Just what was it that convinced
shock film producers that the leaden, shambling gait
of a sonambulant monster would inspire untenable terror
in their audience? Through several sequels, the Mummy
pursued a squealing Evelyn Ankers at a snail's pace,
aided in his pursuit by the heroine's unerring knack
for finding sticks and stones and myriad ground clutter
to stumble over. The rag-wrapped pursuer always managed
to snare his prey.
Likewise, the zombie shared the
Mummy's obvious motor impediments. The zombie's capacity
to induce fright was limited to the relentlessness of
his pursuit -- wide-eyed, mouth agape, staggering into
a hail of bullets, he just kept coming.
With the added twist of alien-powered
zombies, Invisible Invaders parlayed the notion
Ed Wood had showcased to inadvertent comic effect in
Plan 9 From Outer Space. From their Moon-based
bastion, Earth's would-be conquerors set about re-animating
the recently deceased, conscripting a makeshift army
of shuffling cadavers to do their dirty work. The first
to be resuscitated is crack nuclear researcher John
Carradine, a scientist so skilled he manages to blow
himself up in the film's opening moments. His corpse
inhabited by an invisible alien emissary, Carradine
visits his scientist pal Philip Tonge, explaining the
ramifications of the alien agenda.
Earthlings refuse to cave in
to the outrageous demands for surrender and the aliens
are forced to issue a final, public ultimatum. And what
forum do they choose from which to address the cowering
populace of Earth? -- the announcing booth at a hockey
game. Just why the aliens think that anyone of significant
world influence will be attending the game is unclear.
Just the same, a baggy-eyed zombie staggers into the
booth, chokes the announcer and commandeers the microphone.
Soon after, stock footage natural
disasters sweep the planet. Cities are evacuated and
a dark-eyed army of the living dead soon roam the land.
Weasely nuke doctor Robert Hutton and his glamorous
Gal Friday Jean Byron are pressed into service and find
themselves sharing a zombie-proof bunker with buzz-cut
army honcho John Agar. As a by-product of Hutton's cowardly
conniving, this fractious band of researchers tumbles
to the fact that high-frequency sound can stop a waddling
zombie dead in his tracks (so to speak). Fashioning
an armory of high-pitch packing rifles, earthfolk rise
to the challenge and vanquish their cadaverous conquerors.
A charitable critic would point
out that director Edward L. Cahn was severely hampered
by this film's microscopic budget. The disaster footage
is obviously from stock, an auto wreck was actually
Robert Mitchum's fiery death scene from Thunder Road
(and later turned up in They Saved Hitler's Brain)
and sets are put to repeated use to comical effect.
For the most part, the zombies are portly, middle-aged
men in business suits with a dab of charcoal under each
eye. This is true terror?
It's been pointed out that this modest shocker was an arguable influence on
George Romero's horrific breakthrough Night of the
Living Dead. The similarities are inescapable --
witless, droopy-eyed zombies, grainily stark black and
white photography, and an addled band of survivalists
defending their besieged sanctum, squabbling among themselves
as the zombies pound relentlessly at their fortress
door. Many of the same elements were seen to marginally
horrific effect in The Last Man on Earth, a European
production starring Vincent Price and based on Richard
Matheson's I Am Legend (lensed again some years
later as The Omega Man with Charleton Heston).
Director Cahn seems barely able
to prevent his hyper cast from chewing the script to
bits, with the hamming of Hutton and Agar particularly
noteworthy. Philip Tonge on the other hand seems stubborny
disaffected while John Carradine is -- John Carradine.
The sonic solution is certainly
nothing new to sci fi. The truculent invaders of Earth
vs. The Flying Saucers were dispatched with sound
waves as were the boxy robots of Target Earth.
The more recent Mars Attacks featured a not dissimilar
hi-fi finale. But why was sound the screenwriters's
default as an alien Achilles' heel? Why not blinding
beams of light? Or an olfactory assault? Surely we've
enough odious industrial pollution to repel several
alien squadrons. Or taste? Why not spike their alien
rations with generous dollops of Chinese mustard?
But B film drive-in fare was
never long on originality. In the case of Ed Cahn's
output, an enjoyably grizzly premise and suitably snappy
pacing was usually enough. Sadly, Invisible Invaders
shambles through its horrific paces with the tortoise-like
gait of its protagonists.
The few against the many is a can't
miss dramatic equation employed time and again by fantasy
film producers. It worked with cowboys outnumbered by
Indians -- why not the living outnumbered by the walking
The Last Man on
The always elegant
Vincent Price brings grim poignancy to his portrayal
of the sole survivor of a vampiric plague that's turned
the rest of the human race into a legion of the walking
dead. Each night they assault his barricaded home, and
each day he sets about driving stakes through their
Zombies of Mora
Cahn, who later lensed Invisible Invaders, helmed
this saga of sunken sea-zombies jealously guarding a
cache of stolen gems. When their coveted booty is threatened
with thievery, they awake and wade to the rescue.
I Eat Your Skin
aka Voodoo Blood Bath aka Zombie (1964)
Tenney's final film survived several incarnations and
multiple titles before emerging at last as I Eat
Your Skin. It's the tepid tale of a playboy/author/investigator
and a cloistered horde of unintimidating Caribbean zombies.
Revolt of the
A sequel in
name only, the Halperin brothers produced this ill-conceived
follow-up to their classic White Zombie. A very
young Dean Jagger stars as the heir to a jungle-bound
Cambodian plantation where bizarre rituals are enacted
in an attempt to assemble an army of the living dead.