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Film / King of the Zombies

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King of the Zombies is a 1941 American horror comedy film directed by Jean Yarbrough and stars Dick Purcell, Joan Woodbury, and Mantan Moreland.

Set in the Caribbean shortly before the U.S. was drawn into WWII, this zombie chiller tells the tale of an American special agent who, along with his valet and a pilot, is sent out to find a missing American Admiral, whose plane crashed on one of the islands. Unfortunately, the hero's plane also crashes. Fortunately, a suave but sinister German doctor with a very strange wife is there to help them. The doctor explains that his spouse is in a strange trance and he is trying to find a cure. The valet soon discovers that she is not the only one; the island is teeming with zombies. When the valet tries to tell his employer, the employer refuses to believe in "voodoo hocus pocus." The valet and the pilot find themselves entranced. Fortunately, the agent is still around to solve the mystery of the zombies and to confront the culprit, an enemy spy.

King of the Zombies was nomimated for a Academy Award for Best Music (Music Score of a Dramatic Picture).

King of the Zombies contains examples of:

  • Bookcase Passage: The entrance to Dr. Sangre's secret voodoo lair is concealed behind a bookcase.
  • Cassandra Truth: Everything Jeff tries to tell Mac and Bill about the existence of the zombies and the voodoo cult is proved to be absolutely true. However, the white 'heroes' dismiss him out of hand as he is the black Comic Relief, and do not believe in the zombies until they encounter them themselves
  • Creepy Housekeeper: Tahama the cook is wizened old crone who makes vaguely threatening pronouncements and cackles a lot. She is also the high priestess of Dr. Sangre's voodoo cult.
  • During the War: World War II is raging in Europe, and America is gearing up for the conflict. Dr. Sangre claims to have fled Europe to escape the conflict (although this is obviously a lie) and Admiral Wainwright was working the defences of the Panama Canal when he vanished.
  • Ethereal White Dress: The stately but silent Alyce Sangre is dressed all in white when she slips into Bill and Mac's bedroom. Her appearance is so sudden and so silent that Jeff mistakes her for a ghost.
  • Ghostapo: Dr. Sangre is a Nazi operative who is using a combination of hypnosis and voodoo magic to extract secrets from a captured American admiral.
  • Herr Doktor: Dr. Sangre speaks with a Germanic accent but is deliberately vague as to where he comes from.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Dr. Sangre is killed when he loses control of his zombies and they swarm him and drive him into the fire pit.
  • Hollywood Voodoo: Nazi agent Dr. Sangre running a voodoo cult on an isolated Caribbean island. He mostly interested in extracting information from a captured admiral via soul transference, but has also raised a small squad of zombies to act as muscle.
  • Hypno Fool: Jeff is hypnotised into believing he is a zombie, and that he no longer knows his own name. He keeps talking, despite the fact others keep telling him that zombies can't talk.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: When Jeff first encounters zombies in the kitchen, he runs upstairs to tell Bill and Mac. When they come down with their host Dr. Sangre, they find a kitchen devoid of zombies, and the other servants swearing there never had been any. Bill and Mac dismiss Jeff as being concussed, or drunk.
  • Jungle Drums: Voodoo drums are a constant (and unnerving) presence whenever the main characters are outside the mansion.
  • Luck-Based Search Technique: Bill and Jeff are attempting to open the door to the crypt where the voodoo ceremony is taking place. Bill reminds Jeff that he had been to the crypt while hypnotised and must know how the door opens. As Jeff tries to remember, he leans back on the door and it swings open.
  • Missing Reflection: Samantha claims that zombies see nothing when they look in a mirror. She is therefore able to prove to Jeff that he isn't a zombie by showing him his reflection.
  • Nazi Zombies: Ur-Example, with a German spy using voodoo rituals to extract state secrets from an American general.
  • The Radio Dies First: When Bill and Mac check the wreckage of the plane in the morning, they find that someone has disassembled the radio overnight.
  • So Much for Stealth: When Bill and Jeff are secretly observing the voodoo ritual in the cellar, Bill accidentally knocks some debris off the altar they are hiding behind. Momba hears the noise and immediately spots them.
  • The Speechless: Alyce Sangre has been driven into a near-catatonic state by her husband's experiments. The only sounds she utters are few strangled gasps as Barbara tries to deprogram her.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: Jeff spends the entire move being scared out his wits of ghosts (and zombies), and thinking with his stomach.
  • Voodoo Zombie: Dr. Sangre is a Nazi agent running a voodoo cult. He has his high priestess Tahama raise a group of zombies to act as servants and muscle. Lacking the ability to raise the dead himself, he hypnotises Jeff and Mac into believing they are zombies.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: When the clock strikes midnight, all of Jeff's candles go out one by one in time with the chimes. And then the zombies enter...