Voodoo Man

Movie Information

In Brief: That existential classic Voodoo Man (1944) was specifically chosen for New Year's Eve because its brevity allows the viewer ample time to start off the evening with the movie and be safely home and out of harm's way before the madness kicks in — or, alternatively, to go become a part of the madness. It's a personal call. This, by the way, is being shown from the new restoration of the film, which I am very much anxious to see. William Beaudine’s Voodoo Man is perhaps the most bizarre of Bela Lugosi's infamous "Monogram Nine," those nine bargain-basement Bs he made for legendary schlock producer Sam Katzman at Monogram Pictures. It was actually the last of the series, but was released before the earlier Return of the Ape Man (1944). Lugosi plays Dr. Richard Marlowe, a man with absolutely no backstory, who has somehow located himself at a creepy old house (the usual Monogram set) in some hick town. He’s also managed to come up with an elaborate underground lair wherein he — with the help of gas station owner and voodoo high priest Nicholas (George Zucco) and a couple of tame morons (one played by John Carradine) — conducts ceremonies to bring his dead wife (Ellen Hall) back to life. Now, understand, Mrs. Marlowe is “dead only in the sense that you understand that word,” meaning that she tends to wander around with no real purpose. The idea is to have the god Ramboona (who Nicholas assures us “never fails,” despite much evidence to the contrary) drain the life force out of hapless pretty girl motorists and into Mrs. Marlowe. There's nothing like it — and what a way to end the year!
Genre: Horror
Director: William Beaudine (The Ape Man)
Starring: Bela Lugosi, George Zucco, John Carradine, Wanda McKay, Michael Ames, Henry Hall
Rated: NR



Now if you were wondering how these kidnappings are worked, it’s something like this: Nicholas keeps an eye out for suitable candidates — pretty and alone — and then notifies the doctor via his not-very-secret telephone system. At this point, Marlowe’s henchman set up a detour — using a “road closed” sign and some portable shrubbery — and kidnap the latest candidate. (What they do with the cars is never addressed.) Thereupon, we are treated to the absolute jaw-dropping voodoo ceremonies. Let’s put it this way, Zucco’s facial expressions alone make it worthwhile, but then there’s also his tobacco-auctioneer mumbo jumbo — not to mention that hat.




To make all this just that much more bizarre — yes, it is possible — the hero, Ralph Dawson (an incredibly obnoxious Michael Ames), is a “scenario writer” for — wait for it — Banner Pictures. Better yet, he enters the film by getting a writing assignment for this very story from Sam Katzman himself. Well, sort of, since the Great Man is only called “S.K.” and is played by character actor John Ince. That he winds up stuck in the very story he’s supposed to be writing is only the tip of the iceberg — as the movie’s final scene illustrates. No, it doesn’t make any sense, but that’s the beauty of it. The real surprise is that — dumb as all this is — it’s actually reasonably well made by the notorious William Beaudine, a man noted not so much for getting his shots in one take, but for being cool with whatever take he got. (Legend has it that he was once castigated being behind schedule and responded in shock at the idea that someone was actually waiting to see the film.) Since this was the final film in the series, I like to think that someone in authority wandered onto the set one day during one of the voodoo ceremonies and said, “Stop this immediately!” Not likely, but the idea appeals to me.

The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Voodoo Man Thursday, Dec. 31, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville, hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Scott Douglas.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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