five minutes. From numerous repeated brainless camera angles. The natives playing the mob look about as interested in the whole thing as a herd of constipated elephants.
- And the sound effects of mob noises laid over them is beyond ridiculous. Shouts and screams while the former zombies shuffle about looking bored with their arms hanging limply – doesn’t match in the slightest and does absolutely nothing to increase the nonexistent tension.
I watched Revolt of the Zombies in the Ogg video. Sound quality is very good. Video quality is mostly good – there are a couple of jumps where the original film must have broken and also one very abrupt change in lighting early in the film. The movie itself is disappointingly bad. Other than the connection to the previous film, White Zombie, and some slight interest in getting a brief glimpse of a 1930s era Angkor Wat, Revolt of the Zombies was totally forgettable. On the other hand, the movie was so bad it was funny in places (especially when actors were walking in place in front of background scenes). There is absolutely nothing at all that might frighten young movie fans. In fact, any modern fans looking for “horror” will be put right to sleep in the first five minutes and get a nice hour long nap.
Seriously though, Revolt of the Zombies is very bad but it is not a complete waste of time. It is interesting to see how early movies portrayed zombies and their creation. It’s also interesting to see how the Halperin Brothers twist the Afro-Haitian explanation of zombies from White Zombie into the garbled Cambodian priest-king explanation of this movie. And the worry about the fate of “the white race”. That’s a very interesting lesson in how non-white Europeans were viewed and treated in the world of the 1930s.
Of course, the very best thing about Revolt of the Zombies is that it is FREE in the Public Domain at the Internet Archive.
Please click this link to go to the Internet Archive and watch Revolt of the Zombies.
Also, please click this link to read my article, “Bela Lugosi Enslaved Them All“, about the earlier film, White Zombie. Included are links to watch White Zombie FREE in the Public Domain at the Internet Archive.