Who the gods destroy, they first make mad.
Some guy, Revolt of the Zombies
Dear lord, where even to begin with this. A sequel of sorts to White Zombie (thematically, if not in terms of plot), after making this movie, Victor Halperin gave up horror for good - "I don't believe in fear, violence, and horror, so why traffic in them?".
Cinematically, you'd never guess this thing was a successor to White Zombie - it has none of the artistic virtuosity or sense of space and atmosphere. The expansive, chiaroscuro-like sets are gone, replaced with cramped little rooms with ropey backdrops. The acting is probably on par with the previous film, which is not a good thing.
On the Franco-Austrian(?) border during the First World War, an "oriental priest" is the chaplain of a French regiment. He's also the last living descendent of a line of ancient Cambodian Priest-Kings with the knowledge of enthralling human beings to be bent to their will. His "gods say that he must create zombie soldiers"(?), and offers these to the French to help them win the war. Interpreter Armand Louque tries his best to persuade General Duval of the veracity of the priest's claims and is given short shrift, so our priest puts on a little demonstration of how a handful of his unkillable "robots" can take out an entire trench filled with well-armed Prussians.
The General, now convinced, calls his German counterpart into his office(?) to discuss the matter. Since having unstoppable Cambodian zombies running around in French-occupied Cambodia "might mean the end of the white race!"(?) the Generals have the last high priest of this noble ancient lineage clapped in irons, where he's later murdered by Duval's second-in-command General Mazovia.
Expressing surprise and regret at how the prisoner could possibly have died under his watch, Gen. Duval sends every character in the entire film (including the obviously evil Gen. Mazovia) out to the mystical backdrop of Angkor so that they can learn the secret for themselves and destroy it(?). There is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad love triangle woven into this, featuring Armand, his best buddy Cliff, and the General's awful daughter Claire.
Cliff and Armand are both in love with Claire, and Claire agrees to marry both of them (on separate occasions, not simultaneously), to make one jealous and... oh, I don't know. It's the worst kind of contrived romance caper. Despite this passionate love triangle, there's as much visible chemistry between any of the three as there is between the contents of a bag of room-temperature chicken giblets. Just like with White Zombie I struggled to keep track of which of the men was supposed to be the groom. Whatever.
Anyway, they get to the backdropped lands of Angkor Wat, and Armand has a meltdown because dreadful Claire has dropped him for irritating Cliff. In a rage, he figures out where the zombie secret is hidden, heads to its hiding place and steals it, and then zombifies everyone in the expedition in order to persuade Claire to love him(?). This doesn't work. To prove his love(?) he decides to release all his zombies. They storm the building at Sunday stroll pace and shoot him once, right in the guts, finishing this awful ordeal for us all.
Structurally, this is a very strange film that doesn't really seem to know what it wants to be. It's a romantic melodrama, yes, but it's also got robot war zombies in. It wants to tell a moral story about how you shouldn't let your ambitions consume you, but it also wants to transpose Haitian bokor magic into WW1 Cambodia(?)
The "zombification" itself is something of an odd beast. Similar to White Zombie, the main method of control seems to be telepathy (hilariously indicated by superimposing shots of Bela Lugosi's eyes from the earlier movie onto any scene requiring spooky stuff to happen). One thing I wasn't able to figure out is why Armand needed to use magic smokepowder to enslave his first zombie, but was able to bring every other person in the film under his control in seconds, without even being within shouting distance of them.
Lugosi's eyes and the idea of mesmerism as zombie control aren't the only things reused from the previous movie - there's also a moment when Armand harks back to Legendre's lines about what would happen if he ever lost control; "they would tear me to pieces... but that... shall never be."
All this said, it's not quite as bad as its reputation suggests. I mean, it is very bad, undoubtedly. But it doesn't necessarily deserve the kicking it gets from horror fans, and we'll be watching much worse shortly.
I give this uninspiring melodrama 2 supernatural war crimes out of a possible 5!