Voodoo Woman (1956) *˝
Okay, it's official. My taste in movies is definitely getting worse. For absolutely no reason I can think of, I honestly found Voodoo Woman slightly less boring than I did The She-Creature when I watched the latter movie two years ago. The comparison between the two flicks is a natural one for several reasons. Edward Cahn, who directed The She-Creature, seems to have gotten to work on this film almost immediately after it was completed. Voodoo Woman re-used virtually the entire She-Creature cast (backed up by most of the supporting players from The Day the World Ended, just in case that wasn’t a ringing enough endorsement for you), and most of Paul Blaisdel’s amazing monster suit as well. I say “most” because the She-Creature herself has undergone a few changes since we last saw her. She’s lost all of her fins and flippers, traded in her lobster claws for a pair of four-fingered hands, and gotten herself an entirely new head equipped with a much nicer blonde wig than the one she had before. She’s also started wearing clothes—assuming, of course, that the shapeless, sack-like floral-print number she parades around in here truly qualifies as clothing. And with the lag-time between the two movies apparently being no more than what was required for Blaisdel to re-vamp the monster suit, Cahn naturally had no chance to learn any of the filmmaking lessons the miserable results of his efforts on The She-Creature ought to have taught him. Yet I didn’t find myself calculating the time remaining until the closing credits nearly as often during Voodoo Woman. Again, I'm pretty sure it’s just me.
Since this movie is called Voodoo Woman, it’s only fair that it should begin with a voodoo ceremony. Chaka the witch doctor (Martin Wilkins, from The Vampire’s Ghost, who also played a houngan in I Walked with a Zombie) is busy casting some spell or other over a “native” girl (it looks to me like she’s really a white chick in full-body makeup) whom he calls Zuranda (Jean Davis), and strangely enough, he has a white man assisting him. The paleface is Dr. Roland Gerard (Tom Conway, from Cat People and The Seventh Victim), a typically mad scientist who has come to Africa (or Haiti, or wherever the hell this is supposed to be) to carry on his unholy work. From the look of it, these two are trying to turn Zuranda into some kind of monster, though God alone knows what the point of that might be. And sure enough, after “the blood of a fox— to make her crafty,” “the claw of a cougar— to make her strong,” and “the venom of a viper— to make her kill” are added to the voodoo recipe, Zuranda turns into a very slightly less bizarre version of the She-Creature— but only for a couple of seconds. I guess there are still a few bugs to be worked out of Gerard and Chaka's union of “black voodoo and white science.”
The scientist and the witch doctor have an audience above and beyond the warriors of the tribe, however. (And while we’re on the subject of the tribespeople, I sure do hope those extras got a good price for their dignity...) Dr. Gerard is married, you see, and his cute little trophy-wife Susan (Mary Ellen Ray, from Tarzan and the Slave Girl and Francis in the Haunted House— now there’s a resume for you!) is watching the show uneasily from her window. The Gerards aren't exactly the picture of marital bliss. The doctor keeps his wife quite literally locked in the house— and even under guard— at all times, and has apparently given orders for her to be killed in the event that she should ever come close to escaping. Something tells me this is going to be really important later.
Meanwhile, at the nearest outpost of civilization, a man named Harry West (Norman Willis, from The Living Ghost and Zombies of the Stratosphere) is about to get himself into big trouble. He means to go out into the jungle and has arranged to hire a guide, but he refuses to tell the man who found him the guide what his object in doing so is. This is a good move on West’s part, because the other man, Rick Brady (Lance Fuller, from This Island Earth and The She-Creature), is a really shady character, and his fiancee, Marilyn Blanchard (Maria English, also of The She-Creature), is even worse. Both are quite certain that West is on some kind of treasure hunt, and they are determined to get their hands on whatever loot he’s looking for out in the jungle. Marilyn figures out what it’s all about when she sneaks into West’s room at the inn and goes through his closet. Inside one of West’s bags is a voodoo doll encrusted with gold and gemstones. The scheming woman kills West, and instructs Rick to pose as the dead man when the guide finally shows up. Because Ted Bronson (Michael “Touch” Connors, of Jaguar and The Day the World Ended) has never met West, and has only spoken to Rick over a shitty, Third-World telephone line, the guide never does notice the substitution.
A whole lot of what follows is devoted to this trio’s trek across the jungle, but it’s all really boring and I’d rather not concern myself with it. All you need to know for now is that they’re headed in the general direction of Chaka’s village, and that Marilyn has started to think Bronson would make a better partner than Brady, despite (in fact, probably because of) his determined resistance to her wiles. Instead, let’s talk about Dr. Gerard and his new pet monster. For some reason, it’s really important to him that she be a vicious killer, but because Zuranda possesses a distinctly pacific character by nature, it’s going to take more than the venom of a viper to make her do any real harm to a human being. What’s more, every time Gerard orders her to kill one of the natives from the next village over, the spell breaks down and Zuranda returns to normal. Eventually, the frustrated doctor realizes the girl is hopeless as a monster, and sends her home. On the way, though, Zuranda runs afoul of Rick Brady, who is just then doing a little solo recon while Marilyn works on Bronson back at the campsite. Brady attempts to rape the native girl, but he ends up strangling her to death while trying to stop her struggles; when the rest of the tribe finds Zuranda’s body the next morning, they are not pleased.
These are some perceptive natives, too, in that they swiftly figure out that those white folks they’ve been seeing tromping through the jungle are to blame for the girl’s death. They also think this turn of events gives them a terrific excuse to get rid of Dr. Gerard, and the only way the scientist is able to keep his skin intact is by suggesting that the tribe’s warriors capture the other whites and force them to kill whichever of their number is the guilty party. When the plan is put into effect, Marilyn guns down her fiance without batting an eyelash, and that gets Gerard thinking. He wants to make a female killing machine to prove his unelaborated whack-job theory, right? Zuranda was a no-go because she was too peaceable, right? So why not try the monster mojo again, using Marilyn as the experimental subject? Yeah, that’s the ticket! All he needs to do is convince her that the transformative ritual is really some kind of initiation ceremony, and that as an official voodoo priestess, she’ll have access to all the tribe’s gold, and he’ll be good to go. Then we can finally have the obligatory scene where Bronson has to square off against the monster while trying to escape with Susan Gerard, and the closing credits will be within sight!
I don't know. Once upon a time, I don't think I’d have been able to sit through all 77 minutes of Voodoo Woman. These days, though, I’ve subjected myself to so much utter trash that a movie like this— which is merely dull and merely stupid— can barely get a rise out of me. In fact, had I not forced myself to pay sufficient attention to write about it later, I’m not at all certain I would even have remembered more about this movie than the bare fact that I’d seen it after a day or two. It certainly isn’t any good, but neither is it awful enough to stick in the memory, and most people surely won’t find it worth the bother to hunt down when there is so much more memorable celluloid junk from AlP’s first decade out there to be seen.