King of the Zombies (1941)

king of the zombies poster 1941 movie
6.0 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 6/10
Visuals: 6/10

Fits in well with other classic zombie movies

A lot of the jokes and horror circles xenophobia and racist stereotypes

Movie Info

Movie Name: King of the Zombies

Studio: Sterling Productions Inc.

Genre(s): Horror/Comedy/B-Movie

Release Date(s): May 14, 1941

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

king of the zombies voodoo

Voodoo mumbo jumbo dialogue

James “Mac” McCarthy (Dick Purcell), Bill Summers (John Archer), and his valet Jefferson Jackson (Mantan Moreland) find themselves trapped on a Caribbean island and guests of a strange doctor named Miklos Sangre (Henry Victor).  The superstitious island believes heavily in voodoo and Mac, Bill, and Jefferson might be caught in Sangre’s mad plans…and made part of his zombie army!

Directed by Jean Yarbrough, King of the Zombies is a horror comedy B-Movie.  The film was relatively well received and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Dramatic Score.

King of the Zombies goes down as a rare horror movie to receive an Academy Award nomination…but like many of those movies where you question how they got nominated, it has nothing to do with the quality of the story or the acting but the music.  It is rare when you get a movie in a multipack that has an Oscar nomination, and King of the Zombies also has that honor.

king of the zombies mantan moreland

You know you’re just in this movie for comic relief…right?

The movie is by definition horror, but there is a lot of comedy provided in the film.  Like a lot of the films at a time, most of the movie relies on xenophobia and the strangeness of different cultures.  This is combined with a number of jokes surrounding the Black valet who is the only one who completely believes in the zombies that are “haunting” the island…there is a bit of mystery surrounding the plot, but the story feels almost incidental at points.

John Archer plays the hero who also seems like the heavy because he refuses to believe anything that he is seeing or being told.  Dick Purcell seems more likely as the hero, but he is relegated to almost sidekick.  Joan Woodbury is the potential romantic lead (that doesn’t really pan out as a romantic lead) and Henry Victor’s role was originally intended for Bela Lugosi or Peter Lorre (which would have changed the picture.  Renowned character actor Mantan Moreland plays the valet whose performance does give the movie its only heart, but unfortunately (and unsurprisingly) relies on stereotypical race-based jokes (though in some ways there are aspects of the story which seem a bit progressive).

king of the zombies miklos sangre henry victor

If you can’t zombify them, fill ’em full of lead!

The classic “hypnotized” zombies are very scary and in this movie they are even less intimidating since the zombies are more science based with hypnosis keeping them enthralled.  The ending provides a bit of a laugh in that the Mac character gets shot multiple times…but he’s ok.

Like a lot of old horror movies King of the Zombies is a quick watch, and it is readily available online.  Movies like White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie have a bit more class than King of the Zombies, but King of the Zombies does fit in nicely with them.  King of the Zombies was followed up by a sequel Revenge of the Zombies in 1943.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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