Made on the supercheap in 1959 by writer/director Jerry Warren (Frankenstein Island, Creature of the Walking Dead, Face of the Screaming Werewolf, and more), Teenage Zombies combines the horror genre with the teenage daddy-o genre that led to underground classics such as 1959’s The Giant Gila Monster and 1964’s The Horror of Party Beach. This film was preceded by 1958’s The Blob.
Although some will enjoy the film’s innocence, low-budget approach, and combination of zombies, teens, and foreign intrigue, Teenage Zombies is a real snorefest, with little action taking place. Indeed, there is little horror here, with the zombies made up of simple drugged animations ostensibly controlled by mad scientist Dr. Myra (Katherine Victor), who likes to wear evening dresses under her lab coat. Victor starred in many of Jerry Warren’s movies, including The Wild Word of Batwoman and Mesa of Los Women
The story centers on a trio of teen couples who like to hang out at the local malt shop and waterski and horseback ride (although there is no actual waterskiing or horseback riding in the film). Four of the teens elect to go waterskiing, but they soon find themselves exploring a strange island. There they meet Dr. Myra and her hunchbacked zombie assistant named Ivan, who captures them and throws them into cages (Ivan is the best part of this film—his makeup and expression would make Tor Johnson blush). It seems that Dr. Maya is working with foreign agents from an undisclosed Eastern country. The goal of this unholy trio is to drop gas bombs over America to turn everyone into obedient zombies.
Somehow, the male teens manage to break the lock on their cage. However, they find that they can’t do the same for the cage holding the girls. They go out at night and look for their boat, which they can’t find. Instead, they elect to start building a raft, but they cannot complete the job, as they must return to the cage before dawn or the girls could face even more danger.
The remaining couple becomes nervous when the quartet doesn’t make the scene, so they visit the local sheriff, who agrees to take them to the island. The sheriff is in league with Dr. Maya, but he is not happy about the good doctor experimenting on the teens. For his shift in loyalty, the sheriff is killed. Dr. Maya and her two foreign henchmen then turn to the teens, turning two of the girls into zombies.
The film’s climax involves a complicated fight sequence in which the teens prevail. Rather than the teens killing anyone, an escaped gorilla (zombified earlier to demonstrate how a raging animal can become compliant and docile) is exposed to neutralizing gas. Now back to “normal,” the gorilla takes out his rage on Dr. Maya and the henchmen.
With the sheriff out of the picture—and the Army called in to handle the situation—the now-safe teens are to be rewarded by having an audience with the President of the United States. After all they stopped a mad scientist and foreign agents from conquering America. The end sequence has the three pairs of teens headed out to water ski (but not horseback ride, it seems, as it turns out that only one pair really digs that!).
Poorly scripted but competently directed, Teenage Zombies comes off as a real drag. The dialogue is dull, there are too many scenes that rely on stock footage, and sequences often go on for much too long. Overall, the movie is too talkie, with little action. Horror is nonexistent, with the gorilla the only real menace, in a goofy way.
The acting surprised me, as it was pretty good. Sure, some the teens’ actions are weird, but that issue has more to do with the script and the direction instead of the performances. Poor Katherine Victor looks bored throughout, although she looks good in all her evening dresses.
Fans of the hilariously awful can have a good time watching Teenage Zombies. All others should avoid, particularly fans of traditional (voodoo) and modern (flesh-eaters) zombies.