DK Canada’s Monsters in the Movies book by director John Landis, moves on to the realm of the mad scientist, leaving werewolves behind. And the first one I dove into was this genuinely funny film from 1945. It’s marred by moments of racism, but the rest of it proves to be very enjoyable.
It what almost plays as one of the Abbott and Costello Meet movies, the story follows a pair of press agents, Mike (Alan Carney) and Jerry (Wally Brown) who are helping a big time gangster, Ace (Sheldon Leonard) launch his new club, The Zombie Hut, by promising to deliver him a real zombie for his floor show.
Off the pair go to San Sebastian (an island last seen in I Walked With a Zombie, and features a couple of actors from that film in similar roles), and they find themselves steeped in mystery, voodoo, and setting eyes on a lovely chanteuse, Jean (Anne Jeffreys).
As they prowl the island, they stumble from a zombie ceremony straight into the back yard of local mad scientist, Professor Renault (Bela Lugosi) who is aided by his zombie Kalaga (Darby Jones – playing the same sort of role he did in Walk).
As the pair fall into one scene after another, they are in danger of being transformed into zombies themselves, as Renault work on perfecting his own zombie formula – he has yet to crack the islanders’ own work, so is developing his own, no matter how temporary.
There’s a helpful monkey, slapstick, goofy dialogue (that, as mentioned, is genuinely funny if you’re in the mood for it), and while the racist moments are jarring, the rest of the film is fairly typical Saturday matinee fare.
Darby Jones is towering and his bug-eyed appearance sets the standard for the zombies of the time. These are not brain-eating zombies, these are shuffling, undead servants, keeping more in line with the traditional presentation of the being, as opposed to the changes introduced by Romero.
With it’s short running time, just barely over an hour, the film sails along and keeps the jokes coming, as Mike and Jerry find exactly what they were looking for, but at what cost?
The leads are very entertaining together, and like I mentioned, there is definitely an Abbott and Costello vibe to the pair, and their interactions.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a stellar film, but if you are looking for something in the vein of those Saturday afternoon matinee type films from yesteryear, and can stomach the appalling moments of racism, then this one is a bit of fun.
Don’t believe me? Pick up a copy of DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies and check it out today, or find a new macabre favorite as John Landis guides you through the darkness…