Directed by Jean Yarbrough, 1941
Despite its WWII undercover operative framework, King of the Zombies is centered upon and carried by the hijinks and humor of its uncomfortably racist comedic relief. I haven't seen an eye-rolling, shuffling minstrel performance like this since Spike Lee's Bamboozled. This film has not aged well.
A plane goes down on an uncharted island. The plane's passengers-- a bland gentleman, his valet (the comedic role), and the pilot are welcomed by a wealthy recluse who claims to have escaped Austria on the eve of the war. The man's wife acts suspiciously hypnotized and floats through the house posing dramatically above our sleeping heroes. The guy is, of course, evil, which means you have Jews standing in for evil and blacks standing in as comedy relief. This movie made me feel dirty.
Ruling over the mansion's kitchen are a maiden and crone set who introduce the bumbling valet to zombies, which apparently infest the mansion like mice. Of note is that only the blacks see or acknowledge zombies until over midway through the film, and all the zombies are black. This film didn't even know it was dealing with racial issues.
Zombie explanation: A combination of white hypnotism and black voodoo. Very odd. It also appears to be reversible, though there's no built-in medical explanation as in Serpent and the Rainbow.
Contribution to the zombie canon: Thus far, the most racist zombie movie I've watched. It's also one of the earliest films in which the word "zombie" is spoken freely. This was surprisingly rare in early zombie films.
Favorite moment: The zombies come when you clap! "Oh, drat! I only meant to turn on the light with the Clapper (tm) but I seem to have called forth the kitchen zombies!"
Favorite zombie: The guy dressed like your gradndpa when he goes golfing.