Tuesday, September 4, 2012


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical, sociological, psychological*

Having enjoyed a modest success with 1932's WHITE ZOMBIE. the producers of that film, the Halperin Brothers, eventually followed it with their only other zombie film, REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES.

Unforunately, though WHITE ZOMBIE was not without problems, REVOLT-- set after WWI in Cambodia -- gets wrong everything that the earlier film got right.  In my essay on the earlier film, I said:

In terms of the film's psychological components, the central figure might be deemed not romantic leads Madeline and her fiancee Neil, nor even the powerful villain Legendre (Bela Lugosi), but the weak-willed plantation owner Beaumont. Beaumont, besotted by Madeline's beauty, is on one level a Faust who calls up a demon, yet also the summoner who cannot control that demon.
The "demon" of that film is the zombie-master Murder Legendre, often rated as one of Bela Lugosi's best film-roles, assumes the dominant role in the story, enslaving his patron Beaumont along with earlier victim Madeleine.  REVOLT has a mildly Legendre-esque villain-- the evil-looking Colonel Mazovia, who acquires the secret of making zombies from the Cambodian priest he kills-- but having served the purpose of making the secret available, he fades from the story.

The Beaumont role is assumed by Dean Jagger, playing Armand, an expert in dead languages.  He has a passion for Claire, the daughter of one General Duval, but though Claire actually loves another man, name of Clifford, she agrees to become engaged to Armand in order to force Clifford's hand.  Once Claire has what she wants, she throws Armand over, with some choice remarks about his passion for dead history.

Armand then encounters the lost secret of zombification, and before you can say "Bela Lugosi," he's transformed a contingent of Cambodian soldiers into his zombie slaves.  In the film's one impressive scene, the zombie soldiers attack Caucasian soldiers, the former proving themselves immune to gunfire. 

In WHITE ZOMBIE, Madeleine's fiancee has to show some gumption in order to defeat the sinister sorceries of Murder Legendre.  But neither Clifford nor General Duval do much of anything but stand around fretting that this abomination may end the "white race," or something like that.  In a masterpiece of an anti-climactic ending, Armand becomes so desperate to prove his love to the fickle Claire that he voluntarily gives up control over his zombies for her sake.  The soldiers, recovering their mortality and their independent will, proceed to take revenge on their erstwhile master.

Strangely, REVOLT has one thing going for it that WHITE ZOMBIE did not: the trope of zombies (or former zombies) turning against their master.  In my review of the earlier film I thought it odd that the Halperins used so many "white zombies," since a great part of the appeal of the Haitian-born zombie-concept in fiction is as a sociological metaphor for the enslavement of blacks by whites, both in Haiti and elsewhere.  But not only do all the zombies seen at the climax of WHITE ZOMBIE fail to turn on their master-- rather, they simply walk off a cliff when their master gets knocked out-- they're also all white zombies.

REVOLT, in contrast, may or may not have much in the way of sympathy for the native Cambodians dominated by the Western imperialists, but at least they do get to rebel against one particular white master.  Unfortunately, the setting of Cambodia doesn't have nearly as much romantic resonance as does Haiti, and so the rebellion comes off with only minimal impact.

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