Directed by Robert Gordon [Other horror films: It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)]
Maybe I was expecting too much, but I left Black Zoo feeling somewhat underwhelmed. The movie wasn’t poor, by any means, and there were some amusing scenes, along with performances worth noting, but a few elements of the story tasted funny, and I think the film, for me, ends up around average, if not a little lower.
I did appreciate the first 12 minutes of the film, though, wherein a tour bus of, well, tourists, comes to a zoo, and are taken through a tour by the head of the zoo, played by Michael Gough, and it’s just a nice, pleasant trip through the zoo, almost like one of those science documentaries my people sometimes watched in school when we had a substitute teacher. It was a charming opening, and I enjoyed it.
Also worth mentioning, Black Zoo is in color, which I didn’t know beforehand (and certainly wasn’t a given during this period of cinema). I don’t know if it really mattered in the end, but it was sort of nice to see.
Of course, Michael Gough is best known for playing Alfred in the Batman movies, though he has done plenty of horror (appearing in films such as the 1962 Phantom of the Opera, Horrors of the Black Museum, Berserk, What a Carve Up!, and Trog), and he gives a solid performance here, occasionally hammy, but enjoyable throughout. I was indifferent on Jeanne Cooper, who played Gough’s wife, but both Rod Lauren (The Crawling Hand and Terrified) and Elisha Cook Jr. (House on Haunted Hill) were solid, though I admit I didn’t care entirely for Lauren’s story.
On that note, there’s a bit of a twist at the end regarding Rod Lauren’s character, but I really didn’t find myself caring that much about it, because it didn’t really make a difference as far as I could tell. Also, while I understand the concept, that one crazy animal cult (they basically believe that the souls of recently-deceased animals can enter a new animal and live again) was just a bit too silly, and Michael Gough’s character didn’t strike me as someone who’d want to mix-in with a lot like that.
Points are given, though, for the murders that Gough’s character plans. Who doesn’t like him taking revenge on people with the help of his lions, tigers, and gorillas? There’s even an emotional scene, of sorts, where one of his animals is killed by Cook Jr. and, in a rage, takes him out (honestly, I can’t blame him at all for that, as Cook Jr.’s character was the one that was begging to be attacked).
Overall, though, Black Zoo was just an okay movie. I didn’t have a terrible time with it, but I definitely think it could have been better in some ways. It’s worth a watch just for something different (how many zoo-based horror films even are there, aside from this and Murders in the Zoo?), but it’s not an amazing film.