ISLE OF THE SNAKE PEOPLE (1971) Reviews of Boris Karloff zombie movie

  

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‘Voodoo rituals… on an island of evil!’
Isle of the Snake People is a 1968 Mexican/American horror film revolving around voodoo ceremonies that raise the dead.

Directed by Juan Ibáñez from a screenplay co-written with producer Luis Enrique Vergara. American filmmaker Jack Hill was also involved – see below for details.

The Azteca Films stars Boris Karloff, Julissa, Carlos East, Rafael Bertrand, Yolanda Montes [Tongolele], Quintín Bulnes and Santanón.

Background:
Isle of the Snake People is one of four low-budget Mexican horror films Karloff made in a package deal with Mexican producer Luis Enrique Vergara, the others being The Incredible Invasion; Fear Chamber and House of Evil. With Karloff signed, Vergara obtained financing for the four films from Columbia Pictures, which would then distribute them. Karloff received $100,000 per film. Karloff initially rejected the scripts for all of the films but agreed to them after they were rewritten by Jack Hill.

Filming was planned to take place in Mexico, but Karloff’s emphysema prevented him from working at that altitude. Karloff’s scenes in all four films were directed by Jack Hill at the Dored Studios in Los Angeles in the spring of 1968. Between shots, Karloff rested in a wheelchair. The films were then completed in Mexico at Studios America Mexico.

Some additional scenes involving the van Molder character were filmed using a Karloff stand-in named Jerry Petty. Due to the unexpected death of producer Vergara, the release of the film was held up to determine ownership rights of inheritance under Mexican law.

The film was released as La muerte viviente [“The Living Dead”] in Mexico and in the US in 1971 as a Spanish-language film. It was later dubbed in English but received little theatrical distribution, and was then released for television. The film is also known as Cult of the Dead and Snake People.

Plot:
French Police Captain Labesch (Rafael Bertrand) arrives at the remote island of Kulabai, determined to crack down on the island’s lawlessness, spurred by the voodoo rites practised by an evil priest referred to as Damballah.

Labesch begins with local tycoon Carl van Molder (Boris Karloff) who warns him not to interfere with the local populace. Annabella (Julissa), van Molder’s visiting niece, is a temperance crusader who wants her uncle to help fund the International Anti-Saloon League. She falls in love with handsome police lieutenant Andrew Wilhelm (Carlos East), despite his fondness for rum.

Meanwhile, beautiful native girls are being transformed into zombies, and a sinister snake dancer named Kalea (Yolanda Montes) leads them to attack and devour any meddling policemen who get too close to their unholy rituals.

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When Annabella is kidnapped and prepared to be the cult’s latest human sacrifice, Labesch and Wilhelm have to infiltrate their ranks to save her, and they finally learn the secret identity of the all-powerful Damballah…

Reviews:

“Karloff is a good sport, lending an air of class and sophistication to a movie that deserves none, and aside from a few obvious stand-ins, the integration of his scenes with the remainder of the production isn’t bad. La Muerte Viviente won’t scare anyone, but the sweaty, hallucinogenic voodoo of this sleazy horror show is fun and undeniably weird.” AllMovie

“Human sacrifice. Dance numbers. Near-psychedelic images. Zombies. Well, as to that latter part of this movie, Night of the Living Dead came out in the years between when this movie was made and when it was released. By that point, this seemed dated. No matter. Watching it today, I was beyond entertained by it.” B&S About Movies

The Snake People is probably the best of the quartet (which admittedly isn’t saying much!), featuring some bizarre imagery, flesh-eating zombies, voodoo rituals, human sacrifice, and other cool stuff! Karloff looks ill (and he was), but still manages to command every scene he’s in.” Cracked Rear Viewer

“There’s a lot of trippy dance sequences (with erotic belly dancing by Yolanda Montes aka “Tongolele”), a nasty dwarf […] and a Karloff double who sports a black hood and cigar and is much sprier than his elderly alter ego. Like with most of his Mexican-made thrillers, Boris is better than the material and even though the film has its moments, it’s mainly a botched effort.” DVD Drive-In

“Most of the picture concerns the natives performing gruesome rituals, and there’s a dreary romantic subplot involving van Molder’s niece and a dashing young military officer. Karloff has a bit more screen time in this one and seems moderately livelier than he does in Alien Terror, but with his diminished physicality and silly-looking Colonel Sanders outfit, he’s hardly intimidating…” Every ’70s Movie

” …ideas are introduced and dropped, some scenes exist purely for exploitation purposes […] and as the movie progresses, it becomes clear that a coherent script was never really crafted for this one. The most interesting thing I can find about this one is Karloff’s performance; it isn’t one of his best, but he does give it his all…” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

“I feel that I have somewhat cheated in this review by simply relating things that occurred and following that by saying that I didn’t understand what it was about. But at least I’m being honest. Most of this film simply defies rationality. I dare anyone to watch this film and not be entertained by the sheer randomness of the experience.” The Grumpy Young Man

“The plot stuff has this weird thing where it sometimes feels like boring filler, while the actual filler tends to be more interesting […] I couldn’t ever tell you how important those voodoo scenes were, but I could at least stay awake easily during them.  The whole thing builds up to an obvious reveal for anyone who’s seen any movie ever.” Mondo Bizarro

“The film has been padded with endless scenes of native voodoo dances and of heroine Julisea being pursued by a doppelganger in her dream seemingly in order to pad out its running time. If nothing else, these scenes do provide the film with a certain tawdry torridness. In this respect, one of the film’s pluses is the malevolently sultry presence of Tongolele.” Moria

“Plot seemed to be an afterthought, only considered when shooting was complete for scenes featuring the scantly clad priestess dancing in rituals and closeups of snakes. So bad it’s good, I laughed more while watching this than I did during the entire set of comedy films that preceeded my horror section. I rate it o.k. because it’s a terrible film, but I found it funny.” Psychostacy of the Film

“This isn’t a good film by any means though is not unentertaining, the voodoo rites follow the usual script with plenty of skulls, fires, near-naked women dancing with snakes and a sinister dwarf. However, they often go on a bit with not much happening. The plot doesn’t really make such sense either but the film looks pretty good.” Quota Quickie

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“Though sometimes strange to the point of psychedelic, this tame offering consists of interminable scenes of native rites, women trying to look seductively evil, and shots of snakes.” Peter Dendle, The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia

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Choice dialogue:
Anabella Vandenberg [Julissa]: “Modern science has shown that alcoholism is responsible for 99.2% of all the world’s sins.”
Klinsor [Quintín Bulnes]: “Imagine. A beautiful woman who can’t talk. Every man’s dream [laughs].”

Cast and characters:
Boris Karloff – Carl van Molder / Damballah
Julissa – Anabella Vandenberg
Carlos/Charles East – Lt. Andrew Wilhelm
Rafael/Ralph Bertrand – Police Captain Pierre Labesch
Yolanda Montes [Tongolele] – Kalea
Quintín Bulnes – Klinsor
Santanón – Dwarf
Julia/July Marichal – Mary Ann Vandenberg
Quintin Miller – Gomez

Technical details:
1 hour 30 minutes
Audio: Mono

Trailer:

TV spot:

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