Teenage Zombies (1959)
This is a classic low-budget shocker film from the innocent age of teenage monster drive-in double-bills, a little slice of 1950's culture and an obvious sell-out to the buying power of the 18-24 year old consumer demographic. This is a bad movie, make no mistake, maybe filmed in a few days, a week at most, and featuring some of the lamest scriptwriting ever put to paper. The director would recycle 75% of this into Frankenstein's Island a few years later, so at least he got some more mileage out of this stinker.
On to our show...
We open in a typical 1950's soda diner, ripped from every other Archie comic, as a gaggle of kids sit around drinking malt milkshakes (two for 50cents!) and trying to be both hip and cool. Our movie's teenage heroes/heroines are all rich kids, living the easy life of convertibles and fancy boats, layabouts with wealthy parents and nary a care in the world other than acne and unplanned pregnancy. There are four of them, two couples.
Typical of the bare-bones sets in this movie.
The two boys are Reg and Skip, stereotypical teenagers with rolled-cuff jeans, tight t-shirts and oily dovetail haircuts. There is no point in listing the actors' names as neither of them, like anyone else involved in this movie, did anything more impressive than cereal commercials and bit parts in bad tv series after this. [Editor Pam: They both look a little old for teenagers. Being hip and cool must have worn them out.]
Reg (l) and Skip (r).
Their blindly devoted girlfriends are Pam and Julie, typical 1950s socialite prissy airheads who are little more than cardboard cut-outs with little to do but gaze lovingly at their boyfriends and giggle. They do look cute in their bobby socks, hair ribbons, and sweaters, Pam in Becky Thatcher jeans and Julie in Rita Hayworth shorts.
Couldn't find a single screen shot of just Pam and Julie, not one, so here are some other, equally annoying teenagers.
Bored with horseback riding, fencing, water skiing, soda sipping, and oppressing the huddled masses, these New York Prep rejects decide to sail off to a small island (the fabulously named Mullet Island) for a play date. They hop in Reg's V-8 powered hand-crafted speed boat (how RFK of him!) and roar off. The island was earlier said to be 30 miles offshore, do they have enough gas to get there and back?
That's a really small boat for a V-8, used at full throttle on anything but a billiard table-placid lake and you're going to smash that wooden hull like matchsticks.
Out on the island, the kids have a sack lunch and toss their trash on the pristine beach (bastards) and walk off to explore. They wander around for a bit before coming to a farmstead some distance inland. There they see some old men shambling along a path like zombies (this is the only time we see more than one zombie in the entire film, by the way). The kids, being kids, first think the men are "doped up, man". They see a woman (obviously a zombie overseer), who orders the zombies to chase them when she sees them watching.
Our bunch spies on the zombies.
The Scooby Gang turns and runs for the beach. Typical of the era, the girls are completely incapable of running unless a man is holding their hand, if one were to ever let go, I'm sure she would instantly screech to a stop and stand there until a man came to get her, or, more likely, fall down and scream pitifully until the monster/alien/axe murderer/communist was upon her. They reach the beach but their boat is gone! DumDumDum!
On the beach, that girl needs to eat a cheeseburger.
They unwisely decide to separate, the boys continue searching the beach for the boat while the girls sit down because they're so tired, how can you expect them to exert themselves as their sole purpose in life seems to be to look pretty and laugh at their boyfriend's lame jokes. The girls are soon kidnapped by Ivan, the Zombie Henchman, though he's a slow, shambling brute with the footspeed of a bluehair grandma from Tampa and they are young, healthy teenagers. Of course, without a man there to protect/defend/remind them to breathe, the girls can't be expected to put up a fight.
Igor...er, I mean Ivan.
The boys wander all around, but they still can't find the boat. They eventually come across a farmhouse and are surprised to find that the zombie-overseer woman from before lives here. She has a name but let's just call her the Doctor. She invites them into her thoroughly modern house (fully stocked with 1959 consumer goods, including a newfangled ice box and a blender the size of a Honda generator) and offers them RC Colas (with a bottle opener, how neat). Most distractingly, the inside of the house is lit by blinding-as-the-sun set lights, which cast razor-sharp hard shadows and are reflected in any glassy surface (filming indoors is notoriously difficult, but come on). The Doctor doesn't know about any boat, but they are suspicious.
A lonely sexy older woman living alone invites two virile young men to come inside for a soda on a hot day. 57% of porn movies start just like this...
They are tricked into going down into the basement (what's down in basement? don't know, Pam won't finish it...) where they find the girls locked in a cage! Before they can do anything, Ivan shoves them from behind into a separate cage and the Doctor tells them that they are now prisoners and can never leave. She says this is a place of "science and research, a place free from stupid politicians". Oh yes, she's a Mad Scientist!
Two nubile teenage girls in a cage await their fate. The other 43% of porn movies start like this...
That night, the boys pick their lock and get out. They can't open the girls' cage because the lock is different, so they leave them to find help. Worst boyfriends ever! They wander around some more in the dark but still can't find a boat, so they start to build a raft which they hide in the brush as morning approaches (no further mention of this). They get back in their cage before the sun comes up, afraid that they will be caught. So far, all we've seen is Ivan, who is totally controlled by the Doctor's orders, so you have to wonder why these two guys are so terrified of one Zombie Henchman when they have all the advantages on their side (speed, intelligence, hormones). If I were them, I'd sneak around and find the Doctor and bonk her over the head while she sleeps and then escape at my leisure (after raiding the fridge, that is).
If I ran off and left my wife in a cage with zombies around, so that I could run around with some other guy in the dark, she'd be on-fire pissed. [Editor Pam: These modern women...Back in the fifties, American women knew their place and let their men do all the thinking.]
Two men show up now, coming from the mainland. These are clearly dastardly commie Rooskies, though without the usual badly-done fake Slavic accents, which you would think would be required in such a blatant anti-Soviet Eisenhower-era film. It seems the Doctor is being funded by the godless communists to create a doomsday weapon for them (forget the headscratcher of why let her do this work right off the Southern California coast and not back in Moscow).
Rooskies (and no, they're not standing off-center, it's that damned pan-and-scan cut).
The Doctor takes them down into her basement laboratory, after first putting on a white lab coat over her cocktail dress (thus instantly turning her into a SCIENTIST!). They talk about the Doctor's dreaded Zombie Gas weapon, a biological warfare agent meant to be dropped on the unsuspecting American population, turning them into zombie worker drones to be used/abused by their Soviet overlords. She's been out here on this island running tests and doing research on this gas for quite a while, and while progress has been made, her bosses "in the east" have a new deadline for her. The time table needs to be sped up, and they may use nukes if the Zombie Gas does not work as advertised.
Lab coats make any woman 113% sexier.
She tells them that she's prepared a test of Zombie Gas v2.0 to show the Rooskies what sort of product they will be getting, but for some reason is going to use a gorilla. She's shown zero problem with using humans as test subjects before now, why would she be using animals? Is it because the cheap-ass film makers happened to have an ape suit lying around from some costume party and thought it would rawk if they put it in their movie? The gorilla is put in a gas chamber, the gas is turned on, and the poor beast comes out a zombie gorilla (my toes tingle at the thought of an army of zombie gorillas marching down the Potomac Parkway under the Red Banner as Stalin smiles appreciatingly from the rubble of the Lincoln Memorial).
That's an ape back there in the gas chamber, really.
The Doctor then discusses how she finally (kinda sorta) perfected the Zombie Gas and used the beta version of it to make Ivan into the relatively productive mindless robot he is today. This is the exact intended result that she was going for, but she needs more time and more testing to perfect a viable delivery system for the gas. A few questions, if I may, why/how did the Zombie Gas give Ivan a hunchback, and why/how did it cause the sleeves of his coat to shrink five inches, and why did it leave him the faculties to answer the intercom and unlock doors on his own, but otherwise not be able to do anything other than shamble and grunt unless directly told to?
Bubble bubble, toil and trouble. Is that a fish tank?
Zombie Gas v2.0 needs some final lab testing before it's ready for the field, and luckily the Doctor has four healthy young test subjects at her disposal. It should be noted, however, that she has no plans for any additional clinical trials or even any field tests, though to be fair, the Rooskies have told her that if she can't get it right this last time, they will close down her project. That sort of pressure on any scientist would cause them to skip on their research documentation. So Ivan goes to get the girls and puts them in the gas chamber. I note again that the two physically fit young women put up absolutely zero fight against this, and even when Ivan lets go of them to open the doors, they make no effort to run or anything. You don't need Zombie Gas, these losers are already sheeple. Of course, their boyfriends also just stand there and let Ivan haul away their women without much more than harsh words (their cage is open, remember). It's only after Ivan has left with them that the boys come out of their cage and sneak around. Had all four of them jumped Ivan in the hallway, or better yet in the narrow staircase, they could have realistically gotten free and escaped to that raft they built. Alas, too stupid for that.
Here he comes, walkin' down your street...
You know, why would you even want teenagers to be zombies anyway? They all suck, if these movies are any indication, all they want to do is race souped-up Shelby muscle cars, break into inpromptu song and dance numbers, eat cheeseburgers at campus diners, listen to that infernal rockin' and/or rollin' music, go to sockhops, and mess around on old peoples' yards. Well, now that I write all that, I can see the value in making teenagers zombies, that way they can't be so damn annoying and can give you an honest day's work.
She's so in love with the Fonz.
Ok, let's stop here and leave this plotline for a second. Surely these four rich kids have to be missed by someone, right? Their other rich friends, their parents, their trust fund managers, someone surely is concerned that they have been missing for the better part of two days now? And right on cue, back on the mainland a couple of their dorky friends have started to get worried. These two are the whitest kid in America and his 47-year old girlfriend.
47 (l) and Whitey (r).
Concerned, they go to the sheriff and report Reg, Skip, Pam, and Julie missing at sea. Four children of wealthy, important parents are missing in the ocean? Why, of course they call the Coast Guard and a thorough search is initiated, with ships and helicopters and planes. Hmmm...no? Just the sheriff and another dork out alone in a ten-foot motorboat for a few hours oddly close to shore?
Nice to see them giving it a go.
Not taking no for an answer (and apparently not having parents), Whitey and 47 "borrow" some guy's boat and go out looking for their friends themselves. In an amazing stroke of luck, they find the island within an hour and pull ashore (Whitey is like a skinny pale Thor Heyerdahl!). Like the others before them, they find the farmhouse and knock on the door. The Doctor talks to them in the kitchen, assures them that their missing friends are not here, and wishes them good luck. Even though Whitey and 47 are suspicious of her, they leave and motor back to the mainland. Why the hell would she let them go? Perhaps Ivan was busy right then, he seems to be her only muscle. Still, considering the need for secrecy, and her paucity of test subjects, it seems pretty dumb on her part.
This kitchen entryway gets a lot of screen time.
Whitey and 47 go to the sheriff again and tell him about their meeting with the Doctor. The sheriff makes a very valid point that it's not a crime to want to live alone in isolation, but the kids are sure she knows something about their friends. The sheriff agrees to return to the island with them right now and figure this out.
Talking with the sheriff.
They arrive just as the girls are put into the gas chamber, bringing all our cast together. Very quickly we learn that the seemingly upstanding sheriff is a quisling! Whitey and 47 are held at bay by Ivan, forced to stand off to one side as the lumbering brute growls at them. It's apparent in many of the scenes (like this one) that the director gave his actors very little in the way of stage direction, so you have several characters talking in the foreground from the script, but everyone else in the background of the scenes just mills around, unsure of what they should be doing, looking at the camera at times, or off-screen, or down at their feet to see where their marks are. At other times, obvious flubs are ignored and the camera never slows down, suggesting a serious lack of money for film stock (and time, I still think this was made in under a week).
The sheriff talks turkey with the Doctor and the Rooskies.
It seems that the sheriff has been sending bums and convicts out here to the island to be used as test subjects (and no one noticed?), but he's not at all comfortable with using these six rich kids as they will be missed. He pretty much quits right then and there and walks out. However, no one quits on Mother Russia and the Rooskies shoot him dead. I laughed for the only time when the sheriff grabbed his midsection when a gaffer fired a blank off-screen and then slowly slid to the floor and died instantly, careful not to lose his ten-gallon hat or dirty up his suit coat.
Stomach wounds are rarely immediately fatal.
The Hardy Boys take this moment to burst in and rumble with the Rooskies. The fight is badly staged, with more rolling around and grunting than anything. One Rooskie, however, seems to be genuinely trying to hurt Skip, almost like something happened off-camera and the actor is finally able to show this snot-nosed brat what real life is like. I also have to give 47 due credit, she doesn't stand there like most '50s women, but actively participates in the fight, taking on the Doctor in some (admittedly) tame girl-on-girl fighting, though in most scenes clearly neither are trying too hard.
The teenagers win in the end and capture the bad guys, but not before the Doctor manages to gas Nancy Drew and Bess Marvin! They come out as zombies, mindless glassy-eyed yes-women. Wow, why are the guys complaining? Ready-made zombie love slaves, anyone? Girlfriends who never nag or complain and will let you do the weird stuff on the first date? If you could get them to make you a sandwich and then sit quietly in the corner until your drink needs to be refilled, you'd have every man's dream girl. Please send all complaints to my editor Pam, she made me do it. [Editor Pam: I have to agree with Nate. As I read this paragraph, I was thinking, "This is what American women in the 1950s were supposed to be like, anyway. Except for the weird stuff on the first date, of course."]
Zombie girls, which is a whole different movie.
The boys, however, oddly want their girls back to normal so they stick the Doctor in the gas chamber to get her to tell them the antidote. She comes out a zombie (you can tell because the gas made her makeup fall off and her hair is out of place) but for some reason isn't able or willing to tell them the cure. This is another scene where the people in the background don't seem to know what to do, and once I even saw one of the Rooskies smile off-screen, which was amusing. I don't know how to describe this exactly, but the boys hold their commandeered revolvers "mafia style", with their palms over the hammers, the 1950s version of the John Woo sideways gangsta hold.
Wow, nice Sharpie eyebrows.
In desperation, the boys trust one of the Rooskies that an unmarked bottle of clear liquid he hands them is the real antidote. It works instantaneously, and the Doctor (who they tested it on first) and the two girls are restored to their normal minds with no ill effects. Who knew biology was so simple?
Does that dork even know what "antidote" means?
More fighting as the Rooskies see a chance to jump them. The Doctor and one Rooskie escape out the back door as the other takes on all three boys in a swinging fit of rage that moves out into the hallway. Hey, where did Ivan go? The gorilla has escaped (huh?) and for some reason, attacks and mauls the Rooskie, totally ignoring the kids (apparently the ape is a god-fearing flag-waving patriotic American).
The Doctor and the other Rooskie get to the sheriff's boat and attempt to flee, but the kids get there before they can leave. Reg contains the Rooskie while the Doctor is roughly handled by Skip (who has a temper problem), and all of them pile in the boat for the trip back home.
Eight full-sized people in that little boat? For a 30 mile trip to the mainland? Sure.
Back on the mainland they are heralded as heroes for breaking up a devious plot against America. Earlier we saw this pointless subplot about two US Army intelligence guys and their search for the Doctor, who was in Buenos Aires before coming to the West Coast. These cut-aways didn't seem to fit into the movie at all, and were probably added later to pad out the running time (and to give two middle-aged men a shot at being "actors" for a day).
Army guys (him pointing to map gives us our definitive California location).
The movie ends like the very worst episode of Scooby Doo ever, as the kids joke and laugh about horseback riding and football teams and medals for bravery. They then all jump in Reg's convertible and roar off, hands waving in the air like they just don't care. Thank god there was never a sequel, or a talking dog.
Awesome Crestline Sunliner.
[Editor Pam: Kids, they bounce back so fast. Zombification, attack by foreign agents, near-death by gorilla mauling, all forgotten. It was a dumb little movie, but after all, hardly anybody went to drive-ins to watch the movie, so this one was good enough for its purpose.]
By the way, this movie has an odd fascination with intercoms, and we see three or four different types of these magical devices throughout the film. Would these really be that cutting-edge Jetsons' sci-fi cool in 1959? And speaking of out-dated technology, in one scene Whitey is using this ringy thing with a cord and stuff. What is this? I've seen these in other old movies, and I think its a phone of some sort. I don't see a keyboard, how am I supposed to use it to update my facebook page?
It takes what? Dimes? Huh?
Written in October 2009 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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