Film Review: VOODOO MAN (1944)

VOODOO MAN *** USA 1944 Dir: William Beaudine. 62 mins

The last of nine Monogram movies starring Bela Lugosi, this fascinating, self-referential quickie (shot in seven days) opens with a sequence so cliched in modern horror that you wonder if it felt fresh and chilling in 1944. A young woman stops off at a gas station for directions from a slightly ominous attendant who prefigures hundreds of harbingers to come: “You’re a stranger in this part of the world, aren’t you?” Car trouble ends in abduction at the hands of two goons – one of them played by a floppy haired, twitchy, lanky John Carradine, who loves pretty girls a little too much, lives in fear of his master (Lugosi) and affectionately strokes the hair of those he drags back to Master’s home. Meanwhile, George Zucco’s Banner Productions (the company that made this movie) hires Hollywood “sap” Tod Andrews to write a movie about the recent series of vanishing lady motorists. Lugosi, suited up with bowtie and Satanic goatee, is great fun as he spies on potential victims on the wartime equivalent of CCTV and doles out beatings to his underlings. Even in a cheap, throwaway pic like this, the actor brings considerable presence to a tragic antagonist who preserves his long-dead wife at home and has an army of enslaved women in his basement as part of the endgame to find the perfect mind with which to revive his deceased beloved. It’s a fascinating product of its time, with period detail encompassing WWII rationing and a male character joking about “paddling” a woman for stepping out of line. The jokey ending predates the endless trend for “meta” genre movies as the hero brings in his script for “Voodoo Man” and suggests the studio try and get Bela Lugosi for the role: “It’s right up his alley!”

Review by Steven West


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