2. Voodoo Woman (1957)
Another film to make an all-time worst list, on this occasion that of Brandon Christopher’s 2004 video The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made. Now bear in mind Christopher’s list includes both the timeless The Thing with Two Heads (1972) and a Three Stooges movie (1962’s harmless The Three Stooges In Orbit), and so possibly invalidating all his other choices, means in my view we can cut Voodoo Woman a little slack. Rather like Troll 2 (1990), Hobgoblins (1988) and The Creeping Terror (1964), Voodoo Woman has had its time in the spotlight as ‘the worst film of all time,’ but that’s some way off the mark. Directed by Edward L Cahn, also responsible for celebrated downers such as Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) and Invisible Invaders (1959), but also the superior It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958), Voodoo Woman is one of those Hollywood b-movies which thinks voodoo originates from that vast amorphous country known as ‘Africa,’ and if you think this means black natives dancing and chanting, throwing spears, and wearing headgear a flamingo could nest in, you know what to expect from Voodoo Woman.
Our film concerns Dr Roland Gerard (Tom Conway, George Saunders’ brother and replacement in the later The Falcon movies), who has allied himself with Chaka (Martin Wilkins), chief and witch doctor of a jungle tribe, in order to create a new race of super-beings. Insane, yes, but also surprisingly successful, as Dr Gerard and Chaka transform a young tribeswoman into an indestructible scaly beast who roars like a lion regardless of whether it opens its mouth or not. The transformation is only temporary, and the monster reverts back to the young woman whenever Dr Gerard mentally commands the it to kill, something the woman would not do in ordinary life. All this commotion is to the dismay of the doctor’s wife, Susan (Mary Ellen Kaye), kept under ‘house arrest’ by her husband for seven years, and her English-speaking servant, the insultingly named Bobo (Otis Greene).
Heading for the tribe’s village are Marilyn Blanchard (Marla English), her no-mark boyfriend Rick (Lance Fuller) and guide Ted Bronson (Mike ‘Touch’ Connors, later the star of TV’s Mannix). Marilyn is one of the toughest female characters I’ve seen in a 1950s fantasy film, although as ever in such cases, Marilyn is a criminal and one who’d give the nefarious ne’er-do-wells of Swamp Women (1955) a run for their ill-gained money. Marilyn swigs whisky, guns down a Humphrey Bogart impersonator (Harry, played by Norman Willis), and attempts to seduce Ted every step of the way through the jungle. Her overriding objective is wealth, namely the gold the tribe use in their sacred rituals. “I haven’t been scared of anything since I was two,” she explains, later adding “I was born in the slums of Pittsburgh.” Well, quite.
While not a terrible film, Voodoo Woman is samey and underwhelming, with Conway clearly wishing he was elsewhere and English not knowing when to turn down the vamping, although there’s an enjoyable turn by Paul Dubov as Marcel, the world-weary barkeep playing various characters off against each other. Even if you’ve seen only a few 1950s horrors, then Voodoo Woman will feel all too familiar; in fact, if you’ve seen The She-Creature (1956), you’ve seen the film’s monster before, played here as then by legendary costumer designer Paul Blaisdell. Otherwise, it’s business as usual: the blonde screamer is as virtuous as the brunette schemer is villainous; the loopy doctor with a secret lab plans to get his own back on the academics who mocked him; the deaths are feebly staged; Rick and Ted have a fight during the jungle trek; the natives are revolting (and portrayed in a racist manner); and so on and so on. Ted puts an end to the shenanigans by treating the entire village to molotov cocktails and scooting with Susie back to Marcel’s bar to live sweatily ever after. The film’s twist ending suggests a sequel, but Voodoo Woman‘s reception was so poor, no further films were forthcoming.
Sample dialogue: “We’re going into the jungle to find a secret recipe for borscht. There’s millions in it. HA HA HA HA HA!”