Friday, December 30, 2011


Prolific filmmaker William Beaudine and horror icon Bela Lugosi worked together on four films, and "Voodoo Man" (** out of ****) was the third. Previously, they collaborated on "Ghosts on the Loose" (1943) and "The Ape Man" (1943), while their final outing occurred on the madcap comedy "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla" (1953). In "Voodoo Man," Lugosi plays a deluded doctor, Dr. Richard Marlowe, who wrestles with spousal issues similar to those in the 1942 chiller "The Corpse Vanishes." Whereas he endeavored to restore his wife's beauty in the latter movie, he struggles to restore his wife's life in "Voodoo Man." Actually, Evelyn (Ellen Hall of "Lumberjack") looks well-preserved to have been kaput for over two decades. She ambles around in a trance but looks as if she hasn't aged a day since she died.

Dr. Marlowe is in cahoots with a Mobil gas station owner, Nicholas (George Zucco of "The Black Raven") to bring his poor wife back to life. "Return of the Ape Man" scenarist Robert Charles doesn't bother to explain how Nicholas and Dr. Marlowe became so tight aside from their mutual love of all things voodoo. Indeed, many things are left up to our imagination in this modest little Monogram thriller. Nicholas helps Dr. Marlowe kidnap women when they pull into his station on Laurel Road for directions to Twin Falls. Nicholas' filling station is the only one for miles. After the gals cruise away, Nicolas calls Marlowe on the telephone and alerts him to their impending presence, and the sinister scientist dispatches his two half-witted dolts, Grego (Pat McKee of "Waterfront") and Toby (John Carradine of "Stagecoach"), to block the road with a sawhorse, creating an official looking detour so the female motorists will have to drive off the main drag onto a side road concealed by a movable hedge. Grego and Toby simply pull back a hedge to allow vehicles to pass.

Bt this point in "Voodoo Man," three women have disappeared without a trace, and the authorities are completely baffled. Moreover, Marlowe also possesses an ingenious device which enables him to shut down the engine of an automobile. While the helpless woman sits mystified in her stalled car, Grego and Toby sneak up, seize her, and then usher her down into a tunnel into Marlowe's underground laboratory. Marlowe decks the women out in flowing white dresses and keeps them locked up in closets. Marlowe maintains them in a state of hypnosis. Later, during a ritualistic ceremony, Nicholas utters a chant called the Ramboona so they can transfer the spirit of the living girl into Evelyn. Unfortunately, Marlowe and his minions have not been able to get the perfect match for Evelyn.

The Banner Motion Picture Company wants to capitalize on these incidents and produce a movie about these vanishing women, but scriptwriter Ralph Dawson (Tod Andrews of "Hang'em High") refuses to pen the screenplay. Instead, he plans to get married and take a two week honeymoon. Dawson drives off for Twin Falls and pulls into Nicholas' gas station to tank up. Ralph refuses to buy a can of car polish and gets so frustrated with the well-meaning attendant, Sam (Ralph Littlefield), that Sam doesn't get a chance to pump the six gallons of fuel into his car that Ralph has paid for. Consequently, Ralph runs out of gas, but he encounters one of his future wife's bridesmaids, Stella Saunders (Louise Currie) who gives him a lift. Predictably, they see the detour sawhorse and take the wrong road. Stella's car mysteriously stops operating and Ralph goes off to search for a house. While Ralph is banging on the door to Dr. Marlowe's house, Grego and Toby abduct Stella. Ralph feels doubly frustrated when he finds both Stella and her car gone. An attempt to transfer Stella's life into Evelyn fails. Things go awry when Toby lets Stella escape, and the sheriff picks her as she wanders down on the highway. The sheriff takes Stella to Ralph's fiancée's house. Later, Marlowe discovers Stella's disappearance and rushes to Betty's house to ensure her silence. When they aren't watching Stella, Nicholas chants and Marlowe is able to bring Stella back to his secluded residence.

Eventually, Marlowe and Nicholas use their voodoo powers to attract Betty (Wanda McKay) who is poised to marry Ralph. Nicholas conjures up a chant that works so well that they are able lure Betty out to their roadside detour. In fact, Betty drives her car out to Laurel Road. Ralph convinces a motorist to give him a lift and they drive out to the sight of the detour. Meantime, the Sheriff (Henry Hall) and his reluctant deputy Elmer (Dan White) have grown suspicious about the good doctor and decide to break into Marlowe's house. Earlier, after the motorist had dropped Ralph off, he tried to intervene, but Grego dropped him stone cold in his tracks with a single blow. Ironically, Betty turns out to be the perfect match for Evelyn, and Dr. Marlowe achieves his long sought-after dream, only to have the sheriff barge in on them. Marlowe threatens the lawman with a knife, and the sheriff shoots him once. During his final dying moments, Marlowe learns that the ritual using Betty has worked. When Marlowe dies, not only does Evelyn finally bite the dust, but the four girls are released from their hypnotic trances.

Afterward, Ralph submits a screenplay about his adventures with Marlowe and calls it "Voodoo Man." Nobody takes anything seriously because the producer asks Ralph about the ideal actor to play the role of the mad scientist, and Ralph recommends Bela Lugosi for the role. Clocking in at a trim 62 minutes, "Voodoo Man" is as brisk as it is elemental, but there isn't a shred of horror in it. John Carradine takes top honors as one of Dr. Marlowe's slow-witted goons who admires the women. George Zucco is good, too, as Marlowe's chief conspirator. "Voodoo Man" should have been called "Voodoo Men." Lugosi appears in an evening suit with a goatee, but he isn't in the least menacing. In fact, he seems rather urbane. Again, the Richard Charles screenplay is lean on details so we know little about why Marlowe has a house in the woods or how his wife died. Nothing memorable occurs aside from the oddball voodoo ceremony. Nevertheless, Lugosi's presence is what makes "Voodoo Man" worth watching