The well-known actor Ving Rhames has starred in no less than three zombie-based movies. They are the 2004 remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, 2008’s Day of the Dead (which was also a remake of Romero’s movie of the same name), and the far less than impressive Zombie Apocalypse, of 2011. In terms of roles in zombie movies, however, Rhames has nothing on horror legend John Carradine, who appeared in numerous undead-themed Hollywood productions. Those productions included Revenge of the Zombies, Voodoo Man, Face of Marble, Invisible Invaders, Dr. Terror’s Gallery of Horrors, Astro Zombies, Blood of Ghastly Horror, and Shock Waves.
It is most unfortunate that nearly all of the zombie-based movies Carradine appeared in can only be described as mediocre-meets-awful. It’s unfortunate because Carradine was actually a very skilled actor. Born in Manhattan, New York, in 1906, Carradine broke into the movie industry in 1930, in a production called Bright Lights. It is ironic that Carradine should be so deeply associated with horror-based movies, as his very first credited role in the field of acting was a comedy-musical. Nevertheless, and just like all actors, Carradine had to start somewhere.
Dramas and westerns soon followed, although Carradine did have un-credited roles in both The Invisible Man of 1933 and the 1935 movie, The Bride of Frankenstein. There was also the 1939 version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s well-known novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles. It was a movie in which Carradine took on the significant role of Barryman, the slightly sinister butler of Baskerville Hall. Interestingly, in Doyle’s novel Barryman is named Barrymore. But, Twentieth Century Fox chose to make the change to prevent viewers from thinking there might be a connection to the actors John Barrymore and Lionel Barrymore, both of whom were big draws for cinema-goers.
While zombie fanatics may wish to check out each and every one of Carradine’s movies of a reanimated and undead fashion, it is far better to pick and choose. Revenge of the Zombies (1943) is admittedly somewhat notable, as it was the sequel to King of the Zombies, which was made two years earlier. Voodoo Man (1944) starred Bela Lugosi in the lead role, which made it a crowd-puller with the public, but it can hardly be considered a classic.
Certainly, the most interesting of all Carradine’s zombie-based movies is a 1959 production. Its title: Invisible Invaders. It focuses on a hostile alien force that is intent on enslaving the people of Earth. The aliens plan to do so by inhabiting the corpses of the recently dead. They then use the newly reanimated bodies as vessels to attack and kill the living, while simultaneously causing chaos all across the planet. Not quite Night of the Living Dead, but most definitely ahead of its time in terms of its concept – although, unfortunately, not in terms of its less than impressive special-effects.
Carradine worked alongside such famous actors as Spencer Tracy, Charlton Heston and Basil Rathbone. He made more than 200 movies on a wide and varied body of subjects. And, he spent extensive time working in the field of theater. It is, however, for the huge number of horror movies – many of the zombie kind – that Carradine is remembered. He was still active in the movie industry up until the time of his death, in Milan, Italy in 1988.