Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Voodoo Island (1957)

Hotel tycoon Howard Carlton (Owen Cunningham) has discovered he’s the owner of a bunch of islands in the South Pacific he never knew about. Obviously, the most obscure of them is the perfect spot for a very special hotel. Too bad only one of the men in the first expedition he sent out to the island has returned, and he (Glenn Dixon) has come back acting a bit like a, well, a zombie.

Carlton still keeps to his grand hotel in the dangerous middle of nowhere plans, of course, so off he sends professional debunker and TV personality Phillip Knight (Boris Karloff) and assistant Adams (Beverly Tyler), a couple of his own henchpeople, the zombie guy and a doctor. It’ll take them quite a bit of time to reach the island next to the island they actually want to reach, for very mildly mysterious things happen around them. Because we can’t have nice things, our team also picks up greedy Martin Schuyler (Elisha Cook Jr.) and sub-Charlton Heston-like manly man Gunn (Rhodes Reason, three time winner of the “Best Name in the Biz” award), the latter of course so that Adams can lose her professional demeanour and BECOME A REAL WOMAN in his hairy arms. Screw you, the 50s.

After forty minutes, our protagonists finally do arrive on the mysterious island where they are beset by a bunch of particularly lame man-eating plants and a hilariously mixed-race tribe of Islanders whom nobody ever told they don’t actually practice voodoo in the South Pacific. After some time, things finally wrap up.

As a long-suffering victim of 50s low budget genre cinema, I’ve learned that one of the foremost abilities a viewer needs to get anything more out of many of these films than a nice little nap is to bring up the will to ignore one’s own yawns, try to identify anything of mild interest as fast as possible and cling to it through most of the film. After all, you don’t expect a director like Reginald Le Borg to keep you entertained without your help, right? If you do, you’ll be happy to hear this is a typical Le Borg joint, full of static shots that remind me of nothing so much as of the early days of sound film, and awkward editing that’ll at least teach you to appreciate the editing in Cannon films in the 80s.

On the scripting side, this suffers from the usual 50s obsessions with getting women back behind the cooking stove, rude assholes as the pinnacle of manhood, and not giving a shit about the little stuff like the fact that voodoo happens on rather different islands, or that there probably should something of interest happen in a movie from time to time. The dialogue’s, well, the dialogue is of the sort that leads to a wrily funny Karloff performance in which the great man has obviously decided the only way he can get through this is by delivering every single one of his lines as if he were talking to small, somewhat slow child. Which, given the performances of everyone here not named Karloff, Tyler or Cook, and what these poor people have to say, seems like a perfectly appropriate approach.

So in this case, making one’s own fun as a viewer mostly consists of giggling at Karloff’s and Cook’s performance, admiring how good the chemistry between Karloff and Tyler is, and developing respect for the dignity Tyler tries to give her character arc, such as it is, even though it’s a whole load of 50s bull crap. Later on, there are also the rubber plant monsters – whose best type seems to kill people by mildly bumping into them – and the South Sea tribe whose leader is played by a former Austrian cavalry officer to admire. It’s not much, but I honestly do take my enjoyment where I can find it in this sort of thing.

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