Movie Review: Voodoo Island (1957)
Voodoo Island (1957)
Director: Reginald LeBorg
Cast: Boris Karloff, Beverly Tyler, Murvyn Vye
Synopsis: A sceptical professional mythbuster who travels to a remote island to prove it isn’t a hotbed of voodoo rituals and sacrifices finds himself and his companions threatened by man-eating plants.
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An ageing Boris Karloff (Targets, The Man They Could Not Hang) stars in Voodoo Island, the first of three movies he signed on to make with producer Howard W. Koch (although he actually only completed two, the second being the following year’s Frankenstein 1970). He plays Phillip Knight, a celebrity myth-buster hired by tycoon Howard Carlton (Owen Cunningham) to dispel rumours of voodoo practices on the titular island. Carlton’s hoping to build a swanky holiday resort there, but is a little worried that only one member of the four-man team of engineers and surveyors he sent to Voodoo Island actually returned. And the one who did return – a man named Mitchell (Glenn Dixon) – has returned with no will of his own, a gaunt shambling zombie who fails to respond to any kind of stimuli.
So, of course, it makes perfect sense to have the near-comatose Mitchell accompany Knight back to the island, and his sudden demise (pointing dramatically in the direction of the island) comes as a surprise only to his fellow travelers, who at least are tagging along to perform some kind of useful service. The uptight, buttoned-down Sarah Adams (Beverly Tyler) is Knight’s secretary, the loud, opinionated balding guy is Barney Finch (Murvyn Vye – Road to Bali, River of No Return), Carlton’s assistant, the ice-cold blonde, is Claire Winter (Jean Engstrom), his chief designer, and Dr Wilding (Herbert Patterson) is the group’s physician. Adding to their numbers is virile but heavy drinking Matt Gunn (Rhodes Reason), whose name tells you everything you need to know about him, and his boss (Elisha Cook Jr – St. Ives, 1941), whose nervousness is overcome only by his grasping nature. They’re a stereotypical bunch for the most part, although Winter briefly grabs our attention with an unexpected move on the frosty Miss Adams which suggests she’s a predatory lesbian keen to locate the cracks in the younger woman’s armour.
After forty increasingly dull minutes this motley crew finally pitch up on the island, where they find themselves battling with meat-eating plant life as the natives peer at them from the bushes in which they like to hide. Unusually for this kind of cheap exploitation flick there aren’t really that many killings, and the most chilling death is suffered not by one of the group, but a small native girl who is swallowed up by a giant plant that looks like a cross between a land-based lily pad and a Venus fly trap. One of the party is transformed into a mindless zombie, but that’s as a result of witnessing the native girl’s death rather than any voodoo shenanigans.
Voodoo Island was shot back-to-back with Koch’s equally tepid war movie Jungle Heat in October 1956, and despite the exotic location it was obviously filmed on a tight budget. Karloff was 69 when it was shot, and clearly seems to be struggling physically on occasion. He was already a B-Movie screen legend by the late 1950s, and apparently felt no need to adapt his somewhat unique acting style to cater for changing times and younger audiences. Somehow, that familiar lisping delivery and air of gentility provide one of the few positives Voodoo Island is able to offer its audience.
(Reviewed 8th January 2017)