Voodoo Island (1957)
Director: Reginald Le Borg
1 / 5 zedheads
In my post "Zombies: The Karloff Connection," I wrote that Karloff's depiction of Frankenstein's monster inspired the representation of zombies in future films, yet Karloff never starred in a proper zombie film. In the comments section, Brother D, friend and esteemed host of the MAIL ORDER ZOMBIE podcast, reminded me that Karloff did star in the 1957 feature Voodoo Island. Now, Brother D is a man I respect. His knowledge of horror music scores and zombie media is praiseworthy, and his insightful reviews always impress me. In this case however, I disagree. Voodoo Island is NOT a zombie movie.
Rather, Voodoo Island is a mess of a movie that makes little sense. It begins with Boris Karloff as Phillip Knight, professional skeptic, who is hired by a wealthy industrialist to investigate an island the industrialists plans to develop into a luxury vacation getaway. Knight is eager to get to work and assemble his team to debunk the supposedly supernatural occurrences on the island. Knight's team includes the only crew member to return alive from the last surveying team sent to the island, but this crew member isn't very useful as he returned in a catatonic, "zombie-like" state.
This character, we presume because of the title, has been turned into a zombie by the power of voodoo. At first, he seems to be under some kind of spell, reacting oddly to music and the sight of psuedo-voodoo dolls seen along the way. He may be under some kind of spell, but the movie is so convoluted and disorganized that his character and purpose is never explained. There's not enough here to say he is, in fact, a zombie. At the end of the film, another character falls into the same catatonic, "zombie-like" state, but this is clearly not the work of magic but rather the trauma of witnessing the horrors on the island. As far as I'm concerend, there's not enough to suggest either is a zombie.
What does the rest of the movie have going for it? Very little. It's poorly paced and the voodoo angle makes no sense. In fact, voodoo barely plays a role in the picture. When it does, it looks nothing like genuine voodoo or even the bastardized movie version of voodoo. For one, the film clearly takes place on the Pacific Islands and not anywhere where voodoo exists. Second, voodoo is never really a presence in the film. Characters spend more time fighting with goofy-looking and oddly-sexual carnivorous plants. The plants, created by special effects out of inflatable tubes and balloons, kill most of the trespassers on the island as well as some of the "voodoo"-practicing natives. Voodoo Island can't figure out if it wants to be an uncanny mystery, voodoo exploitation tale, or monster plant movie. As a result, it becomes a whole lot of nothing.
There's some unintentional hilarity in watching actor Rhodes Reason lay on some thick machismo in the awkward love story between his character Matthew Gunn and Knight's assistant Sarah Adams (Beverly Tyler), but the majority of the movie is a sad bore.
A poor film in Karloff's career and and even poorer attempt at a voodoo zombie film.