Autopsy of a Ghost (original title: Autopsia de un Fantasma) is a 1967 Mexican horror-comedy feature film, directed by Ismael Rodríguez and starring Basil Rathbone (cinema’s most famous Sherlock Holmes), John Carradine (Houses of both Frankenstein and Dracula) and Cameron Mitchell (Blood and Black Lace, The Toolbox Murders). The remaining cast were all Spanish speakers – the film is most notable for the final screen role for Rathbone who died in New York City on July 21, 1967, aged seventy-five. The movie was released in 1968.
Elizabethan dandy, Canuto Perez (Rathbone), roams the Earth in limbo, having committed suicide 400 years previously, doomed to potter about in ghostly form in a lonely castle. To keep him company, he has his own skeleton, which has managed to separate itself from his person and interacts with him as an individual entity, usually being contrary, and a chuckling tarantula.
Perez’s previous life had seen him carousing with ladies without much thought for their feelings and his suicide came as an escape from the Earthly punishment which faced him. A little overdue, Satan (Carradine) appears and offers him a way out – he has four days to make one of four women fall in love with him to such an extent that they would be willing to die for him. The catch is that he mustn’t venture beyond the four walls of the castle and must rely on the Devil to tempt the unlucky females into his lair. Cue much dressing up, a robot and a child who’s at least 30 years old.
The same year George Romero was re-writing the horror rulebook, Carradine and Rathbone had serious gas bills to pay and lowered themselves to appearing in Mexican farces, the horror, and comedy of which would already have been outdated by their heydays in the ’30s and ’40s. The pair had already disgraced themselves (along with Lon Chaney Jr) in the previous year’s Hillbillys in a Haunted House but little could prepare them or the audiences, such as they were, for this jaw-dropping mess.
It actually starts rather entertainingly, the jokes are passable, the sets are well decorated and it’s huge fun to see three such famous faces in such bizarre circumstances. Sadly, the joke wears thin extremely quickly, a particular shame as the running time is gargantuan for what it is – approaching the two-hour mark. Worse still, so excited are the film-makers, they forget to include our heroes for around half the film.
Carradine later asserted that Rathbone’s death, shortly after filming, could be attributed to the high altitude they filmed at. That, or presumably, he got to watch the film. It would seem that Rathbone and Carradine both read their lines in English and were dubbed, rather than learning phonetically; Mitchell, the show-off, spoke his, like the rest of the cast, in Spanish. Though the few supporters of the film would claim that Rathbone is having some fun in his twilight years, his scenes as Cyrano de Bergerac and reading Hamlet rather smack of ridicule at his expense.
Shot in colour on a budget seemingly stratospherically higher than standard Mexican films, the urge to pack as much in as possible makes it absolute torture to watch, a constant parade of ridiculous characters, none of whom are any real fun or offer anything of interest.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES and MANIA
Thanks to BasilRathbone.net for some of the images.