The tale of Teenage Zombies (1959 release date, but filmed two years earlier) opens in a soda shop conveying the cliche image of teenagers.
This was already an outdated environment for a film issued in the teahouse beatnick era rather than the sodashop jitterbug era, but what in the world would a terrible director like Jerry Warren know about his hoped-for youth audience.
Cut to some of the kids as they hike in the woods on an island. They see a strangely well-dressed woman (Katherine Victor) who appears to be lording over a duckling-row of zombies, in a confused script that as things develop won't be able to decide whether or not the teens themselves are the first human subjects for zombification.
Well, it's a stretch to call it a zombie film at all. It's really more of a bottom-of-the-toilet spy film about mind-control, with an anti-commies subtext, unquestioning the red-scare era that J. Edgar Hoover kept alive well beyond McCarthy's downfall.
The woman, Dr. Myra, is an evil Russian spy & scientist who has developed a system of turning a gorilla into a tame obedient creature, but only for a short time.
Myra also has a lumbering slave named Ivan who we must assume is a zombie experiment gone awry, but seems to owe more to the tradition of Igor or Quasimodo.
Though unnamed in the credits, Ivan was featured prominantly, along with the gorilla, in posters, stills, ads, & lobbycards, so you'd think he'd've deserved a credit.
He is played by Chuck Niles (1927-2004), who has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame because he was for decades a well-known jazz d-j in California, not because he had bit roles in a number of drive-in cheapies such as Creature of the Walking Dead (1965), Five Fingers of Death (1962), Invisible Invaders (1959), among a few others, in which he occasionally gets to use what was widely known as his "melifilous baritone voice."
A 2002 dvd release of Teenage Zombies remastered from the best available copy had some excellent extras, including an interview with Chuck Niles.
Horace Silver gave him the title "hippest cat in Hollywood" & chummed around with the greatest jazzmen of the era, as well as hanging out with schlockmeister Jerry Warren & supportively popping into his laughable films.
Such film roles notwithstanding, he also took his acting seriously, as a regional live stage performer in plays like Harvey & Death of a Salesman.
So, Dr. Myra's goal is to make the mind-control process permanent. Unlike Manchurian Candidate (1962) which made such perfect use of the Cold War fear of commie mind control tactics, Dr. Myra's process never seems all that menacing since it wears off so quickly -- although the inept script does alternatingly want us to believe the process wears off, or the process requires an antidote to reverse the mind-control.
Teens are captured, caged, escape, are captured again; the girls are put in the smoke-chamber & zombified but not permanently. The teens turn the tables & zombify the lady scientist.
Meanwhile the process has worn off of the guy in the gorilla suit (Mitch Evans), who goes on an unconvincing rampage against Dr. Myra's fellow agents. Other highlights include a fistfight, lots of running around, & a couple "meanwhile back at the soda shop" scenes.
At last the Army shows up too late to be all that helpful because the teens have already won the war against the commie agent & are going to be sent to Washington, D.C., to receive some award for bravery from Eisenhower himself.
Obviously we're in the territory of Plan Nine from Outer Space (1959), Beast of Yucca Flats (1961) & Mesa of Lost Women (1953), the latter also featuring Katherine Victor. By right of vintage, it's an effective "bad movie night" item.
Continue to more zombies:
Omega Man (2004) & Last Man on Earth (1964
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