Greatest Zombie Films

Greatest Zombie Films

1930s - 1950s

Greatest Zombie Films
(chronological by time period and film title)
Introduction | 1930s-1950s | 1960s-1970s | 1980-1984 | 1985-1989
1990s | 2000-2006 | 2007-2009 | 2010s

Greatest Zombie Films: 1930s - 1950s
(chronological by time period and film title)
Title Screen
Zombie Films

White Zombie (1932)
d. Victor Halperin, 69 minutes, Halperin Productions/United Artists

Tagline(s): "The Dead Walk Among Us!", and "See Them Dug From the Grave and Put to Work as Slaves to Murder!", and "With These Zombie Eyes, he rendered her powerless. With This Zombie Grip, he made her perform his every desire!"
Setting: Caribbean nation of Haiti, near Port au Prince.
Story: Wealthy planter and plantation owner Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer) invited an American couple in Haiti, Neil Parker (John Harron) and his fiancee Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy), to his plantation for their marriage. On the way, they encountered the white sorcerer-master of the Haitian sugar mill, evil voodoo master Murder Legendre (Béla Lugosi), who had stocked the plantation with an army of hollow-eyed zombies under his voodoo spell. Beaumont was the lusting admirer of Madeline, but his unrequited love was rebuffed by her plans to marry Neil. With no other alternative, jealous Beaumont hired witch-doctor Legendre to use a potion to temporarily turn Madeline into a zombie. After the marriage ceremony, Madeline was slipped the potion, apparently died, and was buried in a tomb. The plan was to have her declared legally dead and have Neil return to the US. Then, Charles could secretly revive or raise Madeline from the dead and romance her. Regretful of his evil deed and due to Legendre's own dark plans for him, Charles was also transformed into a semi-zombie figure, and imprisoned in Legendre's fortified, cliff-side castle. Neil joined with missionary Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn) to rescue Madeline from the castle, where they battled both Legendre and his threatening zombie guards. During the violent confrontation, a repentant Charles broke through the voodoo spell he was under and attacked Legendre. Both Legendre and Charles fell from the fortress tower to their deaths far below on the beach. After Legendre's death, Madeline was released from her zombie state, and returned to the arms of her loving husband Neil.
Notable: The grand-daddy of all modern-day zombie films of the sound era, with effective, atmospheric horror, although dated. This was Bela Lugosi's follow-up film to Dracula (1931), and his second most important movie role. The low-budget film was the archetype and model for many subsequent zombie movies. Followed by Halperin's sequel Revolt of the Zombies (1936).

Ouanga (1936) (aka Love Wanga, or Drums of the Jungle)
d. George Terwilliger, 56 minutes, George Terwilliger Productions/J.H. Hoffberg Company

Tagline(s): "Strange Loves of Queer People!" and "Meet Clelie...naive...young and beautiful...lithe, yielding, and primitive, love-hungry child of the tropics!"
Setting: Haiti
Story: Native, mixed-race Haitian female plantation owner (and voodoo priestess) Clelie Gordon (Fredi Washington) was the lover, for two years, of neighboring white American Adam Maynard (Philip Brandon) on Paradise Island in the West Indies. When Adam's new white, light-haired fiancée Eve Langley (Marie Paxton) entered the picture, things changed. Adam's mixed-race plantation overseer LeStrange (Sheldon Leonard), who was in love with Clelie, implored her to stop begging for Adam's inter-racial love. After Clelie acknowledged to Adam: "the barrier of blood that separates us can't be overcome, but Adam, I can't and won't be satisfied with just friendship...You belong to me, Adam, and no one else but me," she threatened and warned Adam for choosing the white woman over her. He vowed to be married to Eve, and told Clelie: "You can't be with me...You belong with your kind." First for revenge, Clelie used a voodoo necklace charm (or ouanga/wanga) to hypnotically curse Eve. Then, with her voodoo powers, Clelie raised two zombie minions and had them kidnap Eve - to sacrifice her in a voodoo ceremony. Clelie shot and injured LeStrange when he tried to stop her vengeful plan. He prevented the sacrifice by stealing Clelie's protection ouanga and setting it on fire. When she ran into the jungle, he followed and strangled her to death.
Notable: Notable as the 2nd film to feature zombies. Subtitled: "A STORY OF VOODOO." (Filmed in its entirety in the West Indies) The film's setting was Haiti, but the film was shot in Jamaica, due to the uproar created in Haiti when the locals learned about the film's subject-matter. The term ouanga was used in voudoun traditions relating to charms, amulets, talismans, etc., and was related to love fetishes. A negative or evil ouanga was known as a Wanga. The follow-up remake The Devil's Daughter (1939), with an "all-colored" cast, obviously removed the inter-racial romance.

Revolt of the Zombies (1936)
d. Victor Halperin, 65 minutes, Halperin Productions

Tagline(s): "Zombies--- Not Dead, Not Alive!", and "Weirdest Love Story in 2000 Years."
Setting: Cambodia in the years following WWI.
Story: Zombified soldiers were created by the unholy powers of Count Mazovia (Roy D'Arcy) in Angkor, Cambodia, serving as an army of slave laborers or "super-soldier" fighters for him. An expedition was sent to the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia with the purpose of locating and destroying the "Secret of the Zombies." One of the expedition leaders, Armand (Dean Jagger), had his own evil plans to create his own army of zombies - who ultimately revolted against him.
Notable: Director Victor Halperin's sequel to White Zombie (1932). Bela Lugosi's super-imposed eyes from the 1932 film appeared when magical zombie powers were employed.

The Walking Dead (1936)
d. Michael Curtiz, 66 minutes, Warner Bros.

Tagline: "HE DIED a man with a hunger to love...and returned a monster wth an instinct to kill."
Setting: Mid-1930s.
Story: Innocent but framed by racketeers, ex-convict John Ellman (Boris Karloff) was executed by electrocution. Brought back to life or resurrected with a mechanical heart by Dr. Evan Beaumont (Edmund Gwenn) who wanted to know about the afterlife, the "living dead" man/zombie Ellman, a graveyard-dwelling monster with white hair, sought revenge on those who framed him. Each of the framers were killed by their own actions or guilt.
Notable: A supernatural, sci-fi horror revenge film. Included in this listing because of the film's title. Similar to the Frankenstein tale and the resurrection scene (also with Karloff).

King of the Zombies (1941)
d. Jean Yarbrough, 67 minutes, Monogram Pictures

Setting: During WWII, on a remote Caribbean island, where a trio had crash-landed their plane.
Story: Crash survivors of a plane on its way to the Bahamas, and flown by James "Mac" McCarthy (Dick Purcell), were taken into the mansion of sinister, mysterious Dr. Miklos Sangre (Henry Victor) who lived on the island - haunted by zombies. Others with the pilot included Mac's friend Bill Summers (John Archer) and his black butler, Jefferson Jackson (Mantan Moreland). The doctor, a foreign-enemy spy (a disguised Nazi, although only identified as from a "European government") lived there with his wife Alyce (Patricia Stacey) and servants. Soon, the group discovered that Sangre was conducting voodoo rites in his basement. He had captured US Admiral Arthur Wainwright (Guy Usher), another missing aviator, and was trying to extract secret information from him, while strapped to a chair. Sangre was aided by his cook, an island voodoo priestess named Tahama (Madame Sul-Te-Wan). Unfortunately, "Mac" was zombified. In the film's conclusion, the zombies turned on their master and he was backed into a large open-hearth fire which consumed him. With Sangre dead, "Mac" was unzombified.
Notable: A low-budget Monogram Pictures horror-comedy, misrepresented by its sensationalist taglines. Noted for its politically-incorrect ethnic humor. The ONLY zombie-related film nominated for an Academy Award (Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture) in any category.

I Walked With a Zombie (1943)
d. Jacques Tourneur, 69 minutes, RKO Radio Pictures

Tagline: "She's ALIVE... Yet Dead!!! She's DEAD... Yet Alive!!!"
Setting: The West Indies, fictitious Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian
Story: Canadian nurse Betsy Connell (Frances Dee) traveled to the island of Saint Sebastian in the West Indies, to look after Jessica Holland (Christine Gordon), the catatonic (trance-like), sleep-walking, semi-paralyzed invalid wife of guilt-ridden sugar plantation owner Paul Holland (Tom Conway). She suffered from an unknown ailment resembling zombie-like sleepwalking. Jessica's doctor claimed that her catatonic condition (with no will of her own, no speaking, and seemingly lobotomized) was caused by an incurable tropical fever. The retrospective film told in flashback was Betsy's narrated description, beginning with her recollection: "I walked with a zombie. It does seem an odd thing to say. Had anyone said that to me a year ago, I'm not at all sure I would have known what a zombie was...." By mid-film, Betsy had slowly begun to fall in love with melancholy Paul, when she learned that Paul and his younger, alcoholic half-brother Wesley Rand (James Ellison) had a difficult relationship. The two brothers had earlier quarreled over the love of the afflicted woman in a love triangle, and Wesley had an affair with Jessica. Afterwards, Wesley blamed Paul for Jessica's condition. Betsy was convinced that she could cure the "living dead" Jessica with a shot of insulin, but the shock treatment failed. She then learned from Jessica's native maid Alma (Teresa Harris) that a local voodoo priest had cured a woman with the same condition, and had brought the woman out of a catatonic state. Alma drew her a map to the "Home Fort" where a local voodoo ceremony would take place. In an unsettling nighttime scene, Betsy daringly escorted her patient, without permission, on a haunting, dream-like walk through the plantation's billowing cane fields to the ceremony. She had to pass animal sacrifices along the way. As she went through a crossroads, there was the abrupt and shocking appearance in the darkness of a huge, eerie, bug-eyed and towering zombie-like guard Carrefour (Darby Jones). Jessica was led to the dwelling (houmfort) of the voodoo worshippers. A major plot twist occurred next - Betsy entered a shack to consult with the voodoo witch doctor priestess, and discovered it was the matriarch of the family, Mrs. Rand (Edith Barrett) (who practiced voodoo in secret). When Mrs. Rand had discovered that her sons had fought over Jessica, Paul's wife, and threatened to break up the family (when Jessica threatened to run away with her lover Wesley), she had put a 'living dead' zombie curse on her. The disturbed Wesley continued to believe that Jessica was truly a zombie, and to rid her (and free her) of her condition, Wesley stabbed Jessica's heart with an arrow (mimicking a voodoo worshipper stabbing a doll). In a trance, after carrying her corpse to the sea, Wesley committed suicide by drowning. Carrefour - who had followed Wesley to the sea, brought Jessica's body back to the house. Now reunited with Betsy, Paul confessed to her that he would take her away from the island.
Notable: One of the best and most fair treatments of the practice of voodoo. A combination of voodoo, romance, and an adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. One of the best of the early zombie films - filmed in expressive, visually-stunning black and white. The low-budget, creepy film was very effective for its moody and atmospheric tone and visually-stylistic terror regarding dark family secrets, voodoo rituals and legends. Noted for producer Val Lewton's brand of tension and horror - he had already worked on Cat People (1942) and would soon produce The Body Snatcher (1945).

Revenge of the Zombies (1943)
d. Steve Sekely, 61 minutes, Monogram Pictures

Tagline: "DEAD MEN CAN'T DIE... but live to follow a mad-man's will!"
Setting: Louisiana bayou swamps
Story: Mad Nazi scientist Dr. Max Heinrich von Aldermann (John Carradine) was commissioned to create an army of "living dead" warriors for the Third Reich. He also was attempting to revitalize his murdered wife Lila (Veda Ann Borg), who he had turned into a 'zombie.' She was the sister of Scott Warrenton (Mauritz Hugo), who was investigating the possibility of her murder (by poisoning). Strong-willed Lila who was resisting Von Aldermann, believed that only his death would free the zombies. Von Aldermann's secretary Jennifer Rand (Gale Storm) was rescued by Scott's assistant, undercover FBI agent-detective Larry Adams (Robert Lowery), as Lila led a group of revolting zombies to seek revenge on Von Aldermann - ending with their deaths in a swampy, quicksand mud pool.
Notable: This was a quasi-remake or sequel to King of the Zombies (1941), the second Monogram Pictures 'zombie thriller. They were recycled in another Monogram film, Voodoo Man (1944).

Voodoo Man (1944)
d. William Beaudine, 61 minutes, Monogram Pictures/Banner Productions

The town of Twin Falls.
Story: Gas station attendant (and voodoo priest) Nicholas (George Zucco), and dim-witted servant Toby (John Carradine) were the assistants of evil, insane and grieving "voodoo man" Dr. Richard Marlowe (Bela Lugosi), a retired physician. Marlowe used the two to ensnare and kidnap young women. The latest two motorist victims were bridesmaid Stella Saunders (Louise Currie), and then bride-to-be Betty Benton (Wanda McKay), Stella's cousin. Nicholas used fake detour signs and bushes (concealing a trap-door to Marlowe's underground laboratory) to mislead, ambush and trap the women on Laurel Road near the gas station. Marlowe would then transfer their life-giving spirits in various robed, voodoo rituals with bongo drumming (and with the use of hypnotic suggestion) to his long, brain-dead, "undead" catatonic wife Evelyn (Ellen Hall). The hero was Hollywood screenwriter Ralph Dawson (Michael Ames) who was investigating the disappearances of both Stella and his fiancee Betty. A sheriff (Henry Hall) and his deputy Elmer (Dan White) were the ones to save the day when they interrupted one of the voodoo ceremonies (Betty had been found to be a perfect match for Marlowe's wife!), and Marlowe was shot. He destroyed his undead wife for good in an explosion, and before he died released four other women from their "undead" hypnotic states. Afterwards in a humorous tongue-in-cheek ending, Ralph submitted a screenplay to Banner Productions (the film's actual production company) about his adventures with Marlowe and called it "Voodoo Man." When the producer asked Ralph who should play Marlowe, he recommended Bela Lugosi.
Bela Lugosi was brought back for the last time (this was his ninth film with Monogram, from 1941-1944) by poverty-row Monogram Studios as voodoo master and mad scientist Dr. Marlowe.

Zombies on Broadway (1945)
d. Gordon Douglas, 69 minutes, RKO Radio Pictures

Tagline: "They're Alive!...They're Dead!...They're Not!...They're NUTS!"
Setting: New York City, and the fictitious Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian
Story: Two press agents, thin Jerry Miles (Wally Brown) and chubby Mike Strager (Alan Carney), created a media blitz for the opening of their new, zombie-themed night-club, The Zombie Hut, promising a real life zombie (a fake one - a drunk boxer named Sam (Martin Wilkins)). Their ex-gangster boss Ace Miller (Sheldon Leonard) demanded a real zombie. Recommended by museum curator Prof. Hopkins (Ian Wolfe), the pair traveled to the island of Saint Sebastian to contact mad scientist Professor Paul Renault (Bela Lugosi), who was experimenting and trying to replicate the native’s ability to create walking dead zombies. The two agents became his perfect unwilling subjects - and Mike was designated to be the nightclub's zombie upon their return!
Notable: A zombie comedy, similar to the Abbott & Costello comedy duo films of the time period (with various classic monsters). In this spoof, bug-eyed Darby Jones repeated his role as the iconic, tall voodoo zombie, now named Kalaga, from I Walked With a Zombie (1943), also from RKO. Bela Lugosi also reprised his role as a voodoo master from the first official zombie film, White Zombie (1932). Included a non-PC blackface bit by Mike.

Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952) (aka Satan's Satellites)
d. Fred C. Brannon, 167 minutes (12 chapters), Republic Pictures

Tagline: "Invasion From A Mystery Planet!"
Setting: Present-day 1952.
Story: The first chapter was titled: "The Zombie Vanguard." Foreign enemies from Mars had entered the US in a rocket ship. Olive green-skinned Martians (in the colorized version), led by humanoid zombie Marex (Lane Bradford), were allied with two gangsters, Roth (John Crawford) and Shane (Ray Boyle), and mad scientist Dr. Harding (Stanley Waxman). Their devious plan was to build a gigantic Hydrogen bomb (with smuggled uranium) to knock Earth off its orbit so Mars could take its place nearer the Sun. Rocketeer-helmeted security agent hero Larry Martin (Judd Holdren) in his jet-pack flying suit and others battled the evil forces, including his male sidekick Bob Wilson (Wilson Wood), and Sue Davis (Aline Towne).
Notable: A 12-chapter cliffhanger serial, a classic B-movie with lots of stock footage and recycled scenes. Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy, in one of his earliest movie roles, was one of the humanoid zombies named Narab. This was the third rocket-man serial made by Republic in a trilogy of sorts - also King of the Rocket Men (1949), and Radar Men from the Moon (1951) with Commander Cody.

Invisible Invaders (1959)
d. Edward L. Cahn, 67 minutes, Premium Pictures, Inc.

Tagline: "A sci-fi shocker that'll keep you awake at night!", and EARTH GIVEN 24 HOURS TO SURRENDER! An unearthly enemy defying science...In a war to the death of all civilization!
Setting: Washington, DC., and surrounding area
Story: The opening narration intoned: "Since the first revelation of the atom bomb at Hiroshima in 1945, the United States, England and Russia have been experimenting with more and more increasingly deadly weapons. Every day, there’s more concentration on the race for atom supremacy. Sometimes, machines and men, such as Karol Noymann, are driven beyond the line of endurance. And when that happens…" Headlines in the Daily Chronicle proclaimed disturbing news: NOTED SCIENTIST KILLED IN ATOM LAB EXPLOSION. Atomic radiation from mankind's frequent nuclear tests had drifted into outer space, causing concern in Washington. This cheap sci-fi alien invader film opened with the reappearance of recently-deceased Dr. Karol Noymann (John Carradine) to his colleague Dr. Adam Penner (Philip Tonge), who had just quit his job as the head of the US atomic research program. Noymann's corpse had been inhabited and animated - raised from the dead - by invisible alien invaders from the Moon. The extra-terrestrials - voicing themselves through 'zombie' corpses, threatened to invade every dead body and conquer Earth in only 24 hours if the politicians didn't listen to their demands and surrender. Scientists and military figures (led by Army Major Bruce Jay (John Agar)) hid in a secret atomic lab situated in a bunker as they were besieged by menacing hordes of reanimated dead outside. They were able to figure out how to stop the invasive threat using high-pitched sound waves, delivered by their invention of a sonic ray gun. The rays disrupted the molecular structure of the aliens' makeup, and force them to leave their host bodies - and die.
Notable: The film prefigured Romero's landmark Night of the Living Dead (1968) by almost a decade, and was a slightly better version of the same themes found in Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) (see below).

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) (aka Grave Robbers From Outer Space)
d. Ed Wood, 80 minutes, Reynolds Pictures/Distributors Corporation of America

Tagline: "Unspeakable Horrors From Outer Space Paralyze The Living And Resurrect The Dead!"
Setting: Southern California (San Fernando Valley) graveyard
Story: In the film's opening, narrator Criswell (LA TV personality in his feature film debut) spoke directly to the audience to introduce the film's suppressed news story - the arrival of alien invaders from outer space ("My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts about grave robbers from outer space?"). Onboard a commercial airliner, the pilots spotted a shiny flying saucer high above San Fernando Valley. The UFO saucer landed in a cemetery graveyard in the area, where a burial ceremony was just ending for a grieving old man (Bela Lugosi) whose wife had died. Gravediggers were spooked by the landing, and as they were leaving, they were frightened by the sight of the old man's wife - now a resurrected Vampire Girl (Maila "Vampira" Nurmi), and both of them were killed. The next day, the saddened old man died and was also buried in the graveyard's crypt, but then he was also raised from the dead as Ghoul Man. The police, including overweight Inspector Daniel Clay (Tor Johnson), were alerted to investigate the murder of the two gravediggers. Vampire Girl and Ghoul Man attacked and killed Clay. Flying saucers were also reported in the skies over Hollywood and Washington, D.C. It was then revealed that the extra-terrestrial aliens in the various spacecraft had a strategic plan. Wearing silk pajamas and piloting one saucer, space soldier Commander Eros (Dudley Manlove) and his mate Tanna (Joanna Lee) had been directed by their Ruler (John Breckinridge) to implement a plan known as "Plan 9" (after eight failed plans). Their objective was to stop humanity from creating a doomsday nuclear weapon ("Solaranite bombs" that could destroy the sun) and obliterating the entire universe. The aliens' plan was to use their electrode guns to revive, animate and resurrect the Earth's dead (ghouls or undead zombies) from the graveyard, to serve in a zombie army of the dead to march and conquer Earth and its humans before mankind destroyed itself in a devastating apocalypse. The Pentagon and General Roberts (Lyle Talbot) were aware of the cemetery incidents, had been in contact with the aliens for years, and had made previous attempts to shoot down the alien ships. Reportedly, the aliens had been unsuccessful in the past of convincing earthlings of their actual existence and technological superiority. In the film's climactic conclusion, after a few humans attempted to stop the aliens, their flaming saucer lifted off from the cemetery and exploded over Hollywood. In the film's short epilogue, Criswell returned to warn: "My friend, you have seen this incident based on sworn testimony. Can you prove that it didn't happen? Perhaps on your way home someone will pass you in the dark, and you will never know it, for they will be from outer space. Many scientists believe that another world is watching us at this moment. We once laughed at the horseless carriage, the aeroplane, the telephone, the electric light, vitamins, radio, and even television. And now some of us laugh at outer space. God help us in the future."
Notable: Although universally acknowledged as one of the 'worst' films ever made, with an incoherent plot, cheap production design and props (e.g., cardboard gravestones, and a paper-plate alien spaceship), nighttime scenes obviously shot during the daytime, inexcusable special effects, and horrible acting, director Ed Wood's sci-fi zombie horror film was still important in cinematic history. It marked the final role for horror icon Bela Lugosi, and some of the film was referenced in Tim Burton's biopic Ed Wood (1994), with Ed Wood played by Johnny Depp.

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