Thursday, March 3, 2016

#2,026. Voodoo Man (1944)

Directed By: William Beaudine

Starring: Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, George Zucco


Trivia: Phil Rosen was originally set to direct, but production delays resulted in his being assigned to another picture

1944’s Voodoo Man was the last movie that Bela Lugosi made for Poverty Row’s Monogram Pictures, and of the ones I’ve seen thus far (including The Corpse Vanishes and Spooks Run Wild), it’s easily the best.

Dr. Richard Marlowe (Lugosi) is trying to bring his wife Evelyn (Ellen Hall) back from the dead (he’s managed to keep her in a zombie-like state for over 20 years). With the help of his assistant Toby (John Carradine) as well as gas station attendant / voodoo witch doctor Nicholas (George Zucco), Marlowe lures female motorists off the highway, abducts them, and then attempts to transfer their “life essence” to his catatonic beloved. Despite a few promising results, the experiment has thus far been a failure. To make matters worse, Hollywood screenwriter Ralph Dawson (Tod Andrews) and his fiancée Betty (Wanda McKay) have inadvertently fallen into Marlowe’s trap, threatening to expose his devious plan to the world before it has a chance to succeed.

While the story itself isn’t the most original (it has a lot in common with the much inferior Lugosi / Monogram offering The Corpse Vanishes), Voodoo Man benefits from having not one, but three actors at the top of their game. Lugosi is once again cast as the heavy, but seeing as his character is doing it all for love, we can sympathize with him to a point. As usual, his performance is top-notch (he’s particularly good in a scene in which Marlowe’s zombified wife, having briefly woken up, sinks back into a trance, a moment that allows the actor to emote a bit), and we even get a few close-ups of the now-famous “Lugosi stare” (an hypnotic gaze that’s used to great effect in the film).

While their roles aren’t anywhere as big as Lugosi’s, Zucco displays a raw energy in the scenes where his character is performing voodoo rituals (usually in the background), and Carradine’s turn as the dim-witted Toby, though heavy-handed at times, proves that he was as effective in these early B-movies as he was in such classics as Stagecoach and The Grapes of Wrath (he doesn’t even break character when, just before the first voodoo ritual, he accidentally burns his hand with a match).

The rest of the cast doesn’t fare nearly as well; Ralph Dawson is pretty weak as the writer turned hero, and the less said about the Sheriff (Henry Hall) and his deputy, Elmer (Dan White), the better (despite being the “comic relief” of the movie, the highlight of their witty repartee is a discussion about whether or not they’ll find a car parked in a living room). But with Lugosi, Zucco, and Carradine firing on all cylinders, Voodoo Man still manages to stand apart from Bela’s other Monogram films.

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