I quite enjoyed White Zombie; it's eerie atmosphere and competent story were highly evocative of an age now long forgotten and it will always get my sincere respect and admiration for the part it played in establishing the cinematic zombie. It wasn't without its faults however, though they were mostly born from being a low budget horror produced when film making was still in its childhood, and I did cut it much slack. Being second, Revolt of the Zombies, the unofficial sequel to White Zombie and produced and directed by the same Halperin Brothers (Victor and Edward) has a problem before we even start.
From the off I knew the sixty-five minutes were going to be a bit of an ordeal. The film is in the public domain now so I knew my print was likely to be a bit on the rough side and if I say I found myself scrambling for the remote to look for subtitles that weren't there, you'll get an idea just how bad it was. It turns out this was the least of its troubles though. Revolt of the Zombies takes all the faults of White Zombie; hammy acting, a bit of a convoluted plot line with too much emphasis on getting the girl, and one dimensional characterisation, and amplifies them, while all the time relinquishing everything it actually did well. The story in White Zombie may have been a bit involved, shall we say, but the puerile and cheesy mess which is Revolt of the Zombies makes it look positively intelligent by comparison.
It's World War 1 and an expedition of Allied representatives are in Angkor Wat (Cambodia) where they believe they'll be able to find the secret to making zombies and destroy it as there's no room for black arts and the occult in the civilised mass slaughter of millions, that was the great war. One of the expedition experts, Armand Louque (Dean Jagger) falls in love with the daughter of one of the trips benefactors, Claire Duval (Dorothy Stone - not the other way round as the cover would have you believe) and she accepts his hand of marriage. Claire however really loves Clifford Grayson (Robert Noland) and at the first sign of requited affection she ditches Armand and offers her betrothal to the new man. Armand decides he's not happy about all this so he sets off to discover the secret by himself, amasses an army of zombies and enslaves the whole area and everyone he knows. That's pretty much your lot. It's convoluted, vacuous and a simpletons love triangle soap opera, with some zombies leveraged in.
A series of unfortunate deaths and accidents on site, that were really caused by the wily conniving Gen. Mazovia (Roy D'Arcy) forces the premature removal of the team from Angkor, but sensing himself close to discovering the secret, Armand returns. It's magic and ancient mysticism but it's not voodoo nor the Caribbean. The secret it turns out is, well, we don't really find out and it's all a bit confusing and messy, though it would appear a gong is involved in some way. A few chemicals, a bit of smoke and some wafting in the general direction of Armand's servant is a bit of mixed success, but in an eureka moments he works out it's Bela Lugosi's eyes directly taken from the 1932 film, that is needed to get the job done. It's never explained, doesn't make any sense, but when ever Armand wants to take control of another person, up come the eyes, bong goes the gong, and the camera returns to an all new automaton.
The will-less zombie slaves are still very much alive, though there's an early scene demonstrating the incredible destructive power a regiment of them could have as they seemingly stride into battle invulnerable to bullets, they can still talk, responding to instructions from their master and they ultimately can get 'better' once the master relinquishes his telepathic mind control. There's a lot going on, telepathy, the ability to take control of another remotely and alive but without will, but able to be shot (though this was just the one scene). None of it is particularly convincing, none of it is even remotely plausible and in many ways it all feels a bit shoe-horned in.
I've generally enjoyed my forays back to 30s and 40s, recognising the inherent limitations of film making of the time and immersing myself in its accents, language and ideologies, however repugnant by modern standards. Revolt of the Zombies faults however transcend time. Languid pacing, a blathering narrative, extremely poor set design and shot direction is just some of the criticisms I feel could be levelled at it, but more than this, the film is just tedious and obvious. The love story is shallow and uninteresting, the story far fetched and poorly conceived and the zombies a bit of a superfluous mixed bag of ideas. Not a good film, 30s or not and it just goes to show that zombie stinkers were established as part of the scene right back when it all started, 3/10.