Another feature of...
A B-Masters' Cabal Presentation:
Zombies Review -
Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension
My august comrades in the B-Masters’ Cabal and I have marshaled our forces to investigate many strange cinematic phenomena. Initially, we gathered to scrutinize the episode of a Giant Cerebrum of Unearthly Origins, whose lust for power on an interplanetary scale proved its downfall. We subsequently have pondered tales of fantastic behemoths that did wreak misery and destruction upon the modern world of Man. We have even born witness to mighty cataclysms which brought about the destruction of human civilization itself. Not even there did we pause, however, for we then studied a myriad of bizarre dystopias that might have arisen from the very ashes of those lost worlds. Yet here today are we assembled again, and to investigate what is perhaps the most phantasmagorical subject of all: Members of the Fair Sex who have unnaturally forsaken womanly pursuits in the name of Science.
Pondering such a seemingly inexplicable curiosity, one calls to mind a famous epigram credited to the estimable Samuel Johnson. His biographer Boswell had just finished recalling an extraordinary tableau beheld earlier in day, when he had witnessed a woman unaccountably engaged in the act of preaching. Responding to the account of this singular incident, Mr. Johnson replied, "Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."
Readers of these correspondences may plausibly react with incredulity when informed that even a single motion picture exists which employs such an outré and aberrant premise. Astoundingly, though, several such cinematic artifacts were unearthed. That in each a woman’s unseemly Pursuit of Knowledge should go horribly astray, however, should not surprise us. Catastrophe can be the only result when the Natural Order of the Universe has been so brazenly disrupted. Few would deny that the weaker sex has neither the aptitude nor the temperament for engaging in the meticulous and systematic experimentation that the Mastery of Science demands. The rigorous logic, discipline and patience required for such toil is denied them, as Man has likewise been denied the nurturing and empathic nature that are inherent to the very essence of the female. Furthermore, the wretched creatures portrayed in these cinemagraphs do not seek the creation of such things as a woman might seemingly turn her mind to, had she the faculty and the perverse will. No technologically advanced sweetmeats or custards do we espy, nor are innovations in the feminine arts of dressmaking or housekeeping to be witnessed. Instead, these distaff scientists, like the mythical Icarus, seek forbidden knowledge that has ever been denied our kind. So it was with Eve, and so it is with her defiant progeny.
Choosing which feminine misadventure to examine proved a relatively simple task, in that Teenage Zombies affords us the opportunity to revisit with some of our former associates. Our subject today reacquaints us with writer/director Jerry Warren and star Katherine Victor, lately seen vacationing on Frankenstein Island. Indeed, we shall note some rather, uh, extensive thematic elements that this photoplay has in common with its latter-day counterpart, despite the intervening twenty odd years.
We open with credits accompanied by the main theme from Kronos. I had mentioned in my review of that film that the music had sounded familiar. Now I know why. If Warren’s using it, it’s because the score had become ‘library’ music, or music available either free of charge or for a slight licensing fee. Knowing Warren, I’m assuming the former. One can only speculate on how many cheapo films and television programs have used this music since its initial appearance.
We open the film proper with an establishing shot of the Campus House, a dining establishment whose sign entices prospective patrons with the promise of "FINE FOODS". Certainly it can’t hope to attract custom with its decor, as the establishment resembles nothing so much as a set from a micro-budgeted motion picture. Inside, a fellow garbed in full Soda Jerk regalia is delivering malted milkshakes to a trio of somewhat overage teenagers who appear to be right out of an Archie comic book. Following this, we are treated to the sort of wry badinage notable mostly for the amount of audience pain it manages to inflict in a short timeframe. Through this mechanism we become acquainted with our cast. Reg is the obvious lead character and Julie his inevitable blond Best Gal, complete with ponytail and cardigan sweater. Morrie, meanwhile, is an evident second banana and presumed comic relief character. His girl, we shall subsequently learn, is Dotty. By which I mean, that’s her name.
In addition to engaging in purportedly jocular tête-à-têtes at Ye Olde Malt Shoppe, our young protagonists lead rather active social lives. Morrie invites Reg and Julie to go horseback riding. Our Hero, however, reveals himself to be a boating enthusiast, and he and Julie have plans to water-ski this afternoon. As a compromise, they make plans to meet later in the day. (If you’re wondering whether Julie’s had any input into these arrangements, then you haven’t seen many films from this period.) Morrie starts to make his exit, whereupon he falls prey to a mischievous prank perpetrated by the recently arrived Skip. This ingenious jape involves Skip surreptitiously approaching his victim with index finger extended, so that his quarry walks into it and is poked when he turns to leave. Predictably humiliated at being the butt of this comically inspired interlude, Morrie leaves in a bit of a huff. "Oh, he’s been eating too much hay," Reg somewhat enigmatically explains.
We learn that Skip and his own romantic partner Pam will be joining Reg and Julie in their aquatic revelry. In fact, Skip reveals, they have packed a lunch which is intended to be consumed upon a mysterious island he’s learned of. Julie is intrigued by the thought of this proposed escapade, informing her beau that it "sounds crazy!" (This would be ‘crazy’ as in good, ala the ‘bad’ of today’s youth – Lexicographer Ken.) Reg remains skeptical of this seemingly fantastic yarn, but agrees to see if this hypothetical isle does in fact exist.
Sure enough, the foursome is soon espied upon the sandy shores of the island. Having eaten their lunch, they decide to explore the interior. (It’s a sign of the times, I suppose, that these environmentally irresponsible youths should leave behind a pile of trash as they go.) They amble through the brush, and we see evidence that the island is oddly large for a supposedly unknown body of land. Espying an edifice of sorts -- cue large blare of ominous music -- our protagonists soldier on. They soon spot a party of people marching in a awkwardly stiff fashion through the undergrowth. In case we failed to perceive the menacing potential of this sight, the filmmakers handily provide us with another foreboding burst of music. This led me to theorize that these staggerers might be the zombies referred to in the film’s title. Again, echoes of the later Frankenstein Island are quite strong here.
Soon a Lily Munster-ish woman makes an appearance, watching the shambling parade in a haughty manner. Seeing the teens, she points them out to the zombies. In a display of intelligence fairly rare for this sort of thing, the group runs off, seeking to leave the island. However, upon reaching the beach they find their boat missing. (How anyone would have gotten to the craft before them is left to our imaginations.) Reg suggests that they circle the island’s shoreline and search for the boat, again a surprisingly smart idea for one of these pictures. Alas, it also means wasting time watching them stroll the perimeter of the atoll. Moreover, as this is portrayed in rather tight shots, one might theorize that the filmmakers had only so much shoreline at their disposal and merely filmed the actors walking past the same terrain over and over again. Or, perhaps, it was just easier and faster to parade the actors back and forth than to move and set up the camera again.
Having meandered for some time in vain, the foursome collapse down upon the sand. "They might have [the boat] up at a better place," Reg notes, presumably feverish from the sun. He suggests recommencing the search, but the girls balk. Despite the strange folks they spied earlier, Pam proposes that the guys continue to look while they wait here and rest. (There’s a good plan.) This proves especially bad timing, as a hunchbacked and pea coat clad zombie is watching from nearby. We then cut to Reg and Skip knocking on the door of the abode of Dr. Myra, the woman they saw earlier. As we’ll learn, she’s the only non-zombie person living on the island, making her fancy evening dress, copious jewelry and styled hair somewhat of a mystery. (Well, that’s a woman for you.) Sure enough, they enter and are offered a "soft drink" from the surprisingly well-stocked kitchen they find themselves in. The boys get a little rude when she denies knowing of their boat. This seems a tad unmotivated, as all she’s done so far is given them a soda.
"Who’s in charge here?" Reg demands, given the manifold unlikelihood that it’s a woman. Despite this, though, their hostess is indeed running things. She moreover reveals that she herself doesn’t have a boat, as no one (bum bum bum) ever leaves the island. Oddly, neither Reg nor Skip thinks to ask where she gets her supply of bottled Pepsi. They instead threaten to see the Sheriff, which seems odd, as one would suspect that he’s probably not actually on the island. "You certainly have a lot of courage," Myra replies, proving herself as much the master of the non sequitur as Reg. Her nonchalance is soon explained, though, as we learn that Ivan, the pea-coated zombie seen earlier, has brought Julie and Pam back to the house. (The logistics of this were presumably somewhat cumbersome, perhaps explaining why we didn’t actually see them being brought there.) Indeed, they have been placed in a holding cage – what mad scientist doesn’t have one? – covered with chicken wire.
Myra leads the two through what is obviously a real home, presumably that of either Warren’s or Victor’s. However, a staircase leads down to the set where the cage is located. Here Ivan is lurking, and he cages the guys before they can do anything to free the girls. Perhaps it would have helped if Julie and Pam had not waited until the very last second to shout out a warning, but there you go. Now that they are safely captured, Myra reveals that she did indeed purloin their boat. How exactly this was accomplished, though, is left necessarily unexplored.
Furthermore, she intends to *gasp* use our protagonists in her experiments. "No one asked you here," she explains, stumbling over her lines, "but your curious nature will in turn aid me very much." Wow, that was almost in English. Proud of her work, as all Mad Scientists regardless of gender tend to be, Myra resents Reg referring to the facility as a "creep joint." It is instead, she replies, "A place of research, and discovery! A place where Science is free from the interference of stupid politicians!" If I’m not mistaken, she’s reading directly from the Little Mad Scientist’s Handbook. She then takes her leave, as the shadow of the cameraman makes an appearance over the doorway.
Back at the diner, Morrie is asking about whether Reg or the others have been around. He’s concerned, as they failed to appear in accordance with their previously established plans. The Soda Jerk suggests that he report the situation to the Sheriff. Following his advice, Morrie and Dottie soon arrive at the police station. As they enter, teletype noises are looped in to add some official office ambiance, or something. A deputy sits rather uncomfortably in a little window, ala a doctor’s reception area. Actually, the reason he looks uncomfortable, I suspect, is that he’s in fact standing behind the window and hunching up a bit to look like he’s sitting. Here Morrie is supposed to be acting all panicked and tongue-tied, which the kid playing him can’t nearly pull off in a convincing manner. After this spot of ‘comedy,’ an impatient Dotty jumps in to explain the situation.
The Sheriff is called in. Meanwhile, the kids continue to speak in overly alarmed and squeaky tones, although why they believe the situation to be so dire is left unexplained. It’s at this point that you begin to wonder whether any of these youngsters are supposed to have parents or anything. We certainly never see any indication of it. The Sheriff leaves to begin a search of the surrounding waters. Apparently there’s no Coast Guard in this universe, which does help to explain how Myra’s island base has remained a secret. After a boring series of riding-around-in-a-boat shots, the sheriff returns and informs the kids that it’s no go. Wanting to help, the kids ‘borrow’ a small motorboat that belongs to a friend -- "He won’t mind!" Morrie helpfully asserts -- and is conveniently sitting about five feet away. Needless to say, they quickly (although, unfortunately, not too quickly) find the island. Again, how far offshore is this thing supposed to be? There they land, rather amazingly, at what appears to be the exact same spot that Reg and the gang alit upon earlier.
They soon arrive at the same kitchen door we saw earlier. Laughably, you can spot a member of the film crew ducking away from behind the screen door as the actors approach. Myra answers their knock, again clad in a sparkly evening gown and with her hair all done up. More stilted conversation follows, as when Dotty, standing in the well-appointed kitchen, inexplicably asks, "Do you live here?" Myra offers them a sandwich, if not a soft drink, but the kids are suspicious and soon leave. Oddly, they return to find their boat still on the beach and head back to the mainland. As they cast off, they pass an incoming boat containing two men. For an isolated island this place sure gets a lot of traffic.
We cut to Myra’s den, which proves as prosaically middle class in appearance as her kitchen. I especially like the rather ghastly wallpaper in the hallway. Myra is serving the men from the boat some cocktails. These are the agents of her sponsors, and per tradition, are demanding immediate results. Agent #1 is also concerned about the kids snooping around, although Myra remains blasé about the situation. Agent #2, the older one, gets things back to the subject at hand. He informs her that they’ll need not only a "working capsule," but 5,000 of them within six weeks. They have orders to this effect, he reveals, from "the East." This, along with the zombie named ‘Ivan,’ is pretty obviously supposed to spell out whom she’s working for. Myra is informed that if these mysterious capsules aren’t ready by then, hydrogen bombs will instead be deployed. (!!)
Myra takes them downstairs to her lab, where she pauses to don a lab coat over her dress. It’s like some demented takeoff on Mr. Rogers putting on his sweater and sneakers. She shows them a beaker containing a "highly concentrated buffer she used on four subjects." This, unfortunately, resulted in "zero consistency." She then tosses a switch, illuminating two men lurking behind a window. The first stands entirely static, the second attempts to act manic, if not altogether succeeding. "One has no spark or desire for anything," Myra explains. "The other teems with rage." In other words, two entirely typical teenagers. Anyway, in case you’ve failed to discern this yet, Myra is working on a chemical agent that will turn the population of the US into mindless work drones for their Communist Masters.
Due to the revised timetable, Myra suggests using a second, gaseous agent she’s worked up. There follows some jumbled gobbledygook regarding an antidote to the gas. I couldn’t quite follow any of this, but it’s no doubt intended to set up our Heroes’ eventual usage of same. This established, we return to the agent itself. "You’ll now be able to see the effect on a near human subject," Myra says, leading one to anticipate the appearance of the film’s screenwriter in her test chamber. Instead, we’re treated to the use of a man in a gorilla suit (!!). Now, need I point out that Myra has four actually human subjects just sitting around somewhere? So what’s with the ‘ape’? Besides, isn’t 1957 rather late to be using a guy in a gorilla suit as an unironic object of menace? "Now we tame the savage beast," Myra crows. Gee, I wonder if the ape will eventually break free of the effects of her gas and reap his revenge. Oops, hope I didn’t blow anything.
We cut to the office of Col. C. J. Adams, an Army Security Officer. (Why would this be a military matter? Wouldn’t the FBI being handling this?) A murdered double agent left behind some vague info on the scheme, including Myra’s photo. By distributing her photo to local law enforcement agencies, they hope to receive word of her location. Meanwhile, there will also commence a search utilizing, we’re told, a huge armada of military air and sea craft. None of which, needless to say, will be shown to us here. This all brings up the obvious question of why Myra isn’t safely working somewhere in the USSR or one of its satellites. Perhaps it’s because of their stringent policies on the usage of gorillas in state laboratories.
Cut down to the cage room. (This is a separate area from the lab, we should be clear on that.) Skip has managed to open the lock on his and Reg’s cell with (presumably) one of the girl’s bobby pins. (!!) This pretty much explains why we won the Cold War. Reg then tries to jimmy the lock on the girls’ cell, but is unsuccessful. That perhaps Skip, having already popped one lock, would have more success at this appears not to occur to any of them. They are interrupted by the imminent appearance of Ivan, who’s accompanied by bombastic music cues from Kronos. Hearing him, the guys scoot back into their cell. Ivan drops off some food and leaves, although he does stop to leer at Julie. Veteran Warren watchers will here recall Zyron the Horny Zombie, one of the roughly three hundred subplots in Frankenstein Island.
For ‘reasons’ that remain somewhat murky, Reg and Skip decide to try to find their boat before they further attempt to free the girls. Yeah, good plan. Anyway, evening falls and they sneak out of the house and again walk around the shoreline. They apparently do so for the remainder of the night without calling any attention to themselves. Considering the weight the Soviets are supposedly putting on this project, you’d really think a guard or two could have been allocated. And despite the fact that it’s purportedly night out, the footage used here was undisguisedly shot in the daylight. In any case, we blow another minute or so with further shots of the actors walking aimlessly about.
To our utter lack of amazement, they eventually end up near a rock that we’ve seen in a number of earlier scenes. Here the line "The sun’s nearly up" prompts some chuckles, given the lack of any attempt whatsoever to suggest that it’s dark out. In any case, having blown nearly the whole ‘night,’ they decide that a good alternative plan would be to build a raft (!!), another ‘plot’ line used in Frankenstein Island. In this they are aided by finding a bunch of boards conveniently lying near the beach. Now if only they could find a pile of firearms, radios and outboard motors they’d be in pretty good shape.
Their raft nearly completed (and looking suspiciously nailed together), they hide it in a bush and head back to the house. The plan is to wait for the following night, finish the raft and get out of there. Meanwhile, back on the mainland, Morrie calls into the police station. He reports finding the island and suggests it should be searched. The deputy is leaving on a call, though, and gives Morrie the Sheriff’s home address (!). Three guesses where this is going. Morrie and Dottie motor over to the Sheriff’s house. Once there, they slooowly drive down the driveway, wasting another twenty or thirty seconds. Then they confer with the Sheriff, who slooowly reveals his doubts about their theory. It’s tough to eat up seventy-three minutes, you know. Eventually, he agrees to take the kids back to the island in his boat and check things out.
Back at the lab, Myra and the Foreign Agents engage in some nonsensical conversation as she prepares for the next test. This time, Julie and Pam will be the subjects. Ivan lumbers slooowly down to the basement to fetch them. After he hauls the ladies upstairs, the guys sneak out of their cell and follow. They then watch helplessly as the gals are locked up in the test chamber. Meanwhile, the Sheriff arrives on the beach with Morrie and Dotty. Unfortunately, the Sheriff *gasp* turns out to be in cahoots with the Bad Guys, and he hauls them down into Myra’s lab. Here the young twosome proves a little dense. First they fail to notice Julie and Pam standing in the nearby viewing window for a good half a minute. Second, the fact that the Sheriff is on the other side has to be explained to them, even after he delivers them right into Myra’s hands.
The Sheriff, however, is getting nervous. The kids are different from previous nobody abductees and the search is gaining outside attention. Of course, he makes a big stink and then makes to walk off. So we’re unsurprised, to say the least, when *gasp* he’s shot down by FA #1. The bad guys then hear Reg and Skip in the back hallway and go to investigate. Reg manages to overcome the armed younger agent, despite the fact that this guy, you’d think, would be well trained in hand-to-hand combat. Meanwhile Skip and Morrie take on the older guy and Dotty sort of kind of wrestles with Myra. The funny thing is that while we can’t believe that Reg could take the young agent, it’s pretty apparent that his two young friends should be making quick work of the older guy. All in all, this series of poorly, if that, choreographed struggles looks like a test run for the goofy laboratory Battle Royale that climaxed Frankenstein Island. Finally, to add to the ‘excitement,’ Myra hits the button to release the gas into the test chamber. Soon Julie and Pam will become completely tractable zombies who will obey any command. Which, actually, sounds like a pretty good deal for Reg and Skip.
Finally getting hold of the guns, Our Heroes free Julie and Pam. However, Myra refuses to produce the counteragent, even under threat of death. Since Reg proves a bit thick, it’s Skip who comes up with the idea of sticking Myra into the test chamber and gassing her. The guys look for the release switch for the gas, thus giving the professionally trained spies every possible chance to jump them. Morrie, for instance, is standing right next to them, gun loosely held and barely sparing them a glance. Luckily for the heroes, though, the bad guys obediently wait until the most opportune moments have past. Eventually the older one makes a halfhearted and clumsy lunge, but apparently just for appearance’s sake.
The gas cascades into the chamber. However, once in the lab, Myra proves unaware and unheeding of their commands. Figuring that she might have made herself somewhat resistant to the effects of the gas, they decide to put Agent #1 in instead. Not wanting to face the gas, he shows them what he believes to be the counteragent. As he’s unsure, though, they decide to try it on Myra before using it on the girls. They feed her the formula and…oh, brother, time for another boring melee. Myra regains awareness and smashes the vial of counteragent. (Good work, you morons.) Taking this as a signal to act, the agents finally jump the guys and instigate another fight. Reg and Morrie grapple with the agents, as well as Ivan, who I guess is standing in for the Frankenstein Monster from the latter film. Meanwhile, Skip and Dotty lead the zombified women off and feed them the amount of formula remaining in the glass they gave Myra.
The fight eventually leads out into the hallway. Then, sure enough, the zombie gorilla just happens to come shuffling into the now deserted lab. This, need I say it, is an inherently amusing sight. Moreover, now that we get a better look at it, we can’t help but notice the rather threadbare condition of the ape suit. Nor is the traditional gorilla-slouching-and-shambling accomplished here with much verve. I don’t know if the guy was too embarrassed to get into things, or if perhaps he was taking things so seriously that he decided to act the gorilla in a ‘zombie’ fashion. Anyway, for no discernible reason, he stoops and dips his finger into the spilled counteragent and licks himself back to belligerent consciousness. Boy, what are the odds, huh? Anyway, the now enraged ape takes a hand and, unsurprisingly, mauls Agent #2 while the good guys escape. Our Heroes then arrive at the beach in time to keep Myra and Agent #1 from grabbing the Sheriff’s boat. Taking them prisoner, they head back to the mainland.
Cut back at the police station, where we’re told that one Major Coleman is due to take possession of the prisoners. The Deputy comes out to congratulate the heroic youngsters. On the whole, though, he seems less than concerned that his former superior was helping foreign nationals to enslave the entire American population. His best effort is this regard is to limply note that the ‘whole office,’ which, I think, is now just him, will have to be investigated. Coleman arrives and informs the kids that they’ll be taken to Washington the next day and be interviewed by the President (!!). Then, having no more lines, he and the Deputy awkwardly pretend to be examining some papers. Good blocking. Meanwhile, the kids act out a horrendously merry final bit of jocularity, ala those Star Trek finales where everyone on the Bridge has a good laugh at Spock’s expense. They then climb into Reg’s car and drive off in the sunset.
Uh, this article is a lot shorter than I thought it would be. That’s the danger, I suppose, of choosing a film according to a theme, but not watching it first.
The IMDB notes that this was ‘remade’ as Frankenstein Island, but I think that might be overstating things a bit. Certainly, Warren appears to have raided the earlier film for a number of elements. Still, the plots, such as they are, don’t really have enough in common to call the second film a remake. One’s an admittedly inept spy/espionage thriller, the other’s, well, Frankenstein Island. Perhaps it would be better to think of FI as the latter-day adventures of Dr. Myra. (By the way, if she’s ever named in the film, I didn’t notice. I got her character’s moniker off the IMDB.) Played by the same *cough* actress, one might easily theorize that Myra was actually the incognito Sheila Frankenstein. Making her escape some time after the events of this film, she then hooked back up with her husband, Dr. Von Helsing. There, on another secluded island base, she continued her zombie research and her taste in bizarrely overstated clothing.
Compared to the inspired and markedly overstuffed lunacy of the later film, Teenage Zombies is a woefully pro forma effort. No cosmic manifestations here, no bikini-clad alien jungle girls, no Frankenstein Monsters hidden in an underwater grotto, no brains in transparent plastic bubbles, no pink spinning lunchboxes. Nor are we treated to the hammy thesping of genre icons such as John Carradine or Cameron Mitchell. Yes, there is the ape -- and how they came to leave him out of FI, well, you got me -- but he doesn’t really do much of anything. Shouldn’t he have murdered Myra, for that traditional ‘destroyed by what she wrought’ ending? Or at least engaged in a big, if silly, fight with the film’s other ‘monster,’ the zombie Ivan? Frankly, if he’d been left out of the picture no one would have really noticed.
Last, this proved not that hot a choice for today’s topic. Sure, Myra is a Female Mad Scientist. Unfortunately, though, her gender doesn’t really have much to do with anything. Had Myra been played by a man, the film could have proceeded without much change. It would have been more fun to find a movie involving a FMS who was in some way actually motivated by her sex.
Well, live and learn.
-Review by Ken Begg