Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Teenage Zombies (1959)

... aka: Teenage Torture

Directed by:
Jerry Warren

"Young pawns thrust into pulsating cages of horror in a sadistic experiment!" If only this were half as exciting. Filmed in 1957 but not released until two years later to capitalize on the "teen" horror craze of the day, this early Jerry Warren effort (comprised entirely of his own footage for a change) is going to be an endurance test for most sober viewers. Four teeny boppers; Reggie (Don Sullivan) and his girl Julie (Mitzie Albertson), and Skip (Paul Pepper) and his girl Pam (Brianne Murphy), decide to head out on their boat for some water skiing and instead end up stumbling upon small, supposedly uninhabited "Mullet Island" (!), which is located about "30 to 40 miles" off shore. They go inland and immediately see a procession of slow-moving men walking down a path. Skip notes, "They look doped... or dead... or something." And he is partially correct. They are indeed drugged, but I'm not so sure about the dead part. The four try to run off but when they get back to their boat, it's gone. The guys separate from the girls and all four eventually find themselves at the island's only residence... and locked inside of a cage.

Reggie wonders "What kind of a creep joint is this?" and his captor; unscrupulous scientist Dr. Myra (Katherine Victor), will explain. She's in the middle of doing a top secret experiment there and, the more extra test subjects she has, the better. Myra is working on behalf of some unnamed foreign country and her chief objective is to come up with a formula that will turn Americans into mindless zombies. Once she's completed her task, her countrymen will either drop the capsules from the sky or sneak it into the water supply, and turn all United States citizens into their slaves. Myra's helper is Ivan (an unbilled Chuck Niles), a mute hunchback who's already been converted with her formula. She also has a gorilla to experiment on, but is ready to complete "Stage 3" by going ahead with her experiments on her new test subjects. A couple of guys from her country show up to make sure things go according to plan and tell Myra that if she doesn't hurry it along they'll be forced to just drop a hydrogen bomb instead. Meanwhile, Morrie (Jay Hawk) and Dottie (Nan Green), friends of the missing kids, start snooping around and go to the cops looking for help. They eventually convince the local sheriff to come along with them to the island, but he turns out to be in cahoots with the bad guys and has been sending them drunks and prisoners all this time for their experiments. Can the kids get the upper hand on those evil foreigners?

To some, Teenage Zombies is a fun and hilariously bad movie. To most, it's absolute torture to sit through. Either way, it's cheap, poorly filmed, endlessly talky, slow-moving, technically inept, bargain basement garbage. The acting and dialogue are both terrible, nearly the entire thing is comprised of medium shots which seem to go on forever and the movie is most certainly not going to deliver what anyone is going to want out of it. The gorilla prominently displayed on the poster is only featured in two brief scenes, is difficult to see and doesn't even really interact with the rest of the cast. And if you're expecting teenage zombies, don't hold your breath. Two of the teen characters are indeed transformed into mindless "zombies," but all they do is stand in place for a few minutes until the antidote is found. Said antidote is pretty much just anonymously plucked off the shelf when the time comes. What luck! The other "zombie" test subjects on the island are only seen in one shot and from afar.

The biggest laughs don't come until the very end during some of the most horribly choreographed and least exciting 'action' scenes you will ever seen. Warren movie regular Victor is especially impressive in her refusal to participate in any of this nonsense and just sits around looking bored and annoyed even when one of the teen tootsies tries to engage in a cat fight with her. The character also dresses rather glamorously (just throwing her lab coat on over her luxurious gowns) for someone living alone on an island working in a lab most of the time.

Warren took credit for producing and directing, but used the alias "Jacques Lecotier" for his screenplay for some strange reason. As if one is worse than another! Lead actor Sullivan went on to appear in THE GIANT GILA MONSTER and THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS, which were both released the same year. The only other notable cast member is Brianne Murphy. Murphy was married to Warren at the time, was also the production coordinator and wardrobe supervisor of Zombies, went on to direct BLOOD SABBATH (1972) and became an Emmy-winning cinematographer. In 1980, she made history by becoming the very first female to shoot a major studio, union picture (FATSO) and was also the first female member of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC). Several of the other actors later cropped up in Warren's TERROR OF THE BLOODHUNTERS (1962) and FACE OF THE SCREAMING WEREWOLF (1964).

A public domain title, this is an easy one to find and watch many places online for free if you're interested. Don't be.


CavedogRob said...

Poor Jerry Warren! Nice review. That's interesting about his wife. Working with Jerry she probably learned to do everything the opposite of what he did!

crow said...

I believe Warren was the one responsible for the abomination that is Face of the Screaming Werewolf. Teenage Zombies was even worse than I could have imagined. Sitting through this one was a trial.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Yeah, this one was tough to get through. Same for the other movies of his I've seen. 'Man Beast' is rumored to be his best, so I'm holding out hope it's at least watchable!

kochillt said...

TEENAGE ZOMBIES appears to be Jerry Warren's worst, so bad that he must have felt dissatisfied enough to remake the film as 1981's FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND, bringing back Katherine Victor to play Sheila Van Helsing. Brianne Murphy was interviewed by Tom Weaver for his John Carradine book, and worked as script girl on both HOUSE OF THE BLACK DEATH and THE HOSTAGE, virtually back to back.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Had a hard time getting through House of the Black Death as well, though it's somewhat better than this one! I've yet to see Frankenstein Island. Hopefully it's as good-bad as I've read because most of the rest of the Warren films I've seen are merely boring.

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