It is still a couple of weeks until The Walking Dead returns with new episodes and I’m suffering severe Daryl …. Um …. TWD withdrawal. I have never been a big fan of zombies (I’m more of a vampire person) but I was hooked on TWD from episode one. Is it the best written show on TV? No. Is it the most clever show? Nope. But I enjoy it anyways. I think it is great fun. And my Sister and Niece are hooked, too. The Walking Dead is the only show on television where, two seconds after the commercials start, we are phoning or texting each other to cackle, giggle, and sniffle over what just happened and what might happen next.
So, suffering from Daryl …. Uh …. The Walking Dead withdrawal, I decided to look for some free Public Domain zombies to tide me over. Previously, I have found some funny zombie action with Mantan Moreland, some surprisingly menacing zombie mind control from Bela Lugosi, and some hokey zombie silliness in Angkor Wat. Were there any other zombies wandering around the Public Domain? Of course there were.
Teenage Zombies is a cheap, ridiculous “shoestring quickie”. Filmed in 1957 but not released until two years later, this short, 73 minute, black and white film has the honor (or should that be dis-honor?) of being written and directed by one of the most widely panned, lampooned, and ridiculed Hollywood filmmakers, Jerry Warren.
Jerry was born in Los Angeles, California on March 10, 1925. He wanted to be in the movie business from the time he was a small boy and started his movie career by acting in bit parts in 1940’s films. Then Jerry over heard a producer say, “In this town, producers are the ones that have it all”. A light bulb clicked on and Jerry moved from in front of the camera to ruling behind the camera. The first movie he produced was the horror/adventure Man Beast (1956). Besides producing, Jerry also directed, edited, wrote, and served as cinematographer for many movies which are now regarded as cult films. Hastily made, campy, cheap, ridiculous cult films. Jerry could be counted on “to deliver the lowest common denominator in horror”.
Teenage Zombies is a perfect example of a Jerry Warren film. It is cheap, silly, and has been roundly criticized for its overuse of stock footage from other Jerry Warren films. It also has been featured in The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made (2004). Teenage Zombies has a crazy lady scientist (complete with slinky black evening gown) and two enemy agents from an unnamed country in the “East” who are plotting to create a poisonous gas that will turn America into a country of mindless, lumbering slaves. A group of partying teens stumble across the hidden lab and find themselves trapped in “pulsating cages of horror in a sadistic experiment”. That is actually from one of the movies’s taglines but Jerry Warren was way too cheap to actually make the cages pulsate. Large parts of the movie was filmed in the home owned by one of the “stars”, JLD Morrison who played enemy secret agent Brandt.
Writer/director Jerry Warren also assigned his wife, Brianne Murphy, to play Pam, one of the hapless teenagers who gets zombified. Brianne, also a cinematographer, worked with Jerry on several of his films. They divorced shortly after filming was completed on Teenage Zombies. Ironically, while Jerry went on to be infamous as the king of silly, cheapo movies, Brianne went on to be “the first director of photography on a major studio film”, Fatso (1982). Brianne was nominated for three Emmy Awards and won one. She also won an Academy Award for “Scientific and Engineering Award Plaque for the concept, design and manufacture of the MISI Camera Insert Car and Process Trailer”.
Teenage Zombies is slow to start with too much time wasted on slow moving boats floating around and one boat that gets stolen and never found. The teenagers are those clean cut looking types that were common in many films of the 1950’s and 1960’s. They try to be edgy with a little bit of slang and hand holding. One girl actually hops about and claps her hands in excitement – she looks soooooo grownup.
Despite the slow start, Teenage Zombies is actually kind of fun to watch. The crazy lady scientist, Dr. Myra (played by Katherine Victor), is a slinky but not too bright villain. Although she goes have a great scene later in the movie when the teenage boys first zap her with her own zombifying gas then question her and her head bops around like she’s a bobble head doll. Her main henchman, zombie guy Ivan, looks suitably scary but he is a far cry (a very far cry) from the zombies of The Walking Dead. Mostly zombie Ivan staggers around all hunched over and occasionally gets his jollies by grabbing the teenage girls. Disappointingly, Ivan does NOT eat any body. He does NOT even get to chew on anybody.
The teenagers spend a big chunk of scene time locked up in two small cages (no, they definitely do not pulsate regardless of the tagline). In fact, the cages are so lame and cheap looking that it is no surprise when one of the boys manages to pick the lock. Then this dim witted hero and his best bud go off and leave the girls locked in their cage. The boys spend all night wandering around the island looking for their lost boat (even though they already spent most of the day wandering around the same little island looking for the same little lost boat). Oh, they do decide to spend five minutes slapping together a scrap wood raft which they hide before they scurry back to pretend to be locked up in their cage. This group of teens is definitely not great escape artists.
Zombies, mad scientist, enemy secret agents, and teenagers, Teenage Zombies has it all. It even has a gorilla. Yes, a gorilla. What is it with black and white movies and gorillas? Just how many movies have I reviewed that had gorillas running about? The Ritz Brothers were scared silly by a gorilla in The Gorilla, Curly and his gang get chased by a gorilla in Who Killed Doc Robbin?, and Bela Lugosi turns a night club comic into a gorilla in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. Now, an angry gorilla chases teenagers around in Teenage Zombies. The gorilla is actually quicker and more lively than any of the zombies.
It’s not Daryl …. Uhm …. The Walking Dead but it will tide me over a few more days until TWD comes back. Teenage Zombies is black and white. The film shows some wear and tear in places with occasional lines and spots but it is not hugely distracting. The audio quality is great. Of course, the best thing about Teenage Zombies is that it is FREE in the Public Domain at the Internet Archive.