Sunday, January 18, 2015

Voodoo Woman (1957)

... aka: Black Voodoo

Directed by:
Edward L. Cahn

When it comes to 1950s horror directors, was anyone - other than perhaps Roger Corman - as prolific as Edward L. Cahn? In just a five year time span, he amassed nine directorial credits in the genre: Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), The She-Creature (1956), INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN (1957), ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU (1957), Curse of the Faceless Man (1958), IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958), Invisible Invaders (1959), THE FOUR SKULL OF JONATHAN DRAKE (1959) and this one. Of course all of these films were cheaply-produced, shot in a matter of days and vary wildly in quality, but the sheer number itself is quite impressive given the time frame in which they were made. Considering Invaders went on to heavily influence NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and It: The Terror... went on to be a primary influence behind ALIEN (1979), I'd say he's probably never been given the recognition he deserved. Part of that reason may be because of the other, less-successful films he made during his career. After all, they can't all be winners... as the hokey and boring Voodoo Woman can solemnly attest.

Somewhere in the fictional country of Bantalaya (which appears to be somewhere in Africa), mad scientist Dr. Roland Gerard (Tom Conway) is busy at work trying to turn natives into monsters using his secret formula combined with native voodoo, or merging, as he calls it "white man science and black voodoo." He has witch doctor Chaka (Martin Wilkins) to perform the necessary "blood rituals" for the latter and his own medical know-how and insane drive for success for the former, but all he's lacking is the appropriate test subject. They're currently using Zuranda (Jean Davis), a neighboring tribal leader's daughter, but she's so pure of heart she will only stay a monster for a few minutes at a time before transforming back into a human. Not content with trying to "shatter the very foundations of science" alone, Dr. Gerard has also decided to make life as miserable as possible for his young wife Susan (Mary Ellen Kay), who's half his age, threatened with death if she ever tries to escape and is being kept on lock down in a hut guarded by rotund, spear-carrying native warrior Gandor (Emmett Smith).

Meanwhile, at a nearby bar, Harry West (Norman Willis) knows the whereabouts of gold and precious jewels in the jungle and has a map to point him in that general direction. Unfortunately for him, hard-bitten, hot tempered, money-hungry, murderous tramp Marilyn Blanchard (Marla English) cuts his plans short by shooting him dead and taking his information, with plans of heading into the jungle and finding the treasure herself. You do see where this is going, right? Accompanying Marilyn on the expedition are her loose cannon current lover Rick Brady (Lance Fuller), who decides to impersonate the dead Harry, and experienced macho guide Ted Bronson (Mike "Touch" Connors), who's been hired by Marilyn's shady bartender friend / accomplice Marcel (Paul Dubov) and is oblivious to what has gone down prior to his arrival. The three head into the jungle and eventually stumble upon Dr. Gerard, who's happy to finally have a more appropriate and willing guinea pig at his disposal.

You get a much better look at the creature in this promotional still than you do in the actual movie!

Talky, slow-moving, set bound, cheap and obviously rushed, this is a pretty typical low-budget B picture of the era destined for the bottom half of double bills. The film ran into numerous production difficulties, like much of the cast and crew coming down with the flu while on a tight deadline and money wasted on an earlier monster mask designed by Harry Thomas that was so terrible it couldn't even be used. The monster was then re-designed by Paul Blaisdell, who reused the monster body suit from the previous She-Creature (which featured most of the same cast seen here) with a newly-designed monster mask and blonde fright wig added. Blaisdell also inhabited the costume and suffered severe burns doing one of the special effects scenes where "acid" is spilled on his leg. And I must admit, regardless of how silly or cheap the finished creature looked, I'd preferred to have at least seen it! Instead, the filmmakers keep it hidden in the shadows and behind brush all the time so you never even really get a good look at it. A potentially interesting aspect of the plot where the mad doc shares a telepathic link with the beast isn't utilized to its fullest extent either.

An A.I.P. production for executive producers Sam Arkoff and James Nicholson, Voodoo Woman was conceived under the title Black Voodoo, had a 60,000 budget, was co-written by actor Russ Bender, features a musical number by high-pitched singer Giselle D'Arc and played most theaters paired up with the vastly superior Corman film THE UNDEAD (1957). Amazingly enough, it was also remade in color less than a decade later as CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE (1966) by director Larry Buchanan, which turned out even worse than this one.


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