OOM #6 – King of the Zombies (1941)

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Z-z-zombies! Moving slowly forward in time, we continue this horror madness. Let’s see if we can keep up now that I’m in Valdivia.

There’s a racial charge to everything that is related to zombies in the films they were made before the 60’s, and even then some will say that it even then until now, but here is a more blatant issue. The film starts on a small plane, where the pilot, a government official and his valet (a black man named Jeff), being forced to land in an island in the middle of the ocean. Once they recover from the crash, they find a creepy old house where the owner invites them warmly to stay… at least he does with the two white men, as he ignores and even slyly insults Jeff, whom he confines to the kitchen, as if it were the only place where he could stay. There, Jeff learns of the existence of zombies, reanimated corpses that follow the will of its master, the man who owns the house in the middle of the jungle island.

The film becomes interesting at moments when it focuses on the issues of unspoken racism, the way in which the master of the house serves some drinks and instead of offering the third glass to Jeff, he takes it for himself. The film does and doesn’t want to pay attention to that, it feels more like a naturalized bias that doesn’t make the other two white men (supposed friends of Jeff) flinch or protest in any way. Jeff is, nevertheless, the best character, a comic relief for this zombie film, a movie that seems long and dragged-out even at 67 minutes, with more time to focus on an apparent issue with the wife of the master and some sort of spy subplot, but the issue of how all the zombies are black is unspoken, yet it becomes slowly more and more important to the viewer.

There’s no much beauty in the compositions and the atmosphere of the film, and not even a trip to the kitchen at night nor a big ritual at the end can change that. This isn’t the atmospheric masterpiece (in comparison) that ‘White Zombie’ (1932) manages to be at times, specially with the help of Bela Lugosi’s performance, even if the politics are practically the same, and this film seems more preoccupied with the issues of internalized and normalized racism, it still falls short due to its lack of focus on the issues that are more interesting, instead giving way to the time where it was made too easily and fast for a quick buck. ‘Tis the times.

6/10

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