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Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Voodoo Island (1957) Reginald Le Borg

Rebroadcast on TCM as part of the Screened Out programme of films important to the depiction of gays on film, this is understandably not a gay themed film. It's a horror movie featuring Boris Karloff, a Polynesian cult and a host of carnivorous plants. It has a standard horror title and a theremin laden soundtrack by exotica composer Les Baxter and there's even a part for Adam West whose voice is unmistakable even when he's languishing without a credit.

The overtly gay character is actually a lesbian designer called Claire Winter played by Jean Engstrom who obviously got on well with Karloff as she appeared in a couple of episodes of his Thriller show on TV within a couple of years. I saw the lesbian overtones but nothing like I was expecting from the introduction, and it was notable that one of the plants got more action from Beverly Tyler's character than Winter did, latching on to one of her breasts as if it meant it.

Karloff is the lead of course. He's a debunker called Philip Knight, a sort of fifties version of James Randi, complete with a television show and a string of successes. He's sprightly for seventy but then he was 44 when fame caught up with him as the most recognisable monster ever seen on the cinema screen, way back in 1931. Here he's investigating a man named Mitchell, who has apparently been cursed and appears mostly comatose yet mildly mobile. He and his associates return him to the island on which he was first discovered.

There's some other subplot about a rich man building a hotel on the island but most of it seems to follow them exploring around the island, being herded somewhere by the natives hiding in the bushes and getting picked off slowly by the local carnivorous flora. They all have their own little stories too. Karloff is always confident that there's a scientific explanation for everything; Elisha Cook (here without the Jr) gets to be nervous as only he could be; Rhodes Reason has a past to face up to but still manages to put on a fair Han Solo grin on occasion; Beverly Tyler turns from machine into woman; and Murvyn Vye is the money man completely out of place in this environment, unable to even lend assistance when a little native girl gets swallowed up by a plant.

In fact there really isn't much to pay attention to. Karloff was worth so much more than this and the most fun thing about it is wondering just what Mystery Science Theater 3000 would do to it. The story is about as believable as native chief Friedrich von Ledebur's command of the English language. At least a year earlier as Queequeg in Moby Dick he looked the part better! The little voodoo dolls are very cute and the dialogue is terrible. Karloff gets to say things like 'they might slaughter us to death' and even 'we must stick together closer than ever tonight' when they're all tied together with string. He must have had a great time laughing about it when the cameras weren't rolling.

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