If George Romero can be considered the father of the zombie movie, then the Halperin brothers are the grandfathers. More than 30 years before Romero made Night of the Living Dead, producer Edward Halperin and director Victor Halperin introduced the film world to zombies with White Zombie. Four years later, in 1936, the Halperins followed it up with Revolt of the Zombies, and although it didn’t fare as well as White Zombie, it helped to invent a new genre of horror film.
Revolt of the Zombies takes place at the end of World War I. A priest (William Crowell) confesses that a unit of Cambodian soldiers who are fighting alongside the allies are in fact zombies – unfeeling, fearless beings who are completely at the control of their master. After the war ends, a General named Mazovia, played by silent film actor Roy D’Arcy (The Merry Widow), leads an expedition into Cambodia, ostensibly to find and destroy the zombie-making formula so that it can never be used again. His team includes an interpreter named Armand Louque (Dean Jagger from Bad Day at Black Rock), a General named Duvall (George Cleveland, who went on to play Gramps on T.V.’s “Lassie”), Duvall’s daughter Claire (Dorothy Stone) and another fellow named Clifford Grayson (Robert Noland). There is a love triangle within the expedition; Armand is in love with Claire, and Claire is in love with Clifford. Armand proposes to Claire, who accepts just to spite Clifford. The proposal is temporary however, as Claire soon ends up in Clifford’s arms. Once inside the jungles of Cambodia, it is Armand who discovers the formula, and he uses it to win Claire’s love in the sleaziest ways possible. Soon, it’s hard for anyone to tell who is thinking for themselves and who is under Armand’s control.
In most people’s eyes, Revolt of the Zombies does not live up to the hype of being the “sequel” to White Zombie, and truthfully, it’s an inferior movie in comparison. But, standing on its own, Revolt of the Zombies is an important film. Not only is it part of the first zombie movie franchise, it boasts a creative plot and unexpected twists. The setting of World War I and the inclusion of zombie soldiers is genius, and the movie would have been much better if it focused more on the zombie army.
Revolt of the Zombies has problems with its second act. Mainly, the entire second act. While the middle act of a movie should be where the meat of the story takes place, Revolt of the Zombies plods through, spending much too much time on the love triangle and not enough time on, well, the zombies. After a great setup where the film’s characters are introduced and the journey is begun, the film starts to drag. Just when it’s just about to lose the audience completely, it picks back up for a great ending. The middle section feels like filler, with too much time dedicated to a soap-opera subplot that, while essential to the outcome of the film, could have been simplified so that more time could have been spent on zombies.
The zombies in Revolt of the Zombies are not Romero’s zombies. They are not rotting, mutilated corpses. They are normal looking humans, just with blank, emotionless looks on their faces. Another difference between Romero’s zombies and Halperin’s zombies is that Halperin’s zombies are not dead; they are living beings that, thanks to a voodoo spell, are under the complete control of their master. As such, they return to normal once the curse is broken, which is the cause of the “revolt” in the title. The expedition and the zombies both want the same thing – for the zombie formula to never be used again.
Revolt of the Zombies is a flawed film. The acting is laughable at times, especially during the death scenes. The special effects are non-existent. The “locations” are the 1930’s version of green-screen, which is to say that the actors are performing in front of a picture or a projection of a jungle or a temple, not actually interacting with the set. And the script, while competently written, feels rushed, like it’s the first and only draft that was done. In spite of these flaws, Revolt of the Zombies still holds historical significance as the first zombie sequel, and the best thing that a horror filmmaker can hope for is the opportunity to make a sequel.
—Revolt of the Zombies is part of the public domain. This means you can watch the entire film for free right now below.–