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VOODOO MAN  ***

Directed by Lars Klevberg. Starring Mark Hamill, Gabriel Bateman, Aubrey Plaza, Brian Tyree Henry, Tim Directed by William Beaudine. Starring Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, George Zucco, Wanda McKay, Tod Andrews, Louise Currie. Horror, USA, 62 mins, cert 12.

Released in the UK on DVD & Blu-ray by Fabulous Films on 24th June 2019.

Over the past few years Fabulous Films have put out several low-key B-movies from the 1940s and ’50s, all of varying quality and entertainment value but amongst such a cross-section of monochrome genre fare there are some titles that leap out for their sheer weirdness, and 1944s VOODOO MAN is certainly weird, bordering on strange.

 

Horror legend Bela Lugosi (DRACULA/WHITE ZOMBIE) plays Dr. Marlowe, a scientist of dubious discipline - or 'mad', if you will - whose beloved wife died a couple of years ago but is slowly being brought back to life by Marlowe supplying the life forces of young women he has kidnapped via voodoo. Doing his kidnapping for him are two goons - one of whom is played by John Carradine who, ironically, replaced Lugosi as Dracula in the Universal Monsters movies - who diverts lone women off the main road after they have stopped at the local garage run by Marlowe's associate Nicholas (George Zucco - THE CAT AND THE CANARY), who gives them directions to Marlowe's fake diversion in a very convoluted plot detail that assumes a lot to really work as consistently as it does.

 

But work it does, and the latest victim is Stella (Louise Currie - ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL) who is on her way to see her cousin Betty (Wanda McKay - JUNGLE GODDESS) who is about to get married to her screenwriter fiancé Ralph (Tod Andrews – FROM HELL IT CAME). Luckily, between her stopping at Nicholas’s garage and driving to the fake diversion Stella conveniently bumps into Ralph, who has broken down thanks to driving off from the garage before the attendant could put some gas in his car – what are the chances? Anyway, they go their separate ways once he gets some fuel but when Stella doesn’t return home Ralph and Betty go to investigate what could have happened, and much hilarity ensues.

 

Despite its very limiting B-movie trappings – or perhaps because of them - VOODOO MAN is actually quite fun if you fancy an hour of hokey voodoo nonsense. Bela Lugosi is the obvious focal point, and although his star was on the decline by this point in his career he doesn’t look in bad shape and he still has the gravitas and charisma that made his name in the first place. The movie also has the distinctive honour of being what we would now call ‘meta’, the closing line of the film seeing Ralph being asked by his boss who to get to play Dr. Marlowe in a film of his screenplay and his reply – “Bela Lugosi”. Yeah, you can keep your NEW NIGHTMARE and SCREAM – VOODOO MAN did it first.

 

When Lugosi isn’t on the screen the film does suffer as you would expect, mainly because none of the other actors are that great and the script does contain every cliché you have seen in a million different parodies of movies from that period, but there is an innocent charm to watching Tod Andrews pull up to the gas station and light up a cigarette whilst sat in an open-top car, or watching Wanda McKay’s expressions as she visibly thinks about what she is saying and whereabouts she needs to be standing as she speaks; look carefully, it is there. George Zucco comes off pretty well in his role and John Carradine’s appearance feels a little wasted but once the voodoo ceremony starts VOODOO MAN comes into its own as watching Bela Lugosi and George Zucco dress up as wizards and start chanting in tongues whilst Carradine plays the bongos is a highlight of ‘40s horror movies that doesn’t get spoken about enough. Granted, it isn’t up there with Lugosi’s iconic performance as the Count in terms of essential viewing but it does show that horror movie filmmakers had developed a sense of humour in the intervening years and this should be celebrated.

 

Clocking in at 62 minutes with no extras and a fairly clean but unexceptional picture, VOODOO MAN may not be enough to provide an evening’s worth of entertainment – and it certainly isn’t a classic to sit alongside DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, et al – but it is an enjoyable slice of schlock that holds up to repeated viewings if you have an hour to fill every so often.

 

Chris Ward

 

 

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FrightFest is the registered trade mark of London FrightFest Limited.
 © 2000 - 2018