Sunday, April 30, 2017

A.R.O.G. (2008)

After the huge success of the 2004 Turkish science fiction comedy G.O.R.A., a sequel was probably inevitable, but it took a good four years for the follow-up A.R.O.G. to come about. Potentially an optimistic sign, as it could mean the writers were working extra long and hard to deliver the best they could. Does it succeed? Let's see...

Turkish salesmen Arif is living comfortable with his beautiful alien wife Ceku, when his old enemy Logar shows up, seemingly wishing to make peace, and bless Arif and Ceku's marriage. This turns out to be a ruse, however, and Logar traps Arif and sends him to the distant past, while making himself up to look identical to his foe in order to abscond with Ceku. Arif, one million years into the past, has to work out what to do, and after a period of uncertainty and depression, he comes across a human civilization. This community of peaceful cavepeople, the Arog, are oppressed by a neighbouring tribe, and Arif, along with Crow, the rebellious and artful son of the villainous tribe's leader, strive to liberate the land, and get Arif back home...

A.R.O.G. is an example of a good sequel in one sense, but not so much in another. It has little to do with the first movie besides the main character, and what gets him sent to the past, which works both for it, and against the movie. On the negative side is that there's no Gora, or even any sci-fi elements (bar the framing), characters like 216, Bob Marley Faruk, Garavel, and more are nowhere to be seen, while the ones who do return are only present in the opening and closing minutes. Where it does work in how the series so far is kinda akin to the Tourist Ömer franchise, wherein the same lead character is in a wildly different location each movie. In that sense, it's like an anthology comedy, starring the same everyman lead Arif as each movie does something new, and that's something to be appreciated, as it means the film isn't just a retread of the first.

The film is also over two hours, but doesn't feel overlong. A few minutes could definitely have been trimmed, but as it is, the movie's not boring. Moving onto the story in its own right, it's fine. Not the most original of tales, but it's told in a way that feels fresh and enjoyable. The characters are fun, the conflict well-written, and the final standoff might be a bit too goofy for some with its anachronistic nature, but I didn't have too much of a problem with it. My biggest gripe was with the resolution for the bad tribe, which seemed a little too brief.

The humour in A.R.O.G. mostly lands. Thee are many funny lines, moments, and gags, as well as some amusing pop-culture references here and there. They don't feel too forced, seeing as how Arif would be exactly the kind of person you'd expect to spout them. As for the visual pop-culture jokes, the 2001 one felt a little obvious, but the Ghost-style pottery scene was hilarous. Perhaps my favourite gag in the film was Arif's bizarrely inaccurate concept of time travel, wherein he thinks if he advances prehistoric culture to a modern technological level, that'll make time catch up to the present.

The acting here is all pretty fun, with many good performances, especially from Cem Yilmaz. Özge Özberk is nice in her relatively brief but important role, and other returning actors from G.O.R.A. like Ozan Güven are nearly unrecognizable from the previous film. New actors to the series, such as Nil Karaibrahimgil, do fine jobs too. No real complaints about the acting, though I don't yet understand Turkish, so maybe a not-so-good performance flew past my radar. I'm sure there aren't any though.

The effects here look pretty good! The locations and sets are great, looking convincingly caveman-ish. Or at least, Hollywood caveman-ish. The make-up and costuming is all realized well. There's some CGI present, and it's not too bad. The biggest computer effects are a couple of prehistoric beasties, and they're clearly CG, but they don't look awful or anything, and are kept to a minimum. Onto the soundtrack, it's ok, and serves its purpose well.

One amusing little aside. A.R.O.G. is reportedly one of the most expensive Turkish movies ever made. While it of course doesn't look bad or cheap in the slightest, at first I was surprised that a film looking like this could have such a seemingly high budget!...uuuuntil I realized this is one of the most expensive Turkish movies ever made, which doesn't necessarily mean the budget was 450 million dollars, or something like that.

While not as good as G.O.R.A., A.R.O.G. is still quite a funny movie, and just like its predecessor a nice example of modern Turkish cinema. It also did super well at the local box-office! Until recently it seemed like this was the end of the series, but coming next year I believe is Arif V 216. Well that's a sequel that certainly took a long time! Hopefully it's as good a follow up as this is, and there are no diminishing returns. I remain optimistic, and I recommend A.R.O.G....

Demir Yumruk: Devler Geliyor (1970)

Policeman Enver, his girlfriend Meral, and friend Orhan, are investigating two nefarious cadres of villains trying to locate a hidden store of uranium. Also becoming involved in the search/quest for justice is Murat, son of a murdered archeologist. Together, these four heroes must defeat the evil Zakoff, and Fu Manchu, before Turkey is taken over, the world to follow!...

Demir Yumruk: Devler Geliyor, aka Iron Fist: The Giants are Coming is a gloriously pulpy action flick, telling a brief but mostly satisfying story of revenge and superheroics. The film sits at a snug 70 minutes long, and doesn't wear out its welcome, is relatively easy to watch in unsubtitled Turkish (*raises hand*), and hosts plenty of cool visuals, from Fu Manchu's traps, to the gas mask henchmen, and more that I won't spoil.

The plot is where Demir Yumruk kinda falls down. Even knowing the plot is about these parties searching for a cache of uranium, that doesn't make the events much clearer. In fact it actually seems to muddy them up even more. Why are there coffins with large crucifix segments, decoy coffins in the ocean, secret priests, and a cave the secret cross doesn't lead to, containing a second-hand knife stuck into a wall, that once removed causes a cave-in, and that's it. I'm not sure if understanding the language would make this plot any clearer! Moving on to the biggest issue with the plot is how the second half is a rather endless cycle of the characters being kidnapped, escaping confinement only to immediately be captured by the other villains, escape again, and be captured by the first baddies, etc!

The climax turns out well, but there's not really much in the way of a denouement, or even so much as a parting word. Enver defeats Fu Manchu, his girlfriend says 'Oh, Enver!', and everyone walks off into the sunset! Oh well, at least we got that much. It's actually kinda surprising how long the movie lingers on that final image, rather than show it for just a split second before cutting to Son. Perhaps the director was proud of how it looked? If so, he had good reason! It's a nice ending shot, even if it does grate on you that the characters barely said a word to each-other after the villains were dispatched.

The pacing is pretty good, minus the kidnapping problem, but there's one somewhat important thing the movie forgets for the first 37 minutes. Actually showing the superhero! I'm not kidding! It's halfway through the movie before we suddenly realize there's a costumed crimefighter present, and even then, his costume is pretty optional. After we first see him in it, Enver wears the outfit pretty consistently, but it's completely missing in the final 10 or so minutes.

Demir Yumruk's script may be lacking in certain areas, but the fun action and distinctive cast manage to mostly save the movie. There are loads of distinctive characters present here  from the superhero lead, to the iron-clawed henchman and his scarred boss who wields a mitten gun, as well as Fu Manchu himself, who's a disabled transvestite! I was a little confused if he was intended to be a crossdresser, or transgender, but it seems like the former. As for how it's handled, yeah, it's good! The villain of this movie just so happens to be both these things, commanding fear and respect, which is a neat bit of representation that's still rarely seen nowadays! The other heroes are entertaining too. The comic relief Orhan isn't afraid to get into the fray, and gets an incredibly ballsy moment early on, when the iron claw guy uses said arm to strike him for insolence, and he catches it without even flinching! He looked at the thug with the friggin' metal death machine for an arm and thought "Hmmph, I can take him", and he's right! The girlfriend Meral is captured a lot, but that doesn't mean the movie is sexist towards her, because everyone gets captured in this movie! She also gets to throw down plenty too, and does enough that she's like a superhero in her own right!

Now, you may be asking, does this foreign 'ripoff' cast an Asian actor in the role of Fu Manchu? Well, not in the way you think, but it kinda does! The actor playing him is Caucasian or Middle Eastern (hard to tell in black-and-white), and at first this was a bit strange, but then after a bit of thinking I realized it actually makes perfect sense. After all, if, say, an American white guy is playing a Chinese character, that's not exactly accurate, but Turkey is actually partly in Asia, so even if they don't look it by appearance, a homegrown Turkish dude could totally conceivably play an Asian character, because that's what they are.

The movie mostly looks fine for what it is, with some impressively staged scenes, though there are a couple of amusing budget snafus, like the hilarious moment involving a jail cell bars that obviously weren't attached to a wall (or even anywhere near one) when the super tough hero rips them away. There was also another funny moment not caused by budget issue, but just general unintentional hilaroty, when Enver leaps off a ledge onto a moving car with a soft material top, and no-one inside hears or sees the impact! Then there's when Enver and Murat are beset by thugs while working out in the gym. They beat them up, then as the baddies are still either out cold on the floor or fleeing the scene, the two heroes have a good laugh and decide to immediately go to the showers! Naturally this goes about as well as you'd expect, with them being captured, though by other villains, but still!

Moving onto the costume, it's...interesting! It's a darker costume with a hood/cowl, and a Superman logo! There's also a Batman logo on the belt, because I guess the Turks couldn't get enough superheroes

The acting seems pretty decent, with the villains having the most fun, like Altan Günbay as the scarred crimelord Zakof, and Kayhan Yildizoglu makes for an entertaining and unique Fu Manchu, even if he doesn't hold a candle to the likes of Boris Karloff or Christopher Lee (though who does?). Something interesting to note is that he apparently speaks in an old Turkish dialect for his role!

Tunç Basaran's direction is surprisingly good for a film of its type, far from being a point-and-shoot affair. There are many well-framed and choreographed scenes.

Lifted music is common in the scoring of these older Turkish films, and this is seemingly no exception, though I'm unsure of the provenance of said tracks. They're pretty good, though the really good one isn't first used until the final 10 minutes. I'm impressed they were able to wait that long, but given it's the best piece of music in the movie, I wish it'd popped up sooner.

Demir Yumruk: Devler Geliyor isn't a great movie, but as both a bit of pulp fun, as well as a cultural artifact of Turkish cinema, it's well worth a watch, and it's certainly one of the better films of its type that I've seen, and I've seen plenty!...

Blood of the Tribades (2016)

If there's one thing the world can't get enough of, it's Jean Rollin movies, and ones inspired by his works! Today I'll be looking at the new Canadian homage Blood of the Tribades, and see if the blood is indeed the life (and later on read other reviews, and realize I probably wasn't the first by any means to make that joking send-off remark)...

In a strange world, 2000 years after the great vampire god Bathor blessed the land, things have gone wrong. The men have taken control and perverted the word of their god, using it to subjugate the women and slaughter all they deem unfit in the eyes of Bathor. Struck by mysterious disease, they swear to not rest until all 'sinners' are gone. Elsewhere, in a communion of women lives two young women, Élizabeth and Fantine, who manage to escape the hecatomb brought by the men, with the help of a group of liberated female vampires who have been biding their time for 2000 years for a singular purpose...

Blood of the Tribades is quite an interesting film! The plot is a more low-key one, and it's often vague, but never to the point where you don't know what's going on. I partially wish we'd know a little more about what was going on as these characters inhabit such a fascinating world, but we learn juuuust enough to sate us. Barely though! I'm glad we learn what we did, otherwise I'd be pissed!

This movie is beautiful! Utilizing both the beauty of natural locations mixed with secluded and sometimes dilapidated older buildings, Blood of the Tribades looks truly stunning, and in this you can definitely see the inspiration. Jean Rollin's movies get lots of flack, but a lot of that I feel is unjustified. The guy's direction and eye for visuals was marvellous and breathtaking, and that's at least worth something. It's lovely to see that there are people inspired by his movies, and enough to make their own like them, rather than just hate on them.

The characters are interesting, though the vague script leaves them somewhat unexplored. We get a little interesting history, and see that the vampire women have lived for so long but forgotten much of their lives as they suffer in complacency, their true lives shrouded in a fog of lost memory. Great stuff, but perhaps the two female leads didn't get quite enough to do early on. Thankfully they make up for that in the last act. As for the remaining characters, the two liberated women were good, but a bit underwritten/unexplored. The twins were a super fun addition, too! My favourite characters in the film by far.

The villains were definitely an uncomfortably realistic bunch of monsters, and well-deserving of whatever gruesome fates might befall them. I did find it pretty groanworthy that they were so eager to kill their own dwindling members for the most minor of infractions, but that's not a mark against the movie, as religious zealots are indeed fucking psycho idiots. The cured guy, however, was terminally stupid for his actions!

There are some interesting themes here on identity, and feminism in the face of internalized misogyny. All in all, this is not a happy story by any means. This doesn't make it hard to watch though. It's just a bit depressing at times, and getting attached to any characters is a bit risky.

The film's catchphrase/mantra of 'The blood is the life' is an oft repeated one, but never to an annoying degree, and never becomes too repetitive, though it comes close. Other dialogue is well-written, and aaaalmost comes across as sounding pretentious, but not quite, and is nicely evocative.

The effects present are mostly really good! The fangs are convincing, and not akin to paper. There's a fantastic eye slitting sequence that's only sliiiightly undercut by the Wilhelm scream. That didn't amuse me very much, though your mileage may vary. One effect I was almost ready to criticize was a scarring one, where it just looked like the actresses were smearing fake blood on their bodies with a knife and calling it a wound...But then blood emerged from the fresh 'wounds'! Either they really cut themselves, or that was a really convincing effect! I'm curious how they managed it. The same is true for many of the other effects, including the diseased make-up for the men. There's a little CGI in a couple of scenes, and it's not too bad, or very distracting. Noticeable, but not distracting.

My biggest grievance with the film if you could call it that is the movie being in English, and with Canadian accents to boot (it sounding mostly American being the issue), but even this didn't bother me much, partly just because I got used to it, but mainly due to a very interesting linguistic shift halfway through the movie!

The acting in Blood of the Tribades is mixed. Some of the performers are really good, such as Seth Chatfield as the lead antagonist, Tymisha 'Tush' Harris, and I quite liked Simone de Boudoir. Chloé Cunha and Mary Widow carry their parts well. Other performances aren't quite as good, with somewhat kinda sorta...unconvincing deliveries, but none of them are that bad.

Writers, directors, and producers Sophia Cacciola and Michael J Epstein do a great job on all grounds, with the direction being impressive, and showing great visuals in many places!

Musically, this is very good! The score is a subtle one, but with many nice tracks, and general spookiness, and ethereal...ness.

Being inspired by the lesbian vampire fare of the 70s, there's an abundance of female nudity, and full frontal male nudity too! How often do you EVER see that? Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the only example I can think of where a mainstream film showed that, and I'm surprised that movie even managed to without being shot down and cut by the U.S. censors (because apparently those assholes are still around). Anyway, back to Tribades. It's cool seeing equal opportunity nudity in film, and this is a quality this shares in common with Jean Rollin movies. I'm definitely glad for its presence, because male nudity should be normalised in cinema.

The poster to this movie is a neat one! Not an artstyle commonly seen in film posters, but good nonetheless, depicting the film's imagery and characters well. I also dig the scratchiness, and the familiar font of the title.

To finish, Blood of the Tribades is a really good movie! Not without some flaws, but the positives most certainly outweigh them, and I'm very much looking forward to what Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein have done in the past, and what they'll do in the future...

Bal-Can-Can (2005)

It's been far too long since I last watched a film from the Balkan country of Macedonia. The last (and only) I'd seen was Goodbye 20th Century (Zbogum na Dvaesetiot Vek)

Many years ago, blood brothers Seraphim and Vitomir tried escaping Communist-ruled Macedonia (then part of Yugoslavia), but only Vitomir succeeded. Though separated for the rest of their lives, the two remain bound, and on his deathbed, Vitomir asks his son to honour the debt he owes to Seraphim's family if they're ever in trouble. Years later, a small war breaks out in Macedonia, and the peaceful Trendafil Karanfilov has no desire to fight. Despite the efforts of his hostile mother-in-law, Trendafil manages to hide the draft with the help of his devoted wife Ruza, and eventually flee the country for the time being. On the way though, the mother-in-law dies, and Trendafil, unable to secure a burial in the region, buys a carpet to keep her in until Ruza can return home.

However, it's not long before the carpet is stolen, granny and all, and the despondent Trendafil calls up his blood brother, Vitomir's Italian son Santino, for help. The duo then begin their search for the missing carpet, and it's one that will take them all through the scarred regions of the Balkan countries...

Bal-Can-Can is a really fun and involving watch, and shows how good Macedonian cinema can be. It's partly a comedy, of the decidedly black variety, but also an allegory on life in the Balkans, and the state of the region. If you're unfamiliar with it, this is a good piece to watch. You might not pick up on certain things that locals might, but you'll definitely get a feel for the land here, and some of the people in it.

Focusing more on absurd bureaucratics at first, the film takes its time setting the characters and world up before jumping into the road trip. That only begins over half-an-hour in. Not sure how I feel about that, because it makes the film feel like something else before suddenly shifting gears nearly halfway through. At least the set-up is very much fleshed out.

While it starts off as a goofy enough movie, if rooted in a serious location and time, Bal-Can-Can gradually gets darker as it goes on. It's a really good progression, and it was interesting seeing the movie suddenly become very serious (though it mostly never loses the comedy altogether).
Though it gets perhaps a little too dark in the final act. It also got a bit ridiculously action-y, and I felt that took away a bit from the realism of this strange odyssey. It was pretty absurd at times, there were moments of coincidences, or stunning bad or good luck, but the finale really does start to stretch credulity in a way the rest of the film didn't. I also felt that Santino dying didn't add much, or at least, not in the way he died, which felt a bit pointless. On that note, I'm not sure if I like that we know he died from the get-go. On one hand it's quite the spoiler, but on the other hand the framing device of the corpses in the morgue 'chatting' sure is an interesting one!

I definitely enjoyed the characters here. Many are quite exaggerated, as well as more than a little silly. Trendafil is a quiet and resigned protagonist, and isn't very emotive, but that's the point, and his progression is neat, even if it did get a bit over-the-top come the climax. Then there's Santino, a low-life criminal who completely forgot about the promise he made at his father's deathbed about helping his blood brother if they're ever in trouble, but the moment he remembers, he speeds to the Balkans with barely a word, and tries his best to help Trendafil. It's interesting seeing this character grow as the events become more dangerous and serious. Ruza is likeable and somewhat abrasive, leading to many amusing lines, though she disappears from the action once the search for the carpet starts, going back to to Macedonia and only seen again at the very end.

Probably the only weak link is in the villains, not because they're poorly realized, but because they don't really appear much due to the road trip nature of the film. Instead we see the leads meeting various other people on their search, some more deadly than others (even if only to themselves), but the proper villains don't appear until the last 20 minutes, and aren't really fleshed out much. They're just evil gangsters/traffickers. Dzango the Soap is a consistent antagonist, which is good, though he's not the major baddie.

The acting in Bal-Can-Can is really good! We get a variety of performances, some more subdued and others more over-the-top. As for any bad performances, I didn't spot any, but the language barrier would make that a bit hard unless they're visually weak, like if some were wooden.

It was great seeing Vlado Jovanovski getting a lead role. He's a really good actor, and after enjoying his performances in smaller roles, I was glad to see him handling bigger material. He delivers a fine stoic perfermance. Adolfo Margiotta was really good as Santino, and come the end he was like the heart of the movie. Zvezda Angelovska was entertaining, and I especially liked Jelisaveta 'Seka' Sablic as Zumbula the grandmother, and her hilariously hostile relationship with her son-in-law.

Bal-Can-Can's direction is really good, with many beautifully shot scenes, which use the environment to full effect. There are a couple of moments where the editing goes a bit haywire, but those aside, it's put together well.

The score is varied,with a very local sound to it. It starts off pretty fun and peppy, and once the tone starts to shift, it reflects that really well. I wonder if the success of the tonal shift would work even half as well if not for the score, because it lends so much more power to the sudden drama!

I have it on good authority that Macedonians are much like us Australians in that they watch foreign films in their original languages, with subtitles. Yay!  Not only that, but whenever there are characters from other countries in this movie, they speak in their respective languages, which I thought was neat! It's a very lingual film, with characters speaking in Macedonian, Italian, Bulgarian, Russian, Albanian, Serbian, etc.

One last thing to note is something any filmgoing Macedonians will no doubt have picked up on-The fact this Darko Mitrevski, writer and director of Bal-Can-Can is also the one behind Goodbye 20th Century. My reaction to this, a little while after seeing the film, was 'WHAT?!'. I swear I didn't seek this movie it based on that! I mean, I would've, had I been aware of it sooner, but I discovered it due to entirely different circumstances, and by coincidence, this just so happens to be created by the same guy behind my favourite Macedonian film! Synchronicity, huh!

Bal-Can-Can is a worthwhile watch, both funny and dark, and a great film I'd recommend to those interested in foreign cinema, particularly if the Balkans are of any interest to you. I hope it doesn't disappoint!...

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

White Zombie (1932), Revolt of the Zombies (1936), King of the Zombies (1941), and Revenge of the Zombies (1943)

Whenever you think of zombies you're probably thinking of the George Romero kind, that devour the living and spread their virus far and wide. It wasn't always like that. Before Night of the Living Dead, zombie movies were more of the Voodoo variety, focusing on people resurrected from the dead as slaves for nefarious human masterminds. Tonight I'll be looking at four such films...

White Zombie

Neil Parker and his fiancee Madeleine Short have just arrived in Haiti for their wedding, to be held at the estate of Charles Beaumont, a plantation owner. Beaumont is in love with Madeleine too, and conspires with the feared Voodoo master Murder Legendre to make her fall in love with him. They accomplish this by drugging her with a poison designed to cause death-like symptoms, and Madeleine is later dug up, and made into a mindless zombie. Wanting her for himself, Legendre turns on Beaumont, and it's up to Neil and a friendly local missionary to save his paramour and stop the diabolical madman before its too late...

White Zombie is a mixed bag of a movie. Some elements are considered classic, and it's possibly the first zombie movie ever, but some issues drag it down a bit, which I'll get into later.

Some sequences are brilliant! There are quite a few almost dreamlike scenes with little to no dialogue that rely entirely on interesting visuals, such as the one of Neil in the bar, despondent on 'losing' Madeleine, and reacting to shadows. The use of sound is likewise great, such as the uneasy repetition in the zombie slave mill. The direction overall is interesting, with many very well shot and realized moments!

I also really dug that the movie was about real zombies, instead of being fanciful. Not that I would've minded more magic-based zombies, and Bela's hypnotic skills do veer a little into fantasy territory, but for the most part it's about the real life practice of drugging people into a deathlike state, letting them be buried, then digging them back up again to be a mindless doped up slave. 

My biggest problem with White Zombie is that the plot feels a little underwritten, and not quite enough happened to my liking. Also annoying is the short length, which adds to the previous negative.

Another big issue with White Zombie is that the acting...uh...leaves a little to be desired. Bela Lugosi is fine, but the script somewhat lets him down, and he doesn't get a great deal to do other than stare. Boy is he great at evilly glaring though! The heavy eyebrows and devilish goatee all help make him look super evil. The rest of the performers range from ok to not so great. Never terrible, though, except for the old tribal man who may or may not have been a white dude in blackface!

The dialogue isn't that great. There's some good stuff here and there, but most of it's pretty standard and unremarkable. A couple of lines stood out, and not for the right reasons! The first was Neil's line of "Surely you don't think she's alive? In the hands of natives?! Oh no, better dead that that!". Dude, not cool! The second, markedly more amusing, was in the same scene, when Neil finds out all about zombies, and that his wife may not be dead after all. His response is a simple "Boom!".

The score is quite good. It's suitably ooky in some parts, but a little too jaunty in others.

White Zombie isn't a perfect film, but there is a reason its reputation has endured for over 80 years, and it's not exclusively because Bela Lugosi stars (though that helps).

Revolt of the Zombies

During World War 1, soldier Armand Louque has met the Cambodian priest Tsiang, and learnt about the secret to creating an unbeatable zombie army. After Tsiang is murdered, an expedition is mounted to the ancient region of Angkor to find the lost knowledge of zombies...

Revolt of the Zombies is actually quite an interesting movie, but sadly one that's very nearly sunk by its tedious and confusing first half. It seems to start off midway through the story, and the plot we see makes no sense. One minutes the top brass want to destroy the 'recipe' for zombies, and the next they want  to keep it for themselves to win the war, then in the same sentence they'll say how they want to destroy it. Their opinion on whether Tsiang the priest is an ally or an enemy also changes often, depending on the scene. Then characters who've only just met are having an engagement party in the very next scene, all while Armand and his friend are damn near impossible to tell apart! For this first stretch, the film is more concerned with soap opera love triangle antics than telling a spooky story involving zombies!

Now we come to the interesting part. The lead Armand is really the villain! Hypothetically you grow attached to the protagonist, liking him, and only once this has happened does the turning point occur, and you realize he was never the hero. It would be a brilliant twist if not for the bad taste in my mouth from what came before, but it still does work to an extent. The first half hypothetically spends its time developing the characters and their relationships, then you're hit with the revelation once the second half begins, and the film takes a turn for the spooky. The problem is that not only is the first half of the film hard to follow, but the characters are all unpleasant jerks, and you don't know at this point that that's intentional. It comes across as simple bad writing. Secondly, the apparent main villain (who looks like Snidely Whiplash) appears so little you almost forget he exists, so that misdirect doesn't work as well as it should. It's also not the sign of a good horror when pretty much the entire first half of it doesn't have a single scare.

The title is disappointing for a few reasons. The zombies do in fact revolt, but it's only in the climax. This means that for almost the whole movie you're annoyed the zombies aren't revolting, and once you've finished, you're pissed that the title spoiled the ending! Secondly, where are the zombies?! They're right in the title, but aside from one brief scene, they don't appear until over half an hour in, and do very little but stand around until the end. The ending also comes across more as 'Revolt of the Humans', but that's not a problem with the movie, necessarily, as zombie meant something different back then. But then again, none of these people are even so much as undead, so...

Speaking of a different time, the word 'robot' is used to describe mind-controlled zombies. People in the 1940s were weird! At least they don't pronounce it 'ro-but' here.

This is labelled a semi-sequel to White Zombie, but it isn't really. They're both made by Victor Halperin, and are about zombies, but they're completely different in every single way, even down to the cultures springing up the undead. The only carryover is something I'll get into below.

For a film set primarily in Cambodia, you maybe wondering how Revolt of the Zombies does on the race front. Eh, not too terribly well, I'm afraid. Tsiang the priest seems to be getting a pretty big role, but unfortunately he's killed only 8 minutes in, and the only other Asian characters we see are servants. Also, one particular scene gives off the impression that the expedition is so racist they have to bring their own white exotic dancers with them to Cambodia! The main servant character we see does become awesomely independent in the conclusion though, which is a small plus.

The effects here are ok. One improvement Revolt of the Zombies has over every other movie in this post is that when the zombies are shot, the bullets actually make marks! In all the others, characters shoot, but just because the zombies can't die, I guess they've also got metal skin, and remain completely unmarked. The film is lazy in one respect though-Its re-use of Bela Lugosi's hypnovision eyes from White Zombie whenever characters are hypnotized.

The Cambodian scenery on display also looks pretty gorgeous, though it sometimes gets a bit obvious that rather than film the movie itself over there, the directors just went ahead on their own, shot some footage of the country, then went back and had it rear projected in front of the actors. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the hilarious wading scene! Besides that though, it never looks too bad.

The acting is all pretty ok. Not that great, but not terrible either. The leads are all pretty dull. Roy D'Arcy is pretty fun as the over-the-top misdirect villain, and I wish he was actually the main antagonist, as he's having a ball (and the villain we do get has the indignity to refer to Robert Burns as Bobby Burns! That's just wrong!). Also, he looks Asian, but apparently isn't? I don't mean to say he's a white actor in yellowface. I mean he actually looked somewhat Asian at first. Meanwhile, the very English-y named William Crowell actually is Asian! As is Teru Shimada, who plays the main servant character. He's entirely wasted until the climax, where he finally gets to actually do something.

I may have used the word 'jaunty' in this post too early, because it's much more suited to the opening theme for this movie than White Zombie's score! The remainder of the soundtrack is ok, but unmemorable.

Revolt of the Zombies is an almost neat film, but it's sadly a failure in many respects, and not really worth watching. You'd do much better to stick with White Zombie. I do dig that poster though! It's WAY better than the film deserves...

King of the Zombies

'Mac' McCarthy, Bill Summers, and the manservant Jeff are flying to the Bahamas when their plane experiences difficulties, and they're forced to crash land on an island below, where they were able to pick up radio signals from. Despite a bumpy landing, the trio survive with only a few scrapes and bruises, and are met by the sinister Dr. Miklos Sangre at his foreboding mansion. While Mac and Bill are at first only slightly suspicious of their seemingly-accommodating host, Jeff picks up on what's really going right away, as the servants of the house tell him of the zombies that prowl the island...

King of the Zombies is a decent film and it tells a fine story, but there are certain aspects that go too unexplored for my liking, such as Mrs. Sangre's condition and her apparent motivations coupled with how she can act on them despite her condition. Then there's the villain himself, whose personal motivations are pretty unclear. I mean, we know that he's a nazi agent (though they never actually say that) wanting information from a kidnapped U.S. admiral's head, but he doesn't really have a reason for doing this besides being generally evil. I also feel not enough is done with the zombies or the Voodoo until the relatively brief climax, and by that point it almost feels a bit too little too late.

Another problem is that it feels like there are scenes missing. There's one character I suspect only survived due to a last minute rewrite, as they're never seen again after an apparent death, and the denouement feels empty without them if they did survive. I'm tempted to say this is a film that could've benefited from being longer than just 67 minutes long, but actually if some prior scenes had been cut and replaced with something better, the runtime might've been fine as it is. As for the mixing of the horror/comedy and spy genres, that's done marginally well,  albeit hampered by the previously listed faults.

The characters are mostly a bit bland, but a few are more memorable. The villain is a neat one, even if he isn't played by Bela Lugosi or Peter Lorre, as originally planned. Also, as if you couldn't guess he's the villain from the get-go by his general ooky demeanour, there's when he pours out "some of the finest brandy in Europe", but only in three glasses, with Jeff getting a handful of nothing when he goes to grab one. Racist prick!

The direction by Jean Yarbrough (who I'm constantly disappointed isn't a woman) is good, and he frames spooky scenes really well, making great use of shadows too! One of the best is the part with the candles at midnight! The production looks great for a low budget picture, though we never really get a feel for the island as a location, presumably because the sound stage posing as one only had so much (read: so little) space.

Popular African-American actor Mantan Moreland absolutely makes this film! He is indeed the main character, which is a relief, and he's as funny as usual, singlehandedly pulling the movie from 'somewhat bearable but mediocre' to 'quite watchable'! He gets plenty of funny dialogue, like when he mistakes the distant beating of Voodoo drums for his heartbeat, "Quiet, will ya? What you tryin' to do, wake up the dead?", or "Whew, if it was in me, I sure would be pale now!", On zombies, "That's what they is. Dead folks who was too lazy to lay down.", "I never dreamt a dream like that in my wildest nightmares!", and the hilarious closing lines!

There was a stereotypical archetype in some spooky films of this time which tended to portray black characters as exclusively perpetually frightened wimps. This is usually groanworthy, but it works here and doesn't come across as racist or problematic, for a few reasons. There's a wide variety of black characters in the film, from the sassy maid Samantha, to the nefarious butler who seemingly holds more power than first apparent, and a Voodoo high priestess. Because of this, Jeff being scared at spooky stuff doesn't come off as a stereotype, but rather a character trait exclusive to him. One good example is when he sees zombies for the first time. He runs away like a scaredy cat, but Samantha who casually told him of the zombies and called them in is as cool as a cucumber. Also, despite being scared (and he frankly has good reason to be!), Jeff is also a quick-witted and proactive character.

The rest of the acting is all fine. The two other leads fare decently, while Joan Woodbury is ok, but the movie doesn't give her much to do, and it almost feels like her character and her quest to discover what's happening to her mother was meant for a different script entirely. Henry Victor is quite good as the antagonist,  however he too is let down by the script. Margeurite Whitten is great fun as Samantha, working well with Moreland, and Madame Sul-Te-Wan is a delightful presence, though also not used a whole lot.

What I'd like to see is a remake of King of the Zombies, about a very urban American black lead who doesn't know head nor tail of African/Caribbean cultures falling into a Voodoo-infused adventure in the West Indies/around that region. It might be an interesting idea, and a potentially neat way of remaking this!

While it may have its flaws, King of the Zombies is definitely a fun time, and I recommend it! It's probably one of the best early zombie films out there, even if there is room for improvement...

Revenge of the Zombies

Scott Warrington and his friend Larry Adams, along with the servant Jeff, and the local doctor, head to the estate of Dr. Max von Alterman. Scott's sister Lila (also von Alterman's wife) has just died under mysterious circumstances, and Scott and co. suspect foul play. Jeff is the first to pick up on the freaky nature of the estate, while the others learn soon enough of the true horrors afoot, and the reason why Lila's body keeps disappearing...

While I've heard it labelled as a sequel, Revenge of the Zombies is more a remake of King of the Zombies if anything, but thankfully it's a good kind of remake. It takes the base story, but changes up the setting and characters, enough so that it's different, but not so much that it's unrecognizable from the source material. Howfuckingever, I do NOT appreciate a remake, even a well-handled one, coming out a mere two years after the original film!

The two leads here have more interesting motivations than the previous film's duo, but there's one thing that the heroes of King didn't share-They're dicks! I was hardly endeared to them thanks to their treatment of Jeff, which is in complete contrast with King. In that movie he may have still been a servant, but you get the impression that Jeff and the other guys are friends, and he's not just subservient help to them.  In Revenge, however, the leads are all too happy to unconsciously belittle him, and all-round ignore his very existence.They barely interact with Jeff, and noticeably never invite him in when they visit people, instead just leaving him outside like a dog, and he's immediately put to work in the kitchens of the von Alterman estate once they reach it. Just goes to show how tolerant and accepting King of the Zombies was, because in Revenge, Mantan Moreland is stuck in a stereotypical role, getting almost nothing to do but holler and be scared. Depressing that this came out later, not before! Thankfully Jeff is able to briefly shine come the end, Shining style.

More problems with the 'heroes' are that they're terrible investigators, as they spend nearly the whole movie unaware of the truth of what's going on at the estate, which is especially stupid considering it's positively crawling with the undead! Discounting that for a second, they're rubbish investigators when it comes to their much simpler suspicions about von Alterman, making very progress over the course of the film.

The villain is quite good, while the supporting cast range from decent to meh. The love interest is pretty dim and barely contributes. There's barely even a romance, yet she and Larry still become an item come the end of the film.

The dialogue is mostly tolerable, but there are a couple of funny lines from Mantan Moreland. "I don't know where you at but 30 seconds from now I'm going to be 11 miles from here!", "Well my head keeps telling my feet there ain't no zombies, but my feet ain't convinced.". I also liked the amusingly Southern dialect, with lines like "Sho'nuff", and "Ah 'sspect". One line REALLY rubbed me the wrong way though. After being rescued from a fix by Jeff, Larry responds by either saying "Thanks boy, you're here in the nick of time", or "Thanks! Boy, you're here in the nick of time". If he said the latter, the actor is just guilty of very poor enunciation. If the former though, the movie and I need to have some words!

Revenge of the Zombies starts off somewhat intriguing, but  devolves once it turns out the villain's mysterious motivation is a much simpler 'workin' for the stinkin' nazzies variety'. Thankfully the concept of a mad nazi scientist making an army of zombies to conquer the world is still an awesome one, if a little too high-concept than the low budget (or indeed the writer's imagination) can show.

The plot itself is actually good, but it's the script that lets it down. This is a film that could really do with a remake. Problems aside though, the climax is great! Horror perfection. The ending is also pretty funny, with a sweet denouement for Jeff and Rosella the maid.

Unlike the 'prequel', this isn't a comedy at all. It's straight horror with no laughs outside of the occasional amusing line from Moreland. There is one scene with a hilariously unsubtle disguise an enemy agent uses to masquerade as an American sheriff, complete with a cowboy hat and ridiculously huge cigar! Trouble is, I don't think it was meant to be funny!

The acting here is all ok. Robert Lowery and Mauritz Hugo are pretty milquetoast. Mantan Moreland is good as usual but not particularly prominent. Now, believe it or not, John Carradine was actually young at one point, and this fact has indeed been caught on film multiple times. He has fun playing the typical mad scientist. Gale Storm is ok as the secretary and sorta-not-really love interest, but nothing special. Veda Ann Borg is decent but her delivery is a tad monotone. I'm not sure if that was unintentional, or if she was deliberately talking like that given her zombie status. It's likely to be the latter, so I'll give her a pass. Playing the head servant/head zombie Lazarus is James Baskett, who I quickly noticed has a very distinctive voice, thinking 'This guy sounds like a regular Geoffrey Holder', so I decided to look him up, and as it turns out, he's Uncle Remus from Song of the South!

African American actress Sybil Lewis is in much the same role Marguerite Whitten had in King of the Zombies, but sadly she's not used nearly as much as Whitten was there. Madame Sul-Te-Wan (the only other returning cast member next to Mantan Moreland) was likewise underused at first, but gets a really good scene near the end.

Revenge of the Zombies is certainly watchable. Not great, not as good as King, and perhaps even guiltier of wasting a good premise than said predecessor, but in any case it's not awful. Really its biggest sin besides the wasted potential is the criminal underuse of Mantan Moreland!...


Those who prefer modern day zombies of the flesh eating variety may be disappointed by the stark difference and relative bloodlessness of these old Voodoo ones, but then again, the opposite might be true. Any zombie fan who's gotten a bit tired of the modern stuff might relish something as far out different in the genre as these flicks. For those people I definitely recommend White Zombie and King of the Zombies, but Revolt and Revenge are both skippable.

Speaking of my selection, funnily enough two of them are technically sequels, but barely, only holding on by the tiniest of threads. So really I've been looking at four random zombie movies of the period, which is good, as that allows for looking at a wider variety of films from the era rather than if they were all part of the same series. All in all, this is an interesting sub-genre for sure, but not one used to its full potential in these particular films, some less so than others...