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The movie "Revolt of the Zombies", released in 1937, directed by Victor Halperin and starring Dean Jagger, does not have any zombies in it, and they do not revolt. I found this movie on a four movie DVD collection of "horror classics" at a thrift store that has "Featuring Bela Lugosi" on the cover. Apparently, only one of the four movies has Bela Lugosi acting in it. Although, apparently this movie does have a "role" for Bela Lugosi.

I should not be too tough on this movie. This movie was released in 1937. People in 1937 had much more pressing concerns than the quality of their movies. This movie has problems with pacing, plotting, characterization and the special effects are negligible, but after being somewhat bored at the stilted and treacle-slow development, the last quarter of the film actually pulled together for me and I could find some artistry in it.

The plot is this: during World War I (which, of course, in 1937 they wouldn't have called it that), a group of Cambodian soldiers is fighting for France. A pair of military officers learns that a Cambodian priest can turn them into mindless killing machines, "zombies". (Are you wondering whether there is some cultural insensitivity in a 1937 movie? Addressed below.) Apparently, though, although Cambodian zombies are great at trench warfare, the idea of super powered colonials freaks the French out, and they jail the super priest. Some time later, the two military officers (Dean Jagger as Armand Logue, and his friend Clifford Grayson), a woman who they are, of course both in love with, and the girls father, as well as a shady French general, are all in Angkor Wat, trying to find the secret to the zombie formula. I don't actually understand the transition as to why they should end up there. However, what happens is that after Grayson wins the affection of the girl, Loque turns to evil, finds the "zombie" formula (which really is more like a mind control formula: these are not in any way "undead" zombies, of either a scientific or supernatural origin, just people who do whatever the man who has the formula wishes), and uses it to, first control the natives, and then to control everyone, sending his rival away so he can get the girl.

If that was hard to read, it was also hard to watch. I didn't really get the first 40 minutes of the movie.

The last twenty minutes of the movie are a bit more clear, and even have a message. This is a love triangle where a man seizes power to win love, and fails at it. When he realizes his earthly power can't win him love, he releases his "zombies", both Cambodian and European, and they react by, as the title suggests, revolting. That scene is all within the last 5 minutes of the movie. Taking away the supernatural aspect of the story and we have a workable drama about a man trying to gain power to make up for his own insecurities.

As far as the movie's possible racism: well, it is a movie made in 1937 that chooses to use Cambodia as an "exotic" locale, without much respect to the real history of Cambodia or Angkor Wat. And the idea of the natives being "zombies" commanded by a white man is certainly problematic, except for the fact that the white characters, as well, are turned into zombies. And the movie makes it clear that the man who wishes to command and control people is the villain. In fact, the movie still has a bit of relevance: Loque is both a colonialist and a "nice guy" whose motivations seem to be petulance over romantic rejection of the girl he "deserves", and an assumption that he should be in charge of everyone.

On balance, though, while I would say the movie is a serviceable drama that has some interesting scenes, overall, I felt that both the movie making craft of 1937 in general, and the special effects to make a horror movie, were too crude to make something that is interesting beyond being a curiosity.

Oh, and the role of Bela Lugosi? When a scene shows that someone is being mind-controlled, flashing bright eyes are superimposed over them. These are, apparently, the eyes of Bela Lugosi.

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