Revolt of the Zombies
Starring: Dean Jagger, Dorothy Stone, Roy D’Arcy,
DIR: Victor Halperin
Blurb: An international expedition is sent into Cambodia to destroy an ancient formula that turns men into zombies.
Scene 01: We open on a scrawl referring to the WWI, when a regiment of French-Cambodians arrived near the ‘lost city’ in Angkor on the Franco-Austrian front.
Scene 02: We are then placed in an office, where we find a General at pains to understand the wild tale of the man reporting into him. The officer claims that they’ve run into soulless men capable to decimating entire regiments of soldiers, even with the superior numbers and firepower of the soldiers facing them.
The officer, we can tell, is trying to stress that his wild report is true without getting into any more trouble. The General tells him that the report is hogwash, too fantastical to have merit.
Scene 03: With the officer having given up the fight, he leaves the office. Outside, Clifford - the General’s secretary, gives our officer - Armand some grief for not standing his ground. The two men have become very familiar with one another through their duties and are friends. Armand tells Cliff that he admires his will, while Cliff tells him that he admires Armand’s mind -- together, they’d make a great man.
With them standing silently and waiting, not giving any sign that he is hearing the two men talk is a Buddhist priest and apparently the man who has come with the information about the ‘zombies’ fighting against the allies.
Armand goes on to point out that science has already proven that Asia still has ancient cultures practicing telepathy [*cough* Really? When did we lose this ‘proof’, then?], so why not also a group of black magicians who can subvert the will of otherwise intelligent men?
Commentary: So, obviously being 1936, this isn’t the type of zombie walking around eating the living but is the classic voodoo-subtype in which ordinary men are rendered pliant and ‘mindless’ to a master.
Clifford continues to laugh at Armand for buying the priest’s wild tales of ‘robot men’ brainlessly following the orders of some zombie-king. He points out how unlikely it is that the priest standing there just so happens to be the last surviving descendant of one of these zombie-masters and has come all this way to offer superhuman soldiers to the war effort.
Armand speaks to the Cambodian priest to explain that the General won’t believe his report. Meanwhile, Cliff continues to express his skepticism by practically laughing in the stoic priest’s face.
The priest claims that his god demands that he creates zombie soldiers to help the allies and offers to show them in person what he can do.
Scene 03: Meanwhile, on a battlefield during a skirmish soldiers man a foxhole as bombs go off in the short distance. The Cambodian soldiers are apparently all in a deep trance, being controlled telepathically from General Duval’s office by the priest.
They are standing right in front of the foxhole as they continue to be fired upon - taking no notice of the gunshots. They advance on the position of their enemies, ignoring their chests being blasted full of lead to the disbelief of the soldiers attempting to kill them.
Scene 04: Back with General Duval, it is sometime later. The Austrian General Von Shelling is complaining bitterly about the soulless men being used on the battlefield as an affront and a threat to white civilization [First of all, ouch but second of all -- ‘white civilization’ wouldn’t be at risk if we weren’t interfering in a sovereign nation, asshat].
General Duval informs General Von Shelling that he need not worry any further over these disgusting unfortunates, as the Cambodian priest has been detained and his experiments with “robot men” put to an end.
Scene 05: After General Von Shelling has left, an agreement is come to by the war powers in the room with General Dual that the priest, having refused to divulge his secrets to them during earlier questioning, will be locked away indefinitely as a menace too powerful to be allowed to practice whatever rites he’s used to create the zombies.
Armand and the priest are brought into the meeting where it is confirmed that the priest is to be held prisoner for the rest of his natural born life if he continues to refuse to provide his secrets for creating the highly durable zombie men to the allied forces.
The priest is unmoved and he’s ordered to solitary confinement in his quarters, pending removal to a military base. As the priest is being escorted out under guard, obviously untrustworthy evil eyebrows guy - General Mazovia - gets a sly look on his smarmy, untrustworthy, evil eyebrows face.
Commentary: Interestingly, it appears that neither the script nor the actors realize just how badly this is making the allied forces look. The priest was perfectly happy to provide the needed manpower to help the allies, he just isn’t willing to share his knowledge on how with them. But the allies aren’t willing to compromise and are - as far as I can tell - illegally imprisoning him without trial for life [hmmm… WWI’s version of Gitmo, anyone…]. This isn’t being presented as a WTH, Hero moment, except possibly to Armand who obviously has sympathy for the priest and his beliefs.
I also need to comment a bit on this set up for the story, because I found it rather confusing. It isn’t explained why the priest wants to provide his zombie soldiers to the war effort, it isn’t explained how he was taken into custody - or if he just showed up on their doorstep, it isn’t explained how Armand is able to speak Cambodian or how well he knows the priest… all of it just starts in medias res and hopes you can catch up later.
We should also discuss the acting while we’re taking this quick break. It’s typical 1930’s -- some of our actors seem slightly uncomfortable with the camera on them [Robert Noland as Cliff seems to be on the verge of overacting at any moment and Dean Jagger as Armand is constantly glancing off screen at a cue card or the director] and the villain is overly-obviously-untrustworthy just so ‘YOU UNDERSTAND HE’S UNDERHANDED, RIGHT??!!’ which can be deeply irritating.
Scene 06: Our view of the obviously untrustworthy Mazovia fade cuts to a Buddhist statue where incense burns.
This is apparently the quarters of our priest, Tsiang. He’s in the midst of his devotional. [Actually, I have no idea if this is meant to be Buddhist or not -- in actuality they haven’t discussed Tsiang’s beliefs but you have to wonder just what sort of religion he’s practicing in which it’s perfectly okay to create zombies for warfare… I’m pretty sure that isn’t in the Buddhist belief system.]
Tsiang bows to the statue before withdrawing a cloth painting from his robes. This cloth apparently has the secrets that allow him to create the zombies he’d sent against the soldiers. This proceeds to attempt to destroy by burning it with the lit incense.
As Tsiang bows again, a hand comes from behind the statue holding a dagger. It threatens to stab the priest in the back, but he un-bows and the hand quickly withdraws before being seen.
Alas for Tsiang, he has to bow several times as part of the devotional prayers. The third time is the charm, and he gets a dagger to the [implied] throat. He collapses with a soft yell to the floor.
Out from behind the statue comes Ol’ Evil Eyebrows. General Mazovia gives us a close up of his looking smugly evil [in his best Bela Lugosi impression] before standing over the prostrate body of his victim. He gathers the undamaged cloth with all of the secrets on it.
Commentary: Obvs, the logic of this scene is entirely ridiculous. Apparently, while the priest was off taking a dump, Mazovia was able to find a way to get into the room without anyone knowing [like, oh -- a guard that should have always been on duty at the door perhaps?] and then ducked down behind the statue, where he just hung out until it was time for the priest to pray and all to murder Tsiang on the off-chance that maybe the priest had written down the secrets he refused to tell and kept it with him tucked away where nobody bothered searching, because why would you search a prisoner who was withholding information from you?
Oh man -- please tell me it’s not going to be one of *those* movies that ends up treating me like I’m an idiot. I’ve had enough of that with the other 30’s films I’ve reviewed, thank you very much.
Scene 07: Sometime later, General Duval is updating the other generals in the war room on Tsiang’s murder. Mazovia tells the room that when you’re dealing with those wacky Orientals, you’re dealing with fatalists -- as he knows, they all welcome death as a transition to a better life beyond. He announces Tsiang’s choice to die over revealing his secrets to be perfectly understandable. He delivers this observation looking particularly smarmy and untrustworthy. No one notices… or at least, nobody chooses to give him a nasty glance.
One of our Generals suggests that Tsiang must’ve had the secret written somewhere. Armand suggests that it would be in one of the temples of Angkor. Duval announces a mission will need to be mounted to discover such a written record.
Duval asks his cohorts to go to their governments to secure a cooperative expedition to Angkor where they will find and destroy any trace of the zombie-making secrets that are a danger to the whole world.
Scene 08: We skip to a crate, very helpfully labeled “International Expedition for Archaeological Search in Angkor”.
We quickly join native bearers at the Great Temple of Backdrop Angkor. Our white gentleman follow along, carrying the weight of their tobacco pipes and trying to keep their white suits crisp and spotless.
Scene 09: Months later, Armand is telling Duval that they’ve made remarkable progress and he shouldn’t have believed they’d discover all of the secrets in Angkor in so short a time. Apparently, although they’ve done plenty of artifact raiding collecting, they haven’t found the goal. General Duval is about to rant about the money they’ve spent so far, when the menfolk are interrupted by that foil for all military secret missions -- The Potential Love Interest. She’s also Duval’s daughter, Claire.
Why she is there, nobody says but she’s apparently been there awhile because no one complains. Even though she’s apparently got nothing better to do than complain that she looks horrible in her white pith helmet.
She then asks Armand his opinion on her hat. He responds she’s beautiful which takes her aback some as he starts to stammer. General Duval grows impatient with this silliness and Claire offers to take the meeting minutes for their discussion.
They’re joined by one of the archaeologists for an update, but we don’t hear it as we’re busy watching Claire get flirty with Armand.
Commentary: Okay. First, let me stipulate that I am generally in opposition to cute-meets because they make me gag. So, you’ll have to take that into account here… but:
WHAT THE HELL IS THIS WOMAN DOING ON A MILITARY EXPEDITION IN THE MIDST OF WAR TRYING TO FIND A SECRET INSTRUCTION SET FOR MAKING ZOMBIES WHICH NEEDS TO BE DESTROYED A.S.A.P.!?!?
If there is ANY picture in which a love interest isn’t required, it is this one [barring a gay love interest, which obvs wouldn’t happen in this time frame]! And, if they just HAD to remain with convention and include one, why wouldn’t it actually be a lady archaeologist filling the role? Or a military secretary assigned specifically to be General Duval’s assistant for this classified mission? What is his bubbly daughter doing wandering around here?
Scene 10: Later at the ruins, Armand and Claire are less looking for undead-creation secrets and more flirting with one another. We catch the tale end of a [presumably local] legend of a man who released all of his enslaved subjects to win the affection of the woman he loved. They laugh gaily [again presumably while the world goes to hell and their countrymen are being killed by the thousands on the battlefield -- are you getting how much I loathe this romance-plot being wedged into this film].
They have a discussion about whether a man could truly give up power for love and Armand shares that he’ll never have that kind of power, and he’s never been in love so he can’t answer Claire’s question about whether he’d be able to do so.
She spots someone down the path still collecting artifacts. This is Cliff Grayson, looking like shorts was a very unfortunate costuming choice. Claire tells Armand she’d like to go back to camp for lunch, all the while gazing in interest at Cliff.
Commentary: Swell. Not only has my expectation of a horror film been hijacked by a romantic subplot, but now it’s also going to become a romantic triangle. Just Swell.
Scene 11: That night, Cliff and Armand are sharing a tent. Armand had noticed Claire’s interest in Clifford that day and has brought it up with him. Armand opines that Cliff is much more like Claire but Clifford refuses to entertain there is any mutual interest between he and Claire and accuses Armand of letting his inferiority complex get in his way again.
Armand continues to wish he could focus on an objective like Cliff can, and then not let anything get in the way of achieving it, as Cliff has done [allegedly… Clifford hasn’t shown any of this laser focus/determination thus far].
Scene 12: Sometime later -- presumably at least weeks if not months, over drinks, the men and Claire are given a performance by a dancer and her musical troupe. Claire has found this dancer to give them a traditional wedding dance as part of the celebration of her and Armand’s engagement.
General Duval has Armand stand to give a speech and he tells them all how fortunate he is.
The entire time, Claire is shooting glances at Cliff, while he looks on sullenly. Right after Armand’s toast to his bride-to-be, Clifford breaks the stem of his champagne glass.
Duval is the next to say a few words and then it’s on to Cliff who is so obviously moody and unhappy with this, that everyone has got to be deliberately ignoring it. At first, Cliff tries to beg off making a speech, but Claire needles him a bit. He finally gets another glass and offers that he wishes her all of the happiness that she deserves. He says this without any lightness of tone whatsoever.
Commentary: Nice way to introduce a time-skip forward! Just how long have these guys been out here? Is the war still going on, because it seems like the General would still have more pressing duties! And if not, then why wasn’t that expressed in a line of dialog so that we’re not wondering why these military men aren’t actually conducting the Great War?
Further, this entire scene is so badly acted -- EVERYONE would literally have to be blind and deaf to not see that Clifford is being an asshole over Claire and Armand’s engagement, despite his earlier claims that he wasn’t interested in Claire -- of course, if these men have been trapped here for ages, then maybe Claire should beware any supposed interest from any quarter; It may curdle up the moment these guys get back to civilization.
And with our supposed bad guy Mazovia in attendance at this camp, why haven’t we seen any indication of his villainy? Why are we spending so much time on this unconvincing romantic triangle?
Scene 13: Sometime later, Claire, Cliff and Armand are at the dig site sifting through evidence. They joke that by the time they leave, Claire will be a bonafide archaeologist like the rest of them. She laughs that she could be the one to discover the power to hypnotize people and jokes that she knows who she’d like to use it on, casting a sly side glace Clifford’s way… something which he definitely notes.
[No, really -- Mr. Noland should’ve been given pants, not shorts.]
Above our friendly-but-souring trio are three more men working on a swing to study the artwork above them. We see that one side of the rope holding them suspended is fraying and ready to snap. Clifford is just happening to look in that direction when the rope breaks and our three scientists tumble to the ground. Cliff is able to grab Claire and pull her into his arms to safety, while Armand rushes to the fallen men.
Ignoring the threat of broken bones and internal injuries, Armand flops around the elder scientist on the team as the man is stunned and barely conscious. He looks over to Clifford holding Claire close and shouts at him for help. Grayson very reluctantly let’s go of Claire and with an angry scowl at being bothered marches over to help as he can.
The scientist tells Armand that he examined those ropes himself and cannot understand how they could’ve snapped like that. In the meantime, nobody bothers checking on the other two men to fall, so I guess it’s ‘tough shit, losers’ for them. Grayson tells elderly scientist that they’re going to get him to a hospital, while victim dude is saying he can’t feel anything.
Commentary: OH MY… are there heroes in this flick? Armand is inattentive and ineffectual, Clifford is a backstabber and a full-on deeply angry jerk, Claire is a two-faced bitch. None of them seem even half-interested in their supposedly urgent, international mission to destroy a “threat to the world!!!” that we’ve been told the dead Tsiang’s power to hypnotize is.
And what of this frayed rope? Why now? One is being led to believe it was sabotage but we’ve seen no reason for this to be the case, yet. We can assume that if the team is starting to be targeted for elimination, it’s probably by Mazovia, but he’s barely been in any scenes at all since the war room. We’ve seen no indication that he’s found what they’re all looking for -- or even been keeping tabs on the dig’s progress [though, obvs he must be if he’s in camp or his presence makes no sense].
I’m starting to sense that this is another public copyright film that somebody grabbed because it’s description included one word that matched their ‘collection’ they were slapping on a DVD without any regard to whether the story actually fits in with the theme of said collection. This is less of a horror film, than it is a romantic drama that will include horror elements.
Unfortunately, even in that light we’re not seeing anything that is especially engaging and our three leads caught in this love triangle are impossible to sympathize with -- although I guess I can admit that Armand is coming close if for no other reason than he is relatively decent and Claire is such a dishonest woman.
Scene 14: More time has passed, and it turns out that Claire has had a spot of conscience. She returns the engagement ring to Armand with his appreciating her honesty, while she holds his passion for his work in high regard.
Claire claims in one breath that she loved him, but then she turns around and admits to using him to excite Cliff into admitting that he had fallen for her as she had for him. Armand expresses no bitter feelings, other than telling her that he supposes she can justify what she did to him by claiming love made her do it. Claire offers that a woman in love can justify anything.
Armand quotes Cliff’s philosophy of honing into what you want and running roughshod over any opposition until you have it. He likens Claire’s actions with him to Cliff’s personal motto… though he still insists to her that he admires her honesty about it. She admits regrets for hurting him, but he tells her not to… she’s getting what she wants.
She accuses him of being ruthless with his words now [Oh, Fuck You Claire], but he tells her no - that he just loves her enough to want her to get what will make her happy. Claire goes on to wish that he’d just hate her, but he refuses. She offers that if their positions were reversed, she’d want to strike out at him if only out of pride but he returns that when it comes to the woman he loves, he has no pride.
Commentary: OH, my god. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. Claire is a horrible person, Cliff is awful, and Armand is a wimptastic, inferiority complex-bearing rug for Claire to wipe her feet on and then try to claim he’s being ruthless at her for not giving her a way off the hook for using him by at least expressing some sort of hatred at her.
And what of the mystery of the frayed rope? Where is our supposed bad guy, Mazovia again?
It looks like Armand is being set up to be our power mad revenge seeker when they finally find the zombie formula but it’s really bizarre that our ‘red herring’ if that is what he turns out to be hasn’t had a much larger role in things skulking about and acting suspiciously so that our attention will remain focused on him and thereby offering a surprise when it’s Armand who finally crosses over to the dark side.
I also really wanted some kind of conversation between ‘old friends’ Armand and Cliff to at least try to offer that Clifford does care about his friend and isn’t happy that things turned out with Claire the way they did when he hadn’t intended to find her so attractive. We don’t get any hint of that coming, though.
Of course my answer to this situation is always “mature threesome”, especially useful would be “mature bi threeway” but that never seems to be an option.
Scene 15: We skip over to Expedition HQ being run out of Phnom Penh. We join a bunch of white people dancing gaily. Among these couples are the radiant Claire and Clifford, looking wonderful in white.
Scene 16: In the basement, Armand is ignoring the festivities to focus on his work. Or trying to -- he collapses into a chair and weeps for his loss of Claire to his not-so-best-friend.
He finally can’t stay away and joins the main festivities from a distance, watching the couples dancing and following Cliff and Claire with envious eyes. The couple exchange amorous glances and exit stage left. Armand watches them leave together.
Scene 17: Out in the gardens, they watch some swans paddle by in the pond before falling into one another’s arms to share a passionate kiss.
Scene 18: Meanwhile, Armand remains sitting on a post surrounding the atrium of the HQ dealing with is growing pain at what his friend and ex-fiancé have done to him. He finally returns to his solitary lab where he has an emotional breakdown that includes laughing at the absurdity of it all through his tears.
He pulls himself together and dives back into his work and lo and behold, he begins to translate characters copied from their expedition to find a story recorded about a strange ritual that somebody had witnessed that is of interest now.
This tidbit suddenly gets two neurons firing in the right direction and Armand realizes that the answers were right under their noses the entire time. He starts rifling through photos taken around the ruins.
On one photo is a carving which matches the cloth painting that we saw the priest trying to destroy in his room. Armand has found solid evidence of the zombie ceremony… the same evidence that Mazovia has in another medium. Armand realizes that he needs to return to Angkor.
Commentary: I’ll take a moment here to compliment Dean Jagger for this scene. His pain feels very real and he even summons some tears for his momentary emotional breakdown. There really hasn’t been a lot for anyone to sink their acting teeth into, and the scenes between he and Dorothy Stone during their break up came across as too flat because of his character’s saint-like reaction but here he does come across as a real person who has lost both his girl and his friend.
Scene 19: In another room of the basement lab, Armand tells his assistant about returning to Angkor. The assistant begs him not to go back there, as the customs he is trying to learn are very old and sacred and it would be dangerous for him to return to mucking about with trying to learn the secrets he’s been exploring.
Armand ignores him and leaves anyway.
Scene 20: Armand has returned to the Backdrop Dig Site. It’s evening and there is the soft sound of drums from somewhere nearby. Also nearby, hiding out in the bushes and following is shifty General Mazovia.
Scene 21: Armand wanders into one of the temples with his flashlight. From a side passage, a figure appears with a knife. Armand notices at the last moment and is able to ward off the knife wielder, knocking him out with a flashlight blow to the head.
He stares at his near-murderer with some shock, but continues onward. We see Mazovia also following at a distance.
Commentary: That was some particularly random action, and it was horribly choreographed on top of it. And though it’s nice to see Mazovia starting to do something again, it’s still weird just how little he’s been in the film since they left the war room behind for the actual site. There is also no explanation or scene showing Mazovia keeping tabs on Armand in particular until now so it just comes across as sudden and convenient to the script, rather than having him remaining a menacing figure throughout the actual search for the zombie secret.
Scene 22: In the abandoned passages of the temple, Armand gets spooked by a bat climbing across the walls.
Armand steps backward without looking and falls down into a trap door onto a level below. Mazovia continues to follow along. Armand ducks behind a pillar and sees some more priests and they’re carrying a tablet with the aforementioned ritual scrawled across it.
Armand follows the tablet carrier out into a swampy area and heads away from the temple.
Scene 23: In the Backdrop Swamps, tablet carrier shifts from foot to foot through the Backdrop Swamp [yeah dude -- not buying that you’re not standing still in front of back projection].
Armand continues to quietly follow along [with Dean Jagger looking even less convincing than the tablet carrier].
[Yay! Shift to a live set…] Armand ducks behind a tree as tablet carrier looks around suspiciously.
[Oops, back to projection…] We continue Backdrop Swamps wandering.
Commentary: Oh, for the love of my patience, get on with it.
Scene 24: Eventually we arrive at what is apparently the secret place where the tablet is stored because our carrier goes in and comes out a moment later without the tablet in his arms. Armand watches all of this from just off-shore, hidden behind the trees.
He waits a moment, and then goes into the hidden building.
[The Backdrop Swamps have magical waters that refuse to soak a person’s clothing through, despite their having waded into it… or perhaps we just had better Scotchgard in the 30’s.]
Scene 25: Inside this second, hidden temple Armand eventually finds the tablet resting against an idol and examines it. As he shifts the tablet to look at it further, he happens to hit a tiny gong that the idol is holding. This gong’s ring causes a corresponding gong to also softly ring behind a hidden passage.
Eventually a hidden panel spins around to reveal writing that Armand is very happy to see [one can only presume it’s the formula because so far the tablet has been relatively useless -- the pictograms show a smoke being delivered to the zombies, but gives zero details about what it actually is; it would make sense if this writing provides that answer].
Armand pulls out his never-absent notepad and pen and starts to copy the sigils….
Commentary: I liked this hidden passage’s set up and the gong, struck with a specific item that the icon is also holding revealing the text. But getting here was long and dull and could definitely have been trimmed to allow for some zombie action somewhere… or possibly to flesh out Mazovia more, who once again has vanished as he wasn’t in a position to have seen Armand disappear down the trapdoor or through the swamp trek.
I’d also have to question Armand’s abilities to navigate back through the correct path in an otherwise non-descript, crowded swamp. That seems… unlikely… with all of his attention on the priest, rather than making note of any landmarks he could use later.
Scene 26: Back at HQ, lead scientist is bitching up a storm at the failure of the team to translate the glyphs brought back on the expedition and of Armand disappearing without an update on what he was doing to further their assignment.
As this is happening, Armand actually does arrive. He tries to tell the Professor about finding the tablet, but the doctor is too incensed to listen as soon as Armand tells him he’s been back in Angkor without permission of the team lead.
Meanwhile, Mazovia is once again glaring about suspiciously, which no one notices.
Before Armand can clarify that he has their answers, he’s summarily dismissed.
Scene 27: Rather than returning to General Duval to explain that he has their answers, or destroying the secret of the zombie potion as was the supposed mission started so long ago, Armand has squirreled himself away where he works on the chemical formula himself.
He’s become slightly crazed, obvs, in the meantime. With his belief that he’s cracked the formula, he now turns on his assistant and subjects the man to the zombie formula -- repeating the lesson learned from his ex-friend about being ruthless in defining a goal and achieving it without sentiment. The way his eyes are crazed and his hands are shaking, assistant should run - but he’s a dayplayer, so no.
Assistant has enough self-preservation to not like this idea at all, but he breathes in the smoke fanned his way and becomes instantly frozen in compliance. With this seeming success, Armand orders the assistant to lower his arms raised in supplication - but this fails. The assistant doesn’t respond to Armand’s verbal commands.
It takes more thought to realize that simply giving commands isn’t the point, but to use sheer will to telepathically connect with the subjects and order them through willpower is what is required. With this realization, Armand begins to successfully command his assistant, turning the man into nothing but a puppet.
Commentary: There is definitely some creeptasticness to this scene and I enjoy it for that, but this could’ve been a bit more horrible to drive the horror of what Armand is becoming. It would’ve been better if this first attempt had continued to fail, leaving the assistant’s mind destroyed and driving Armand even more mad, but for what they chose to do, this isn’t a bad scene at all. And this film really needed much more horror than we’ve gotten.
Scene 28: Later, Armand is meeting with that professor who took a tumble but wasn’t killed. He’s in a wheelchair and is commenting to Armand that he’s changed since his firing. It’s stated that he’s become more assertive than he used to be.
During conversation, Professor MacDonald unfortunately mentions the upcoming nuptials of Claire and Clifford, starting Armand’s mind toward unpleasant ideas.
Commentary: Of course, we get zero indication of why Armand is hanging around with these folks at all since he was fired and you’d think with the formula he could be doing something big somewhere away from their prying eyes. I’d also like to know just how he’s affording to hang out in Phnom Penh without a job and what he’s been doing with his time… he’s basically solved his riddle, after all. And obviously, he’s not decided to destroy the formula or to share where it can be found so the military coalition can destroy it.
And you’d think… again… we would get more indication of Mazovia either keeping close tabs on Armand, or actually buttering up to him.
Scene 29: Armand gets a look of deep concentration. In General Duval’s office, the man suddenly sits up straighter and forgets whatever he was writing at his desk. Duval is ordered to summon Grayson to his office.
Commentary: Soooo… did Armand already subject certain people to the formula and then command them to forget he did, or is he just supposed to have super telepathic mind control now?
Why is this script skipping actual important plot points like this??
Scene 30: Back in MacDonald’s room, he’s noticed how quiet Armand has become and worries that he’s said something out of place. But Armand shakes his head that he’s fine, pretending to just be focused on staring out the window in thought.
Scene 31: Grayson is ordered on a mission to collect some confidential survey data in a location weeks away, putting his marriage to Claire on hold. Duval explains that their duties must come first, but his line delivery is flat and as Cliff deals with his impending absence for so long a time, he continues to be puzzled by Duval’s weird cadence.
Scene 32: Armand returns his attention to MacDonald, now very self-pleased at shooting a torpedo into Claire and Clifford’s plans.
Scene 33: Armand returns to his room that evening to work on his chemistry set. But he finds that Mazovia has already arrived and is waiting for them. Mazovia is convinced that Armand has already found some secret that he’s been holding back from the rest of them and wishes to find out what it is.
Armand is not impressed by Mazovia, but the other man describes him as a clod without imagination. He offers a partnership between Armand’s discovered knowledge and his own creative thinking to make them both powerful men. Armand asks if Tsiang shared his secrets back in France and Mazovia draws his dagger and states - without much subtlety - that the priest did not, and then he died.
Armand confirms with Mazovia that he murdered him, but Mazovia blurts out that he’s been working for quite some time against the team as well. He refers to incidents that we’ve not seen such as two scientists vanishing from the dig and the natives refusal to work slowing things down.
He states his intention of forcing the withdrawal of the expedition, because he’d already decided that Armand would be the one to not give up and to discover what he wishes to know. He then shows him the cloth that he’d taken from Tsiang’s body. He then demands to know that secret of the zombies. Armand states he’s left him no choice.
Scene 34: Armand goes on to describe tapping into the symbol of the third eye, as he summons his zombie-assistant from the other room. He describes in chilling detail how Mazovia will die at the hands of a zombie’s hands around his throat as assistant does just that.
So much for oily, bad guy.
Scene 35: Time has passed, again. Enough so that now Armand has arranged to have his own private army of zombie warriors. He’s also managed to dominate all of the archaeological team.
He uses this new found power to establish his own fiefdom in South Asia.
Commentary: The mechanics of all of this are naturally ignored and skated over with the time jump, because otherwise his plans would collapse. We never get to see just how he was able to drug everyone he’s now commanding -- it’s almost as if the stupid script forgot this isn’t about just wishing for mind control powers, there was actual ritual involved. In addition, since these men are still mortal, just how they’ve ignored their bodies being shot full of holes and bleeding out is never even bothered with. Apparently being mind controlled also gives you super-invulnerability powers to boot.
*UGH* This is all so dumb.
Scene 36: Elsewhere, Cliff suddenly snaps awake hearing Claire’s voice in his mind calling to him. He awakes his servant/assistant and informs him he wants to get packed up to go home immediately.
Scene 37: Later… (geez, this film and its sudden time skips…), Cliff has arrived, arranged to meet Claire and has found out what his ex-friend has been up to. He repeats that the two of them taught the mild-mannered Armand how to be ruthless and now the two of them must flee before he decides to take Claire for himself and eliminate Clifford.
[Because he wouldn’t have already done that, before building a whole army, right??]
But it’s too late for our couple as Armand arrives to tell Claire that her father wants to see her while he’s busy smirking in Cliff’s face. The two confront one another. Armand tells Cliff he’s going to remove him from Claire’s life….
Scene 38: Sometime later, again, Claire and Armand are in the garden. Claire confirms with Armand that if she marries him instead, he’ll send Cliff back to England. Claire makes sure that Cliff isn’t to be harmed or turned into a mental puppet as he’s shipped away.
Scene 39: Armand, believing himself to be magnanimous allows Claire and Cliff to say goodbye to one another and then subjects himself [and us] to their [drippy] declarations of forever love though they may be parted and Claire a virtual sex slave.
Despite his promise to Claire, as Cliff watches her run off for the last time, Armand reaches out with his mind, taking pleasure in Cliff’s domination.
Scene 40: Shortly later, Claire has gone through with the wedding as per her word. She receives the ring with stiff fingers.
Later in her bedroom, she looks sad for obvs reasons [why she’s not thinking of justifiable homicide, I’ll not understand].
Meanwhile in Armand’s study, MacDonald - apparently not under mental domination, at least for the moment - offers his ‘friend’ some unwanted advice. He goes on to berate Armand for cheating Claire of her happiness and independence through his powers and tells him in the end he’s going to lose and he should.
He leaves Armand to consider just what he’s turned into.
Commentary: Whatever. Why is MacDonald allowed to run around with free will and yet has done nothing to stop Armand? Harsh words… really? And Armand has become such a power mad dictator that he just lets Mac continue to berate him… I thought he’d turned ruthless?
Scene 41: In the bridal suite, Claire proudly stands with her head high and speaks out into the night toward Clifford.
Armand arrives, still stung by MacDonald’s words about how Claire will never have any feelings for her husband. He discusses it with Claire and she’s gob smacked by his request that he only think kindly of him. She points out that if he wants that he has only to control her mind the way he has her father and the others. He claims that he’d never be able to do that to her [uh, but blackmailing her into being his wife -- well, that’s alright].
Armand offers to give up his powers over his subjects if she’ll truly believe he loves her for it. He then turns his will outward to release his domination over his soldiers, ex-friends and colleagues - including Clifford, who wasn’t sent off to England as promised.
Scene 42: Assistant and Armand’s first slave rallies his fellows to kill him for what he has done. They riot through his home lab.
Scene 43: As the heavily armed former slaves advance on Armand’s ‘palace’, he on bended knee repeats to Claire that he loves her, as she listens happily to the sounds of freedom around her [the happy sounds of violent, rioting freedom around her… get the fuck out of that room, Claire!].
As the crowd invades the ‘palace’, he repeats the story of the great king of the past who had an entire civilization enslaved until he gave up his powers for the love of a woman who would not bow to him. He compares himself and Claire to these two historical figures.
Scene 44: Armand goes out to face down the crowd of murderous former slaves.
He’s shot dead.
The Good: Dean Jaggers performance often overcomes the limitations to 1930's melodrama and I was especially pleased by the scene where he starts his mental breakdown over Claire's devotion to his ex-best friend.
I did like the short scene where Armand finally finds the answer to how to make the zombies.
I also like that our hero at the beginning is actually our villain at the end and that he doesn't get a free pass at the end for his treachery.
The Bad: The scripting has a lot of problems revolving around not explaining situations adequately to avoid confusion, skipping needed connecting scenes between plotpoint A and result C, confusing telepathy for drug based hypnosis and making some giant and senseless leaps in logic over just how effective it would be trying to drug an entire population into being mindless slaves.
The timeline is screwy thanks to unexplained time-skips without any reference to how much time has passed, or any dialog to suggests series of events that have happened 'off screen'... we're left to fill in too many blanks ourselves.
The entire World War is so badly handled. It's a way to kick off the plot, but we never hear anything about it after the expedition is sent to Cambodia... like NOTHING. We can't even tell if the war ended before their trek or not.
The scenes where Cliff breaks a glass over Claire's engagement is awful. It's so obvious that Clifford is nearly raging at his friends, and yet nobody notices a thing. Scenes with Mazovia are just as bad with him having "OILY SNAKE: DO NOT TRUST" tatooed on his forehead and yet nobody reads it.
The mechanics of Armand's power mad schemes is utterly ridiculous to contemplate for more than a second, and the fact that the script tries to ignore how his plans wouldn't work isn't enough to save the plot.
Other Thoughts: Claire is problematic because of a lack of explanation as to why she'd be on a military mission for archaeological research while not actually performing a needed, defined function on the team. We can offer that she's acting as a secretary but this isn't stated as her purpose -- her introduction is just clumsy. But if you accept she's there, her role in the story is acceptable if cliched.
The relationships between Cliff, Claire and Armand are really impacted negatively by the time skipping we do that makes their turns on one another feel sudden and jarring. The only thing keeping it from the bad is that our actors can make it work for us, once we realize that we're getting caught up and that things have been progressing during periods we've not witnessed.
Also -- the amount of times that reference is made to Cliff teaching Armand the lessons of ruthlessness is repetitive without saying anything new.
Mazovia is deeply misused and spends far too much time invisible. He then killed off far too quickly. He's basically a red herring villain, but because of the scant amount of time he gets, we can't see him as our primary villain. I do like that he's quickly bumped off to make room for raging ego-maniac, Armand but his handling before that was slipshod and ineffective.
The souring of the Armand/Clifford relationship over first Claire and then Armand's growing egomania was also inadequately explored, which was really unfortunate. This should've received a focused scene of the two men's sudden realization that they'd become rivals - if not enemies - while they weren't paying attention but all of that is lost to another time skip.
Although I can't judge the plot for not being what I wanted due to it's inclusion in a particular collection, I can offer that the story was a lost horror opportunity as we spend far too much time and attention on the romantic drama, instead. This is a story that only has horror elements, and we must judge it according to what it is, not what we might wish we were watching.
I liked that we found out Armand never freed Clifford, but this point is ill-used as Claire doesn't find this out until the movie is too close to the end for her to reveal any feelings about his being so close to her this entire time and her offering to give up her marital bed to the villain on his behalf only to have that sacrifice betrayed.
The Score: This is a story that has all of the building blocks for an interesting story that then cuts out half of them with ill-used time skips forward. They started with far more than the script ended up being and it's a real disappointment. But the story that we did get also isn't well constructed or plotted so we can't even give it points on its own merits.
Just another failure.
2.25 out of 5 stars