The way 1940’s cinema equates Nazis with evil is a plain reflection of America’s attitude at the time. Zombie films routinely use Nazi involvement or science to equate braindead, murderous soldiers to ghouls and zombies.
But the world could have never predicted the level of death that the extermination camps would reveal in a few years — a grim, far more sinister and heart-breakingly accurate zombie narrative underpinning that will always make our blood run cold.
The mad scientist Dr. Max von Altermann (John Carradine) is our evil Nazi presence in Revenge of the Zombies (1943), and he spends his time building armies of the undead for the Third Reich. One of the earliest entries into the genre, you could call it the great-granddad of nazi-zombie horror if you like.
Hitler, At It Again:
Scott Warrenton (Mauritz Hugo) is investigating the recent death of his sister Lila (Veda Ann Borg) with a hired detective. They travel to an old mansion in a Louisiana swamp to meet with Lila’s husband Dr. von Altermann (Carradine’s star power was a major selling point for the film).
Warrenton soon discovers that Lila has been reanimated and – via a radio in a cabinet that communicates with Hitler — that von Altermann is a sinister scientist for the SS. The doctor ties up Warrenton who must find a way to escape before it’s too late for himself and his sister.
The film is a follow-up to the 1941 horror-comedy King of the Zombies (1941) and rehashes the basic plot of discovering a mad zombie scientist in a mansion (reprised in 1977’s Shock Waves).
It’s the second Monogram zombie thriller from the low-budget Hollywood studio that turned out dirt-cheap productions in mass quantities. Furthermore, African American actors Mantan Moreland (a caricatured comic relief) and Madame Sul-Te-Wan appear in both films. As one of the earliest zombie films, Peter Dendle of The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia (Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk) notes that it’s the first film to assume that the audience already knows what a zombie is. He also calls it essentially a remake of King of the Zombies.
Giving the SS a Rest:Although audiences may have understood the concept of a slow-moving ghoul, notably there is no zombie makeup: nary an infection, dead eye, or slackjaw to be found. Also dating the picture is the final fate of the two main characters who encounter a danger in the swamp that we can’t help but giggle at today.
Peter Dendle in his Zombie Movie Encyclopedia, Volume 2 calls out the use of nazi historical resonance when saying most nazi-influenced zombie films are “pretty awful.” The plot device hints at laziness, but in the case of ‘Revenge of the Zombies’, its hard to criticize a genre in its infancy and debut to mainstream audiences (King of the Zombies was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Music two years earlier). The film has little to offer now to those outside the Turner Classic Movie crowd — excluding critical praise for Mantan Moreland — but respect must by paid where respect is due. Even for a genre note that’s a little distasteful, there must be a first time for everything.
Watch Revenge of the Zombies here:
|Buy the film at Amazon.com|
|Buy the film at Amazon.co.uk|
Written by: Ben Mueller