Revenge of the Zombies is unusual in that it shows zombies with some degree of self-awareness as to their plight. Dr von Alderrman isn't so pleased at discovering his zombie wife maintains the ability to call out his nuttiness, and so commits to more experiments before he and his guest bid each other auf wiedersehen.
Rosella and Jeff take a walk by the swamp, top of the list of ‘things to do in a horror film no-one would do in real life.’ The walk turns into a run when a hand grabs Jeff’s leg from a bush, causing a case of the comic turns to the chauffeur. Dr Kearing also goes for a walk. A voice from the tomb lures Kearing inside, and the character disappears for the rest of the film until the ending, with no explanation.
Adams grills Rand as to Lila’s will; Dr von Alderrman had lied, with Lila signing over the estate to her husband and not to her brother after all. Why did von Alderrman lie? Is Rand covering for him, or just dumb? “You’re the detective,’ replies Miss Rand. “You find out!” Well, I’m guessing she’s not dumb, but I don’t know what Adams’ excuse is.
Jeff finds an arm in a bush, which is worth at least two in the hand, but when he and Warrenton return to look for the errant limb, they find the arm has legged it. With Dr Kearing and Lila missing and the telephone lines dead, Dr von Alderrman agrees to call in the Sheriff. Lazarus drives Jeff’s car off to fetch the Sheriff, even though the chauffeur points out “he’s in no condition to drive!”
The Sheriff (Bob Steele) arrives and it’s the Nazi (Bob Steele) from earlier on! Adams and friends of course don’t recognize him, and so assume the Sheriff is searching the house. “I must congratulate you on your excellent impersonation,” von Alderrman tells his colleague, perhaps assuming he’s a big fan of cowboy pictures, Bob Steele’s stock-in-trade during an acting career that stretched over 50 years.
I’ll say one thing for Detective Adams, and that’s he’s keen to sharpen his game. Deciding to shadow the sheriff to learn a few tips, Adams finds his way into the (unlocked!) ‘secret’ lab. Opening a cupboard, Adams sees a skeleton, mutters “meatless Tuesday,” and I guess you had to be in 1943 for that one. He also finds radio equipment, and learns from the incurious voice at the other end that an American agent is on von Alderrman’s trail. Appearing behind Adams, the mad doctor assures the detective that the agent is no more as zombies tie Adams up, sticking him in the cupboard with the skeleton who wants to know what that weird “meatless Tuesday” gag was about. Adams is soon rescued by Jeff, sent by Beulah to fetch some yummy swamp lily berry preserves, the recipe for which you can find in the Infobarrel lifestyle section.
Warrenton joins Beulah in the kitchen; the housekeeper tells Warrenton she can help find his sister. In the cemetery, Beulah performs the zombie call and Lila appears, advising Warrenton to guard her husband until midnight: “No one can help me as long as he lives.”
The remaining characters who aren’t zombies, missing or black gather for dinner. It’s an
Unbeknownst to the doctor the Sheriff is actually the US agent (Bob Steele) mentioned over the radio, and he urges Beulah to fix Adams with the cure to swamp lily poison: a strong cup of coffee.
Dr von Alderrman confronts Miss Rand in her room, informing the secretary of her role in the new world order as the wife of the greatest man in his country’s history. You have to admit, it’s a step up from being Mrs Detective Adams, although Miss Rand disagrees. The doctor tells Miss Rand she is “thinking the wrong thoughts,” something that’s crossed my mind when a girl knocks me back on an offer. Left alone as the doctor goes to pack his suitcase, Miss Rand alerts the others, who break into the lab. Of more concern to the doctor are Lila and her zombies, who appear from behind his annoyed house guests. “Do you dare to set your will against me?” cries the doctor to his wife, not understanding that killing her and turning her into a zombie wasn’t what she’d signed up for. That’s how so many marriages break down – lack of communication.
Fleeing into the swamp, the zombies trap von Alderrman in quicksand. Lila and von Alderrman die together, with Carradine taking a good mouthful of Monogram brand swamp water as they drown. The threat of a Nazi zombie army thwarted until the next time, various job and marriage arrangements are made and Dr Kearing turns up out of nowhere. ‘The End’ appears written on the tomb doors, in perhaps the oddest moment of an odd little film.
John Carradine puts in an understated performance as the Nazi scientist, allowing von
Revenge of the Zombies is much of its time as to how it deals, or avoids, the wider issues it touches upon: the war, relations between men and women, and black people's roles in the movies. For the latter, the white characters condescend to Rosetta, Jeff and Beulah, but at least the three are on the side of good, contribute to the plot and survive their zombie encounter for a happy ending.
The script does give the feel of being written as the film went along, without the benefit of a much-needed extra draft. Years later, the esteemed British film critic Leslie Halliwell damned Revenge of the Zombies with the single word ‘unnecessary,’ but in horror, too much is never enough. The zombies, unlike the Nazis, would have their day, but what does it say about us now that a monster last popular during the Depression and the war is now top of the horror heap of 2015?