Teenage Zombies: Mullet heads

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsTeenage Zombies directed by Jerry Warren Teenage Zombies directed by Jerry Warren

Despite the advent of Elvis Presley and the birth of rock and roll, the mid-1950s still proved to be a tough time for the American teenager… at least, on the big screen. From the juvenile delinquents in 1955’s The Blackboard Jungle and the angst-ridden James Dean in the same year’s Rebel Without a Cause, to the punks in Roger Corman’s Teenage Doll (1957) and the dopers in 1958’s High School Confidential!, theater goers in the middle of that decade were treated to a variety of troublesome predicaments befalling the nation’s youth. But all those cinematic problems pall when compared to the even more horrible happenings that teens were subjected to in the horror films of the day. In 1957, audiences were treated to a teenage werewolf (I Was a Teenage Werewolf) and a teenage Frankenstein (I Was a Teenage Frankenstein); the following year, they saw a teenage monster (Teenage Monster) and even, in 1959, troubled teenagers from outer space (you guessed it… Teenagers From Outer Space). Perhaps casting about for some new and horrible ordeal to subject a gaggle of American youths to, producer/director Jerry Warren hit upon the idea of teenage zombies, for his truly stupefying shlockfest, uh, Teenage Zombies. This film, though shot in ’57, would have to wait another two years for its big-screen release, and has been leaving viewers slack jawed and giggly ever since.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsIn the film, two teen couples, Reg (Don Sullivan, who some may recall from 1959’s The Giant Gila Monster) & Julie and Skip & Pam, decide to go water-skiing on a large lake (the locale of the picture is never hinted at) and fetch up on the supposedly deserted Mullet Island. Oh… as a certain Wiki site has astutely pointed out, we never see the teens actually skiing, and come to think of it, we never even see skis; the teens are certainly NOT dressed for water sports. Once on the island, our quartet runs afoul of middle-aged harridan Dr. Myra (Katherine Victor), who is attempting to fabricate 5,000 capsules of a gas (for an unnamed “Eastern power”) that will – when put into the nation’s water supply – turn our good citizens into mindless automatons! With the aid of the already zombified Ivan – a lumbering, hunchbacked, bearded doofus who is actually more brain wiped than a classic zombie – Myra imprisons the four kids for later use as human guinea pigs. Fortunately for them, their two intrepid pals, Morrie & Dotty, have come looking for them in their own boat, along with the local sheriff…

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsI’m going to try hard to say something nice about this film, as I always endeavor to do. First, the viewer does not have to wait very long for the film to get going. After just two minutes of getting to know our six teens in the village malt shop, we are setting foot on Myra’s island, and observing a group of brain-dead servants in the field. With a running time of just 73 minutes, the film is certainly compact, and does move along at a decent clip. Also… well, I suppose that’s about it, for the positives. On the negative side, Teenage Zombies features acting, directing and sets that are all rock-bottom deplorable. The film looks as if it cost around $300 to make (but probably cost twice as much!), and the kids are, sadly, a rather undifferentiated bunch. Jerry Warren, who also wrote the screenplay for this epic, besides producing and directing, reveals himself to be a genuine “triple threat” here… a threat to your sanity, that is; he had previously flabbergasted audiences with such outings as Man Beast (1955) and The Incredible Petrified World (1957). The film also dishes out what might be the phoniest-looking shooting in film history, as the sheriff gets his; the most hilarious fisticuffs melee ever shown, as our teens scuffle around on the floor with Myra and two of her conspirators; AND the unusual concept of a female mad scientist (offhand, I can think of no other film except for 1966’s Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter to feature a distaff crackpot of this order). So yes, despite the general inanity of the proceedings and the ineptitude of the filmmakers, an entertaining time CAN be had here, for those in a silly mood (and for those bolstered with something a little more potent than malted milkshakes!). Still, I am certainly in no rush to seek out Warren’s semiremake of this film, 1981’s Frankenstein Island (also starring Katherine Victor!), which, as word on the street would have it, is even more of a labor to get through than the original!

A final comment as to the DVD that Teenage Zombies currently appears on: It is yet another DVD from those perpetual underachievers at Alpha Video. This outfit has a catalog of hundreds of oddball films that have lapsed into the public domain, all of which the company makes available at very reasonable prices but with zero attempt at restoration or pretenses of quality. Thus, this disc features a battered-looking print with lousy sound, but at least a crisp-enough-looking B&W image; I’ve certainly seen a lot worse from this outfit. And really, if you want to see a zombified gorilla tussle with an Eastern spy, where ELSE are you gonna go?!?!


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough’s finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a “misspent youth” of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship — although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century — and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror… but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle “ferbs54.” Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club….

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2 comments

  1. I really admire that you try to speak positively about something in the movie, despite the fact that it just doesn’t sound very good. Well done!

  2. sandy ferber /

    Jana, I usually find that there’s SOMETHING +++ to say about any book or film, no matter how crappy it might otherwise be. On occasion, though, I am very hard pressed (e.g., please see my upcoming “Zontar” review)….

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