Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: THE DISEMBODIED (1957)
BILL’S BIZARRE BIJOU
By William D. Carl
This week’s feature presentation:
THE DISEMBODIED (1957)
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.
The 1950s gave the discerning male viewer a long string of beautiful women in science fiction/horror B-movies, early scream queens who graced our drive-in theater screens and gave adolescent boys one more terrific reason to watch scary flicks. Susan Cabot, Mara Corday, Marla English, and the wonderful, immortal Beverly Garland were but a few of these monster-menaced madonnas, and they were each great in their own way. But nobody ever held the screen like the wonderfully campy Allison Hayes. This dark-haired beauty knew exactly what kind of ‘films’ she was headlining, and she knew how to vamp it up while onscreen. Whether she was being sent back in time and getting accused as a witch (THE UNDEAD, 1957), aiding a psychotic hypnotist (THE HYPNOTIC EYE, 1960), or growing to gargantuan proportions and stalking her tiny husband Harry (ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN, 1958), she gave it her all with a wink at the camera and a body to die for. One of my personal favorites in the Allison Hayes oeuvre is the 1957 voodoo jungle flick THE DISEMBODIED, where Miss Hayes turns the heat up to a sultry eleven!
THE DISEMBODIED opens with credits rolling over footage of a woman’s hands manipulating a voodoo doll, wasting no time in getting to the meat of the picture. When the camera rolls back, we find the raven-haired Allison Hayes using rope to strangle the doll while she watches her husband, Dr. Carl Metz (John Wengraf of GOG, 1954 and THE RETURN OF DRACULA, 1958) choke on the front porch. He orders his manservant, Suba, played by Dean Fredericks (PHANTOM PLANET, 1961 and LIGHT IN THE FOREST, 1958), to get him water, and Suba catches the wife, Tonda (aka Allison Hayes), in the act of tossing the strangled doll into a cabinet. She slinks out onto the porch in her black dress and plays nice with the hubbie. Still, she is distracted by the jungle drums, and she longs to take a walk into the trees. The drums say that three white men approach (like the three main characters already introduced aren’t white?), and that one of them is injured. The idea of white men gets Tonda all hot and bothered. “Why should they not be allowed here?” she cries. “We see no one. It would be a nice change.”
In the jungle, surely enough, Suba takes shots at the three men, over their head to scare them away, but Tonda, intrigued by these strangers, slinks over to them and overrides her husband’s orders. They bring the men into the rather lavish hut, and Dr. Carl gets to work on the lion-attack victim. Dr. Carl, assisted by Tonda, operates on the man using his own techniques. The leader of this exploration party is Tom Maxwell, played by tall, dark, and much handsomer than Dr. Carl, Paul Burke, star of the NAKED CITY TV series (1960-1963). He runs into Tonda on his walk, and she explains “The natives are a very strange people. They distrust what they do not understand.” He says, “I’m rather curious by nature. I don’t understand how a young, beautiful woman can be happy living out here in the jungle.” She purrs back, “How do you know I’m happy.” As he leaves, Suba emerges from the bushes, and Tonda accuses him of spying on her. He says, “You make love to white man? Maybe I tell the doctor.” She starts to seduce Suba, and he calls her a “Bad, bad woman!” Still, he kisses her passionately just in time for his wife to walk up to them. Tonda finishes the kiss with a rough slap. There’s a lot of slapping in this movie.
Tonda waits till her husband’s asleep, then she goes into the room of the injured man and performs voodoo jungle mojo on him while he slumbers. In minutes, she is in a sarong, writhing to the jungle drums, surrounded by dancing natives while Suba lays zombified on an altar. The white men go into the jungle to watch the sweating, boogieing Tonda as she slaps Suba in the chest with a live chicken! Then, she stabs a little doll of the injured man.
In the morning, the two white men are shocked to find their buddy has almost completely recovered and his wounds are healed. Even Dr. Carl seems surprised by the miraculous recovery. Suba’s body is discovered by his wife, and she points the finger at Dr. Carl, who comforts her by slapping her. The body looks like it was killed by a lion, except his heart was cut out. Could it have something to do with Tonda, Suba, and the squawking chicken slap? Hmm.
Deciding something is up, the jungle guide Gogi (Paul Thompson, star of numerous jungle non-epics) and the other white guy (played by Joel Marston of HEAVEN CAN WAIT, 1978 and THE LAST VOYAGE, 1960) decide to run back and get their Jeep, circle around the jungle, and pick up their injured friend. This seems like a cue for Tonda to make nice-nice with Tom. It also allows time for Tom and Dr. Carl to discuss voodoo and the transmigration of souls from one body to another. Hmm again.
During a ceremony to help Suba’s soul pass on, the unconscious lion victim gets up and walks outside into the jungle to the ceremonial voodoo grounds. When he approaches the newly widowed Mara, she recognizes something in him, even as he takes up a huge knife. He goes after Tom, just as Tom and Tonda are playing tonsil hockey, and they fight until Tom knocks his friend, Joe, back into a coma. When he regains his senses, he is speaking a jungle language which only Tonda understands.
Tonda weaves a deceptive web against her husband, framing him for the voodoo she willingly practices, making it look as if he hypnotizes her at night and forces her into the jungle. Mara, in the meantime, figures out that her dead husband Suba’s soul is now in the white man Joe’s body. She takes him away with her into the jungle. When Gogi and the other white guy get back, they all decide to leave in the morning and consider Joe as dead. When Tonda finds out everyone is leaving her alone with her husband the next day, she dons her sexiest outfit, sans bra but with a big knife on her belt, and she attempts to seduce Tom into taking her with him. Her efforts pay off, and Tom vows to help her. Next, she tries to convince Tom to murder her husband, using every seductive charm she possesses. “Tom, you’ll do it. You’ll do it because you love me. Because you want me.” Well, this is too much for Tom, and he gets a good slap on her face. She cries, “Beat me if you want to, but don’t leave me. Don’t hate me!” So much for women’s liberation!
Will the men escape from the evil voodoo priestess or will they end up as jungle fodder? Will Tonda convince Tom to kill Dr. Carl, or will he wise up to his wife before she does something else to him? And just what happened to Suba’s soul in a white man, and his widow? Before the movie is over, we’ll see knifings, betrayals, a spear in the Jeep, more seduction, more voodoo rituals, crazed bongo drummers, and hints about where Dr. Carl found Tonda. Oh, and at least one more good slap across a face.
THE DISEMBODIED is a fun little movie, capably directed by Walter Grauman, who went on to a prolific television career, directing everything from STEVE CANYON to THE FUGITIVE to MURDER, SHE WROTE. The low budget shows in the very few sets and the flat black and white photography, but everything is done as well as possible on a budget that wouldn’t cover the caterer on a Hollywood production of the Fifties. The script was by Jack Townley, who penned this at the end of a long career in which he wrote 114 different movies and TV shows, and it’s a little slow, but there are a couple of nice twists, even if the dialogue is stilted. Originally on a double bill with the killer tree island flick FROM HELL IT CAME (1957), this would have been a night of jungle terror that probably terrorized nobody except small children.
Let’s face it, the reason to see this is Allison Hayes in all her seductive glory. Every move she makes is cat-like and sexualized. Every glance contains a multitude of suggestive innuendos, and her voice is as smooth as velvet. Plus, she looks terrific in a leopard print sarong and a halter top! She’s so much fun, she makes up for any plot holes and slow spots in the film.
Sadly, Allison Hayes’ health deteriorated in the 1960s, and she died in 1977 due to blood poisoning caused by calcium supplements given to her by her doctor. She was only 46 years old.
Warner Archive has issued a beautifully restored print of THE DISEMBODIED.
I give the film three chicken slaps out of four.
© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl