5/20/09

RVOD067 Voodoo Man

(1944, Horror, b&w)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett

Gosh all fishhooks!

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell:


Bela Lugosi kidnaps beautiful young women in an effort to revive his dead wife.

Summary:

Is the guy in the bottom right supposed to be John Carradine?A young woman out driving alone stops at a gas station to ask directions. The overly solicitous owner Nicholas (George Zucco) directs her to a lonely back road, but warns her that there might be a detour due to road construction. As soon as she leaves, Nicholas sends his assistant away on some pretext and uses a hidden phone to contact the bearded and sinister Dr. Marlowe (Bela Lugosi). Marlow’s henchmen Grego and Toby (a very young and very, very embarrassing John Carradine) set up the roadblock and then waylay the young lady just as soon as Dr. Marlowe’s vacuum tube remote car-killing device has taken effect.

Newspapers spin to announce the third abduction of a young woman on a lonely country road within the last year. A studio executive growls at one of his screenwriters, ordering him to find a movie plot in the tragedies. The screenwriter, an unremarkable young man named Ralph, begs off, citing his impending marriage.

On his way to his wedding, Ralph stops at the very same gas station, pays for gas, but absentmindedly drives away before the attendant can pump it into his car. He runs out halfway over the lonely back road. Shortly thereafter, a young woman named Stella stops at the station to ask for directions, leading to a replay of the opening scenes. On her way to the roadblock, however, she finds the stranded Ralph. After a bit of banter, they discover that she is the cousin of his bride-to-be, and is on her way to attend his wedding.

They reach the roadblock and turn off. The car-killing device does its work, but the henchmen are momentarily stymied by the presence of Ralph. Ralph is no mechanic, though. After a few moments of puzzled staring at the engine, he walks off to look for help. The nearest house belongs to Dr. Marlowe, but the creepy housekeeper (is there any other kind?) drives him away. When he gets back to where he left Stella, she and her car are gone. He assumes that she got it started again and left without him, and walks back to his own car in a huff.

The henchmen take Stella to Dr. Marlowe, who hypnotizes her and takes her to the basement. Nicholas the gas station owner meets him there, and they perform a ritual that involves silly robes, drum-beating henchmen, and a self-tying square knot while Marlowe moans, begging Stella’s lifeforce to leave her body and animate the corpse of his long-dead wife. It works for a few moments, but ultimately fails, leaving both Stella and the dead wife as mindless zombie women.

Why do villains keep saying 'I won't hurt you' when they very clearly already are?In town, Ralph arrives at his fiancĂ©e’s house. His irritation with Stella turns to alarm when he discovers that she hasn’t arrived yet. When he hears that this is the place where three previous young women have disappeared, he performs his only sensible act of the film; he goes to the police. Unfortunately the police force consists of an aged chief and his somnolent deputy. They promise to do their best and head out to hunt for clues.

The cops figure that, since all the missing beauties disappeared on the same road, they might as well question the only man who lives on it. In a rare display of cunning, the police chief assures Dr. Marlowe that he is above suspicion while snooping into every corner he can find while Marlowe’s out procuring drinks. The chief leaves empty-handed, but in the meantime, Toby has been taking the zombie girls out of their glass cases to fondle their hair. He forgets to shut Stella’s case when Marlowe calls him away, and the zombified abductee wanders out into the night. The cops find her on their way out, and take the gowned and vacant Stella to Betty’s house for identification.

Betty and Ralph take her in and call the local doctor, who just happens to be Dr. Marlowe. Marlowe steals a button and instructs them to leave her alone for a while in the hopes that she’ll snap out of it. He takes the button home and has Nicholas mutter over it in his voodoo regalia. Stella rises and somehow walks the ten to fifteen miles back to Marlowe’s house without attracting notice.

Betty and Ralph find her empty bed in the morning and rush to Dr. Marlowe’s house to ask for advice. While Marlowe makes soothing noises and gets them drinks, they look through the open door to see his zombified wife (already established as dead in prior conversation) wandering the halls. They make excuses and leave quickly. They stop at a coffee shop to linger, discuss and eventually call the police. Meanwhile, Marlowe has decided that Betty will make an excellent new subject and gives a pilfered glove to Nicholas, who uses it to hypnotize her from afar. She gets up and drives away in a stupefied haze while Ralph is off phoning the police chief.

Thankfully, she left in broad daylight from a crowded room; Ralph follows the trail of witnesses to her abandoned car on Marlowe’s property. He follows an open secret passageway into Marlowe’s secret voodoo cellar in time to watch the secret voodoo ritual begin. A henchman knocks him over the head with a drumstick, and he slumps over in a corner for the rest of the action sequence. Fortunately for him, one of the friendly witnesses called the cops. They arrive at Marlowe’s place. The chief shoots Marlowe when the latter charges with a large voodoo knife. Marlowe dies. His newly revived wife dies. All the zombie girls wake up. Ralph marries Betty and writes a screenplay of the whole event (presumably at the same time). They drop it on the studio executive’s desk on their way out, with the advice to try and get Bela Lugosi for the title role.

Thoughts:

Starring the original Dracula, the original Professor Moriarty, and the progenitor of Kill Bill's Bill.Though the people in this film display the impaired intelligence usual to horror movie characters, I have to give the police chief points for realizing that his prime suspect has to be the only person who lives near the place where they all disappeared. Of course, he loses just as many if not more points for not figuring that out until the fourth victim. But then he gets all those points back by being the one who charges in and shoots the mad doctor. He’s pretty much the only proactive non-evil character in the whole film. Even Ralph the supposed “hero” doesn’t do anything but petulantly stomp around before getting clobbered at the end. As bad as it is, though, Voodoo Man is actually just a little above average for a horror picture of that era. It’s short (one hour), doesn’t drag, and you actually can tell what’s going on.

Mike, Bill and Kevin do what they can with it. As Toby carefully arranges the zombie girls in a pattern around the voodoo ceremony, Kevin says, “He’s arranging a four square game. Of the damned,” while Mike notes that Toby is “such a Torgo wannabe, it’s sad.” As Nicholas appears in their ridiculous voodoo robes, Bill wants to know, “How come he’s got more patches than Bela? Look, he’s got a fancy M,” while Kevin goes on, “Pink hearts, yellow moons, green clovers...” My favorite line is actually from the somnolent deputy, who improbably cries, “Gosh all fishhooks!” when they find zombie Stella on the road. The riffers take up this cry for the rest of the film, and if they don’t continue to do so in subsequent riffs (in the proud tradition “Hi-keeba!”, “There was no monster” and “He tampered in God’s domain”), I shall be very disappointed. Also, for people seeking a little extra hilarity after a funny but relatively short experience, Disembaudio chimes in after the end credits have rolled with a very special something for fans of John Carradine’s, er, “guest performance” in Red Zone Cuba.