Sunday, May 10, 2009

Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake, The (1959)

Directed by:
Edward L. Cahn

I'm sure this one freaked out or shocked quite a few people back in 1959! Over a century ago, Captain Wilfred Drake and troops slaughtered the male population of an entire South American headhunter tribe, save for one witch doctor, who effectively placed a curse on the Drake family. Ever since, each male member has mysteriously died of a heart attack at the age of sixty. Strangely, at some point, the heads of each body have been removed and the skulls later returned to the family crypt. Haunted by visions of floating skulls, Jonathan Drake (Eduard Franz) seems to be next in line after his brother Kenneth (Paul Cavanagh) becomes victim number three. Mysterious Swiss archaeologist Dr. Emil Zurich (Henry Daniell) - an expert in Amazon tribes and customs - is orchestrating all of this with help from tall, skinny, wrinkly Zutai (Paul Wexler), a witch doctor. Zutai uses a thin metal blade dipped in curare to paralyze victims before removing their heads with a bamboo knife. The heads are then brought back to Dr. Zurich's lab, where the skulls are removed and the heads are shrunk using hot sand. After Jonathan is attacked and almost killed, police lieutenant Jeff Rowan (Grant Richards) and Jonathan's daughter Alison (Valerie French) try to get to the bottom of things.

Though limited in budget, and with a few cardboard performances, this is still a fairly enjoyable effort with an imaginative premise, decent b/w photography and some rather ghoulish content for its time. Veteran B-movie director Edward L. Cahn (best known for IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, which went on to influence the hit ALIEN) keeps things moving at a pretty fast pace and doesn't shy away from showing gruesome things such as headless corpses and decapitated heads. The creepy Zutai character, who has dark wrinkly skin, stitched-up lips and poisonous blood, runs around in sandals made of human flesh and leaves behind fingerprints containing tiny skull imprints, is the most interesting character. The performances are uneven, but Daniell does a pretty good job as the cultured bad guy, who may or may not actually be a ghost. Worth watching.



CavedogRob said...

One of my favorite low budget horror movies by a director who needs more recognition! Great review!

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

He really does deserve to be better know than what he is. It! The Terror from Beyond Space was great and I also recently watched Invasion of the Saucer Men and liked that a lot, too.

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