‘The weird jungle of cobra plants that feed on women – and rip women apart!’
Voodoo Island is a 1957 American horror feature film directed by Reginald Le Borg (Diary of a Madman; The Black Sleep; The Mummy’s Ghost) from a screenplay written by Richard H. Landau. It was produced by Howard W. Koch (Macabre; Frankenstein 1970; Pharaoh’s Curse).
The movie stars Boris Karloff, Elisha Cook Jr. (Rosemary’s Baby; The Night Stalker) and Rhodes Reason.
Hotel entrepreneur Howard Carlton (Owen Cunningham) is planning a new hotel/resort on a distant Pacific Island. A survey team that had been sent out earlier disappeared except for Mitchell (Glenn Dixon, Supervixens) who returned in a zombie-like state.
In order to make sure nothing suspicious is going on, arch-sceptic Philip Knight (Karloff, Frankenstein, The Mummy), an investigative reporter, is dispatched to investigate.
Anything but subtle, Knight takes along a party of five, including the catatonic Mitchell, his assistant Sara Adams (Beverley Tyler), resort manager Martin Schuler (Elisha Cook, Rosemary’s Baby, Messiah of Evil) and various other interested parties. Alas, before the journey begins, Mitchell drops dead, leaving behind only a voodoo effigy as a clue.
Wearing his best baseball cap, Knight and his party arrive at the island, despite the bad omens of a broken ship and their food supplies going off, essentially stranding them on the island. It’s not just a human threat the need to concern themselves with, a carnivorous plant devours one of their group, whilst the rest find themselves captured by fancy dress-clad locals and are further alarmed at the sight of their miniature likenesses, complete with pins in them.
Knight is relatively unruffled but when he finds Schuler in a trance (shortly before he wanders carelessly off a bridge), he is forced to admit he believes in what he previously dismissed as hokum but is it too late for the survivors to escape Voodoo Island?
Is this Karloff’s lowest ebb? It must be close, the great actor appearing in an American film for the first time in four years after a brief diversion appearing on television, he’s admittedly given little to work with in terms of an utterly threadbare script but his stoic, clipped delivery is more radio announcer than dismissive explorer and the overall effect is one of neither hero or villain but insufferable bore.
The film itself seems at least a decade out of date in many ways, the pocket-money special effects of the draught excluder killer plant and clearly minute shooting area only tempered by a genuinely courageous attempt to include a gay character in a Hollywood film, the character of Claire (later lunch for for the shrub) played by Jean Engstrom in an openly lesbian role.
With hardly any voodoo in the film, indeed there seems to be a good degree of confusion as to what it may consist of, the film is little more than a brief safari, filmed on location but looking far more back garden in scope.
The excellently-named Reginald Le Borg also directed The Mummy’s Ghost, whilst writer Richard Landau had no such excuse, having written the screenplays to The Quatermass Xperiment and much-forgotten live-action Disney effort, The Black Hole.
Of much more interest is the score by Les Baxter, the master of exotica, in the middle of his Tiki-scapes but at the beginning of his film score career, later to include the likes of House of Usher, The Dunwich Horror and the AIP version of Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath. In common with much of this film, it’s not his greatest work and features some particularly annoying theremin to denote someone being cursed.
After being released theatrically by United Artists in 1957, the film was retitled Silent Death for its 1963 second outing with The Black Sleep (as Doctor Cadman’s Secret) by Cari Releasing Corp.
Future Batman, Adam West, has an uncredited minor role as a radio operator. It would be the 1960’s before Karloff’s career really took off again, despite the best efforts of all concerned here.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES & MANIA
“They could have cut a half-hour out of this movie and even then it still might have been too long. The special effects were horrid and even Roger Corman could have come up with something a little better on his worst day. The zombie looked all right, but the man eating plants and those balloon-like tubes in the water could have used a bit more work.” The Telltale Mind
” …Voodoo Island isn’t even as good as the same team’s earlier Pharaoh’s Curse/Curse of the Pharaoh. And despite the presence of the word “voodoo” in the title, and of a couple of ostensible zombies in the film itself, this movie’s creators were far more interested in their three different species of man-eating plants than they were in sinister island magic.” Scott Ashlin, 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting
“Voodoo Island is not a good movie. The presence of Karloff is really all that is saving it from complete obscurity … By the time the ball does get rolling, the film is almost over and is forced to squeeze not only its action sequences, but also it’s conclusion into the final 15 minutes.” Horror and Sons
“It’s an unfortunate B-movie in which the setup is better than the payoff. But such is the case with Voodoo Island whose first half is more intense and mysterious than its second half … Fake looking killer plants are part of the problem. Drab island footage is another part. An uninteresting climax is the third part.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers
“Le Borg chucks in as much adventuring as he can – camping, hacking through the jungle, skinny dipping, rope bridges – but the problem is that these are at the lower end of the excitement scale. What the film lacks is genuine action between these moments; it’s like a thrilling jungle adventure movie from which all the thrilling bits have been removed.” Cinema Delirium
Cast and characters:
- Boris Karloff – Phillip Knight
- Beverly Tyler – Sarah Adams
- Murvyn Vye – Barney Finch
- Elisha Cook Jr. – Martin Schuyler (as Elisha Cook)
- Rhodes Reason – Matthew Gunn
- Jean Engstrom – Claire Winter
- Friedrich von Ledebur – Native Chief (as Frederich Ledebur)
- Glenn Dixon – Mitchell
- Owen Cunningham – Howard Carlton
- Herbert Patterson – Doctor Wilding
- Jerry Frank – Vickers
- Adam West – Weather Station #4 Radio Operator (uncredited)
Phillip Knight: “No, you fool! They’ll slaughter us to bits.”
Filmed on Kauai, Hawaii back-to-back with Jungle Heat.
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