Archive for the Voodoo Movies Category

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: THE DISEMBODIED (1957)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1950s Movies, 2012, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Femme Fatales, Jungle Horror, Voodoo Movies, William Carl Articles, Zombies with tags , , , , on September 27, 2012 by knifefighter

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.”

A famous scene featuring Allison Hayes from DISEMBODIED.

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.

Voodoo can be lethal in THE DISEMBODIED.

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.

Allison Hayes in all her glory.

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

Suburban Grindhouse Memories Presents: ZOMBIE ISLAND MASSACRE!

Posted in Garbage, Grindhouse, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Voodoo Movies, Zombie Movies with tags , , , , on April 29, 2010 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES No. 3: “What’s in a Title? NOTHING!”
By Nick Cato

1984.  One year before they shot and released their seminal hit, THE TOXIC AVENGER, Troma Films was responsible for the theatrical distribution of one of the most misleading titles in the history of the horror film.  While the poster promised everything from “Toe-Tapping Machete Head Dances!” to “Fabulous Air-Conditioned Tiger Pits!,” ZOMBIE ISLAND MASSACRE basically delivered 95 minutes of mind-numbing boredom after flashing Rita Jenrette’s butt and boobs in an early shower scene (this was a bit of a controversy at the time as she was the former wife of (then) South Carolina congressman John Jenrette).  When a nude scene from a politician’s wife (a Democrat, no less!) is the highlight of a film, you know you’re in for a B-flick to test the limits even of B-flick aficionados.

I barely made it.

I attended a Monday night screening at Staten Island’s now long-defunct Amboy Twin Cinema, arguably the easiest theater on the east coast for under age patrons to be admitted to an R-rated film; this small neighborhood theater wouldn’t have lasted a week had it existed during the Guliani administration.  With maybe four other people in attendance (one being a friend), we stretched out in anticipation of the coming Zombie Island Massacre.  And guess what?  There were NO zombies!  There was NO massacre!

(But at least there was an ISLAND).

And on this Caribbean island, a bunch of American tourists hit a swanky hotel before taking a boat to a smaller island to see an authentic voodoo ritual.  “Yes!” my buddy said in anticipation of the coming ghoul attack, still excited from the site of Rita’s swaying schnoobs.

Naturally, one couple leaves the group and winds up dead…but not from zombies.  The rest of the tourists find the tour bus driver is gone, and eventually their tour guide vanishes, too.

What follows are painfully lifeless (full pun intended) scenes of the tourists getting picked off one-by-one as they try to make their way through the woods (because, after all, why would anyone want to stay put until help arrives?).  ZOMBIE ISLAND MASSACRE quickly turns into the lamest FRIDAY THE 13th-type of stalker film you’ve ever seen.  And we never really see how the tourists are being killed; after hearing their annoying screams, we see quick flashes of their corpses (very darkly lit).  We have no idea if they’re actually dead or just taking a nap (I mean, this IS supposed to be a vacation).  The money the film crew must’ve saved on lighting (and script writers) during this production could have financed TITANIC.

At one point in the film, what looks like a man dressed in bushes is seen sneaking up on the tourists.  One guy in front of me yelled out, “THAT’S a zombie?”  His 2-second comment provided more entertainment than anything seen during this clunker’s entire running time.

To make matters worse (and more baffling in light of the film’s title), ZOMBIE ISLAND MASSACRE attempts to throw the audience a curve ball by turning into a semi-crime drama.  At this point I was an inch away from demanding my money back.  But I just HAD to stick it through.  I had to see if there’d be any final-frame zombie attack or a last-minute massacre during the final credits.  I’d even have been happy if the voodoo “priest” would have done something besides hide behind the poor lighting.

When it comes to titles that are better than the actual film, NO ONE can beat Troma.  ZOMBIE ISLAND MASSACRE turned out to be one of the worst films in their huge arsenal (I’d rather sit through A NYMPHOID BARBARIAN IN DINOSAUR HELL (1991) or GIRLS SCHOOL SCREAMERS (1986) three more times each than have to sit through ZOMBIE ISLAND MASSACRE even for a quarter of its running time).

If memory serves correctly, even the popcorn was stale that night.

In the world of Grindhouse cinema, you’re going to run into some turkeys (okay, MANY turkeys).  If I had to make a top ten list of all-time worst Grindhouse films, this would most likely make the top five.

So why does this Grindhouse memory bring a smile to my face?  I’ll get back to you on that in two weeks…

© Copyright 2010 by Nick Cato

THE SKELETON KEY

Posted in 2005, Cinema Knife Fights, Ghost Movies, Haunted Houses, Paranormal, Voodoo Movies with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2010 by knifefighter

(After you read this one, scroll down. There’s a reevaluation of the movie that comes after it. You can see if the critic changed his mind five years later ~ LLS)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SKELETON KEY (2005)
by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

(Outside a sprawling Southern mansion, MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES sit in a garden sipping sweet tea.  Between them sits a grizzled old man resembling John Hurt in a wheelchair with the baby ALIEN protruding from his chest.)

MA:  Today on Cinema Knife Fight we’re looking at the new voodoo thriller, THE SKELETON KEY (2005).

THE SKELETON KEY tells the story of young Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) who moves into a New Orleans mansion to care for a recent stroke victim and invalid Ben Devereaux (John Hurt). She also has to deal with Deveraux’s abrasive and protective wife Violet (Gena Rowlands), but she is encouraged to stay on by the young family attorney Luke (Peter Sarsgaard).

When Caroline discovers a secret room in the attic, filled with voodoo artifacts, she learns of the horrifying history of the house.  As things grow more mysterious, Caroline suspects that Ben’s life is in danger, and she tries to determine just who it is who is out to harm him.  Her investigation leads her deep into a world of ghosts and voodoo.

(LS picks up a voodoo doll of MA and starts sticking pins in it)

MA: Ouch! Damn mosquitoes! THE SKELETON KEY is a well-acted, intelligent thriller that in spite of its slow pace, still delivers the goods.  It’s a performance-driven movie, especially from its two female leads, Kate Hudson and Gena Rowlands.   Not to be overlooked, John Hurt does an admirable job playing a man who can’t move or talk.  It’s not as easy as it sounds, and Hurt makes it look effortless.

(ALIEN creature poking out of John Hurt’s chest cheers and hoots.)

MA:  Be quiet, you!  Just because his chest was your film debut is no reason to make a fool of yourself now.  (ALIEN frowns).

The twist ending didn’t knock my socks off, but like the film as a whole, was just good enough for me to recommend it.  How about you?

LS: (puzzled look on his face) Did we see the same movie?

I guess the biggest surprise for me was how totally unscary this movie was. And how predictable. It got better towards the end, as we start to figure out what the “twist” is, but truthfully, it’s not much of a twist. In the old days, THE SKELETON KEY would have made for a mediocre episode of NIGHT GALLERY. Instead, they’ve blown it up to feature length and suckered some decent actors to star in it, all to trick us out of our hard-earned money.

MA:  I disagree completely.  It’s not a waste of money.  It’s actually a film I think people should go out to see.  Is it scary?  Not really, but then again, a horror film doesn’t have to be scary to be successful.  It just has to be entertaining, and THE SKELETON KEY, though slow, is entertaining.

LS: (jabs at voodoo doll) (MA winces): I found this movie too bland and predictable to be entertaining, despite a mostly solid cast.  John Hurt and Gena Rowlands are real actors. Rowlands, in particular, is one of the best American actresses ever. As for Kate Hudson, she’s “adequate” at best here. Where is the charisma she showed back in the film, ALMOST FAMOUS (2000)?

The thing that struck me most while watching THE SKELETON KEY was how I paid ten dollars to sit in a movie theater and watch a bad TV movie. With the PG-13 rating, it’s as safe and generic as anything on basic cable, with pretty much the same script quality. In fact, I’ve seen edgier and scarier TV movies on the Sci-Fi Channel.  I am so sick of pabulum like this being dished into our hungry horror plates on a regular basis.

MA:  I’ll tell you what I’m sick of, films containing one action scene after another, one scene of incredible bloody violence after another.  That bores me to tears.  Here we have a movie with an intelligent script, with wonderful acting by everyone in it, including Hudson, by the way, and you’re going to fault it by calling it pabulum and a bad TV movie?   Why does every film have to be fast-paced?  I think you’re missing the boat here.  This is the kind of film that fans of Val Lewton’s 1940s movies will really enjoy.

LS: You know me better than that. I love the movies Val Lewton produced. And I find it hilarious that you compare this claptrap to classics like that. I’m not saying all horror films need tons of action and gore; all I’m asking for is a decent script. And you’re really exaggerating how intelligent this movie is.  We’ve all seen this story before, and the twist is old hat. The fact that it surprised and entertained you is kind of laughable.

MA:  I didn’t say it surprised me.  The twist is average, I’ll give you that much, and the script isn’t Shakespeare, but it worked for me.

LS:  What do you know?  The film had potential, but never lives up to it.  If you want to see a good voodoo movie, rent something like Wes Craven’s underrated THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988), or Val Lewton’s 1943 classic, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, or even the 1970s grindhouse classic, SUGAR HILL (1974).

MA:   See, I think THE SKELETON KEY captures the spirit and feel of a movie like I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE.  It’s nowhere near as good, but if you like I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, chances are, you’ll enjoy this movie.

(LS sticks more pins in the doll)

MA: Ouch!  I’ve had enough.  (turns to BABY ALIEN)  Get him!

(ALIEN jumps out of old man’s chest and attacks LS.)

MA:  In the name of good taste, we will not be showing you the bloody battle going on behind me.  Until next time—.

(Green alien goo spatters MA in face).

MA:  You just had to get that in, didn’t you?

—-END–

(Originally published in the HELLNOTES newsletter on August 25, 2005)

© Copyright 2005 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THE SKELETON KEY – REVISITED

Posted in 2005, 2010, Cinema Knife Fights, Ghost Movies, Haunted Houses, LL Soares Reviews, Paranormal, Second Looks, Voodoo Movies with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2010 by knifefighter

Five years have passed, and I decided to give THE SKELETON KEY a second chance. I rarely feel compelled to do this, but I’m a big fan of voodoo movies as a whole, and several friends have tried to convince me I was wrong about this one.

So I sat back and watched it again. I have to admit, I liked it better the second time, but a lot of my gripes about the film remain the same. It moves pretty slowly at times, especially in the beginning, and there isn’t much in the way of scares. But I do think it’s a little smarter than I originally gave it credit for. And the ending, while still predictable if you are paying attention, wasn’t all that bad.

I think a big problem I had with it was Kate Hudson. I’d previously seen her deliver an amazing performance in an otherwise bland film (ALMOST FAMOUS, from 2000) and I was expecting big things from her. Her role in THE SKELETON KEY was the exact opposite of the role that gave her her breakthrough. Where Penny Lane, the wise-beyond-her-years groupie in ALMOST FAMOUS (a mediocre movie worth seeing only for Hudson’s star-making performance, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as genius rock critic Lester Bangs), was charismatic and sensual, her character of Caroline in THE SKELETON KEY is downright boring. She never really grabbed me as the protagonist. The sad part is, SKELETON KEY is one of her better movies. She’s since sunken into a rut of making one bad romantic comedy after another, and has pretty much abandoned any aspirations she may have had for being a serious actress. (But there may be hope for her after all. I just heard she’s in the Michael Winterbottom remake of Jim Thompson’s THE KILLER INSIDE ME, coming out this year).

The supporting cast is much better. The legendary Gena Rowlands is a stand-out, even if this formula thriller is a far cry from the work she did with her late husband John Cassavetes. Her character of Violet is grating and certainly not much a stretch for Rowlands, but she acquits herself well enough, considering she isn’t given a lot to work with. As does Peter Sarsgaard, an increasingly interesting actor, in his role here as Luke, the young lawyer with a strange secret.

John Hurt, who I always enjoy seeing in a movie, isn’t given much to do here except sit in a wheelchair and look scared, but he does what he can with his thankless role.

I liked the voodoo aspects of the story. But overall, my opinion hasn’t changed too much. SKELETON KEY at least tried to be a solid little genre film. I thought it was watchable, and enjoyed it for what it was. But it’s not a great movie.

Director Iain Softley should get a big part of the blame, too. While the movie is atmospheric at times (mostly due to the location – a wonderful old plantation house in Louisiana – how could it not be atmospheric?), the direction is uninspired and rather generic.

Good actors such as Rowlands and Sarsgaard deserved better. And there is the kernel of a good movie in here. With a more talented director (and, sadly, a better leading lady), this movie could have been a much more satisfying voodoo tale. As is, it was a lost opportunity.

~L.L. Soares
March 2010