And I especially want to thank Sheri for braving Blogger's mind-boggling back end to post some extraordinarily nice words about me which -- as she helpfully suggested in a message -- I should be able to repurpose for my funeral. Having her return to the wonderfully weird little community she created was the best present I could have received.
And I have another treat for you guys: Hank Parmer, the Human Oven Mitt is back, providing a protective layer of quilted fabric between you and sizzlingly bad cinema. Today Hank examines the motion picture which answers that age-old question, "Just how crappy does a movie have to be before it rates second billing to Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster?"
Curse of the Voodoo (Original title: Voodoo Blood Death)
A Galaworld production, in black and white. In 1965. Keep in mind that we're not dealing with just any old voodoo here, but the Voodoo.
The movie opens with some African natives jumping up and down around a bonfire, to the pounding of jungle drums. A female dancer is really getting into it. One warrior seems to be practicing with his spear. He needs all the practice he can get: he's got a bad case of the shakes, so his aim is bound to be awful. The dancer falls down. (She'll do that a lot.)
Stock footage of Africa, accompanied by the hyper-manly, John-Barry-knockoff score we'll come to heartily loathe during the course of this film.
Voice-over: Africa - a country [so what if those snooty geographers call it a “continent”] that for centuries was hidden from civilized men. [e.g. White male Western Europeans] Africa - a country of grandeur, power, beauty and sudden death. Africa - where primitive tribes still practice evil religions which weave a dark web of death around all who sin against their gods. One such god is Simba, the lion. [There's also Goomba, the wiseguy, and Skwishi, the slug, although for some reason these don't attract as many followers.] And for any man who dares to kill a lion, the penalty is death!
The veldt – actually, Regent's Park, but let's not quibble – where we're introduced to our hero, the extremely manly Great White Hunter, Mike Stacey (Bryant Haliday). Alright, so he's actually a pale, cadaverous gink who sort of resembles George F. Will, if Will ditched the glasses and bow tie, grew about a half-inch more chin and got an ash-blond rinse ... but he's got a very masculine musical theme!
He watches through binoculars as his dweebish client Radlett shoots at, but, predictably, only wounds some stock footage of a lion, which promptly takes off into the stock footage bush. Maj. Lomas – played by Dennis Price, the Real Actor in this mess, who's obviously been diligently cultivating his gin blooms since his star turn in Kind Hearts and Coronets – tells Radlett that they can't leave a wounded lion roaming about. Especially in Regent's Park, where it might raise havoc with joggers.
Mike disgustedly informs his client that he'll be the one who has to go in after it. More hyper-manly theme, as Mike and his "boys" spread out and go after the lion. Bad news: not only is the lion wounded, but he's gone over the hill and taken refuge in territory inhabited by the dreaded Simbaza tribe, which is verboten to lion-hunting honkies. The others refuse to go any further.
Mike: "Don't tell me you believe in that mumbo-jumbo."
Lomas: "I've been here long enough never to dismiss anything as mumbo-jumbo!" (Boogedy-boo, however, is a different story.)
Mike insists he can get in, kill the lion and be back in time for tea. Mike's faithful gun-bearer Saidi tries to dissuade him, but he persists in his mad scheme. Saidi reluctantly follows him.
Meanwhile, Radlett dithers and halfheartedly suggests he really ought to go with Mike, since he was the one who wounded the lion. (Uh-huh.) In a vain attempt to divert everyone from his wimpiness, he asks Major Lomas what all the fuss is with the Simbazas.
Lomas explains they worship lions, and practice a potent brew of black magic and merciless passive aggression. Radlett scoffs, but Lomas is deadly serious: "Mr. Radlett, this is neither Southend nor Surrey. These people are further from civilization than Stone Age men!" (The Major would sing a different tune, if he'd ever attended the charity jumble at St. Dunstan's.)
Radlett: "Yes, but he didn't seem frightened!"
Lomas: "He's either a fool – or a very brave man."
Cut to Mike and Saidi, stalking the dweeb's wounded lion through a stand of "African" maples, to the exotic chirping of British songbirds. Underscoring his manliness, Mike tells Saidi to wait, while he continues the hunt alone. Stock footage of lion. Mike follows it through a lush forest and rain-wet leaves. More lion footage, shot on the dry and dusty veldt. Mike hears a growl. Stock footage of lion running at camera. Mike shoots. Stock footage of leaping lion. The camera's POV savagely attacks Mike, who drops the rifle and puts his arms up.
Lomas and Radlett hear the gunshot.
Radlett: "He got him! I wish I'd been with him!" Right. You know, you're not fooling anyone.
Back to Mike. The (off-camera) lion's dead, though he did give Mike a nasty boo-boo in the left shoulder. Saidi runs to help him. I never knew you could fend off a charging, fully-grown, 500-pound African lion by simply putting your arms out in front of you.
Back to Lomas and Radlett. Ominous thunder of drums. Radlett wants to know that it means.
Lomas: "It means the hunter has become the hunted!" Thank you, Major Exposition.
Back to Mike and Saidi, who's applying some first aid to where the lion nicked Mike in the shoulder. Mike takes a swig from his hip flask. The drums are getting louder. Saidi's worried: "We must get out of here, Mr. Mike: this is a bad place!" But Mike insists they skin the lion for Radlett, first. Of course, they won't be attacked by outraged Simbazas – that would be too easy. Plus, as we'll see, the Simbazas are major wusses.
The safari camp, at night: the drums are still at it.
Mike's clients are impressed by the moth-eaten pelt. "It must have measured eleven feet from nose to tip of tail!" gushes the client who's so insignificant he's listed in the credits merely as “Hunter #2”. He wants to know if Mike's shot many lions.
"Too many," answers our morose protagonist.
The bearers are uneasy: they're sitting around their campfire, whispering and casting the occasional worried glance at Mike. Mike: "Damn boys are getting out of hand!" Why, next they'll be conversing in a normal tone of voice; who knows what might happen then!
Lomas says they're frightened of the drums. Mike sneers: "Africa is full of drums." And my hovercraft is full of eels.
"Not Simbaza drums," retorts the Major.
Mike's not impressed: "Simbaza! If that nonsense were true, I would have been dead long ago, and they know it!"
Radlett, always craving attention, wants everything explained to him yet again. Lomas says that the Simbazas believe the lion is a god, and if you kill one, it's instantly avenged. (But if you step on one of Skwishi the slug's avatars, you're only out the price of a new pair of sandals.)
Mike quite rightly points out that he's killed dozens of lions, with no ill effects – well, except to the lions.
"But not in Simbaza territory!" Lomas reminds him.
Mike won't have any of this: "The Simbazas are just another backwards tribe that would come and carry your bags for 2 cents a day, like all the rest." (This was identified by Toynbee as the "bellhop" stage of civilization.)
Cut to leaping Simbazas. One of the drummers has chosen to jazz up his straw cape and loincloth ensemble with a Wilfred headdress. Whole lotta spear-shakin' goin' on.
Back to camp: Mike's hitting the hip flask again.
Lomas: "Haven't you had enough?"
Mike: "I've never had enough." This I can believe.
The drums suddenly fall quiet. A delegation of Simbazas approaches the camp. The head man glares at the lion pelt, gives Mike the stink-eye, then, without a word, plunges his spear into the ground between Mike's feet. The Simbazas depart in silence, satisfied that now Mike will worry all night over whether it was something he said.
Next morning: Mike wants to start the day with a drink, natch. When he emerges from his tent, he notices Saidi and Lomas are packing up the Land Rover. Safari's off: the bearers have deserted. Lomas tells Mike they left because they think he's bad luck. (Although it's possible the Major may have mistranslated the Swahili for "lousy actor".)
Lomas, Mike and Saidi drive across Regent's Park – I mean, the veldt – in a very manly manner, according to the score.
More stock footage of African wildlife, intercut with a dirt road in the back country of Regent's Park. Mike passes out – I mean, dozes off. Saidi's face is superimposed on dancing Simbazas. The steering wheel develops a mind of its own. Lomas loses control of the Land Rover, which ends up in a mudhole. Mike cracks his head against the dashboard; while he's groggy and more than normally helpless, Saidi attacks him with a knife. Lomas struggles with Saidi bare-handed. Despite the fact that this is a match-up between a puffy alcoholic in his mid-50s and a fairly fit-looking guy in his 30s, armed with a big knife, the Major quickly overcomes the possessed gun-bearer.
Lomas tries to shoot Saidi, but the bolt on his rifle won't cooperate. Saidi wisely beats feet. The Major finally gets a round chambered, but Mike comes to just in time to deflect his rifle. Saidi disappears over the hill into Simbazaland.
The next scene takes place in a bar in "Johannesburg". Much of this movie is shot in cheaply-furnished dives. You really have to hand it to them: few filmmakers would have come up with the idea of crossing Allan Quatermain with Charles Bukowski.
Lomas tries without success to get Mike on the phone. Back at his table, the Major has an expository conversation with his female companion, who snidely predicts Mike's probably drinking himself into oblivion somewhere. We find out Mike's wife has gone home to her mother in London, taking his son with her.
Lomas protests: "Mike gave her everything she could want!"
Lady friend: "Except the sense that she was being wanted."
Lomas: "You can't be married to a big game hunter and expect him to behave like Little Lord Fauntelroy." (For one thing, the other big game hunters would cruelly taunt him about his long, curly hair and velvet pantaloons.)
Lady friend: "You just don't understand."
Enough of this: it's time for the Dance of the Very Tight Gold Lamé Pants, starring the well-upholstered coryphee last seen performing at the Simbazas' voodoo hoedown. Her outfit's topped off by a gold lamé halter, with tassles on the titty-tips. She wiggles her butt and shoulders enthusiastically to a wild bongo beat. Lots of butt closeups. They're nice shoulders, and it's a nice butt, but she's not a very good dancer. She ends her performance by falling on the floor, which has me suspecting what she's been doing isn't so much dancing as having a seizure. Anyway, that's five minutes used up.
Mike slouches into the bar. Lomas invites him to join them. Lomas' catty companion advises Mike he should blow off his next client and follow his wife back to England, if he wants to save his marriage. More padding: a Pan Am Boeing 707 taxiing onto the runway and taking off. A Simbaza warrior watches the jet as it passes far overhead, winging off into the distance. Beauty shots of a 707 cruising above the clouds chew up some more running time.
Ye Olde Merry England, Mother-in-law's back yard. Mike, although sober and presentable, gets a chilly reception from MIL. Mother lectures him about unspecified irresponsible behavior over the last few months, then declares she won't permit him to see her daughter.
Janet's an adult, right?
But Janet appears, and despite Mother's wishes has a tedious conversation with Mike, in which his irresponsible behavior turns out to have been that she thinks he's spending too much time on safari. The monster! I think I'd have a bit more sympathy for Janet if she'd objected to his doing his part and more to hustle Africa's megafauna into extinction, but really, what did she expect when she married the guy? ("Hi, honey! I'm home! Boy, what a day on safari! You'll never guess how many wildebeest I had to off ...")
Mike pleads with her to meet him, in his natural habitat, at the hotel bar at 9:30, so they can talk it over as husband and wife. But she won't give a definite answer.
Cut to the bar, where it's almost 9:40. Mike's been stood up by his own wife. He consoles himself by getting soused, and picking up, or rather, getting picked up by a woman he meets at the bar. When they get back to her flat, she doesn't waste any time undressing, giving the viewer the fleeting hope that there might be something entertainment-like embedded somewhere in this dog. Unfortunately, just as she's shrugging out of her bra, the camera chastely pans to Mike, who passes out on her bed.
Back to the Simbazas in “Africa”. These guys sure do a lot of jumping up and down. Spear guy still has the shakes. They've lashed Saidi to a wooden frame, and now that he's totally relaxed, they proceed to give him a refreshing facial. When Mike finds out that Saidi's won a free stay at the Simbaza's new spa and voodoo-themed resort, he'll simply die of jealosy!
Saidi is subjected to another fiendish torture: a Simbaza warrior yells at him. This truly despicable breach of proper decorum will be repeated several times during the course of this movie, whenever additional padding is required. Still more spear-shaking, then spear guy stabs at Saidi – and it's back to Mike in his new lady friend's bed, sweat-soaked and delirious as he mumbles "Saidi ... watch out!" then wakes up.
Mike decides to walk back to his hotel room, through the park, late at night. Drums again. A Simbaza's face is superimposed over Mike as he hikes through the park. Mike hears a lion growl. Shaky-cam of Mike strolling through woods. He hears a growl again, and stops. Mike clenches his jaw manfully. Manly music. Mike takes to his heels in a very macho manner. Another growl. Mike's once again attacked by a rogue point-of-view!
Now we're back in Mike's hotel room, watching a doctor pack up his case. Mike's stitches have burst – the curse again, no doubt – but Mike tells the doctor he just had a really bad dream. Still uncertain about what happened, Mike returns to his new acquaintance's flat, and questions her about the previous night. Nothing out of the ordinary, she says, just his booze-fueled nightmare. Happens all the time with her boyfriends. When he tells her about hearing a lion on his lonely trek back to the hotel, she replies that's only natural: there's a zoo close to the park. D'oh!
Back to the bar again. Mike's finally persuaded Janet to meet him. More tedious marital bickering. Mike wants her to come back to Africa, but Janet won't agree. Mike does the "Excedrin headache #37" both-hands forehead rub. Janet's worried, because he looks even more like death warmed over than usual. Mike says he just has to get out of London.
Suddenly: drums! Mike looks up, sees a door open. Musical cue: surprise! A Simbaza peeks into the bar and smiles knowingly at him. Although this stranger is nattily attired in a wool overcoat, dark trousers and jacket, cardigan, and understated tie, all topped off with a snazzy Trilby hat, the skin pigmentation and the discreet double-dab of White-Out between his eyebrows are a dead give-away.
Mike asks Janet, "Did you see him?"
"See who?" (Um, Mike, her back was to that door. That thing about moms having eyes in the back of their head is just a metaphor – unless you're one of those aliens like Peter Lorre played, in that Golden Age TV version of Richard Matheson's Young Couples Only.)
Mike rushes out of the bar, leaving Janet mystified. He has to track down the Simbaza and find out if it's just something about him that made Natty Simbaza guy leave so abruptly.
Natty Simbaza guy crosses the street. Mike trots after him, jaw clenching rhythmically. He looks like he's chewing gum – maybe he wants his breath to be fresh when he confronts his tormentor, but he's probably just practicing his jaw-clenching. Mike slows to a not-very-brisk walk. Mike loses his quarry on the not particularly crowded sidewalks, after several interminable minutes. He boards a double-decker bus for no apparent reason, follows somebody's trousers to the upper level – but it's not the Simbaza he's looking for. Just a beefy, balding white guy, who goes to the front of the bus and sits down. There's nobody else up there but Mike and beefy guy. Mike takes a seat a few rows behind him.
Mike gets the feeling somebody's watching him. He slowly turns around. Surprise! It's Simbaza Voodoo Tag, and now Mike's "it"! Mike struggles to keep calm, looks away and looks back again: Natty Simbaza guy's gone, of course.
Brief interlude with Mother and Janet. Mother isn't surprised Mike acted kooky and ran out on Janet, what with his drinking and all. But Janet says she saw something in his face she'd never seen before: fear. (Not that we saw anything in his face besides the acne-scarring, but that's primarily because this actor makes a 2 X 4 look like Larry Olivier.)
Back to Mike's hotel room. Room service delivers a fifth of whiskey, and Mike certainly knows what to do with it. Later, while Mike's stretched out on the bed, he hears someone outside the door. They rattle the knob, and won't answer when Mike demands "Who's there?" Mike reaches into the nightstand for his revolver, stealthily approaches the door. He clenches his jaw indecisively for a bit, then slowly opens the door. It's another Simbaza, and he's trying to push his way inside! Good Lord: he wants Mike to buy a magazine subscription!
Mike empties his revolver into the door.
In the next scene, a very skeptical detective inspector examines the revolver. He's accompanied by a bobby who's helpfully positioned himself to block our view of that supposedly bullet-riddled door. Inspector Skeptical asks Mike how many drinks he's had today (there's about half a finger's-width left of that fifth). Mike protests he was not drunk, he did not imagine it!
Janet shows up, wants to know what happened. Mike begs her to believe him. The inspector doesn't press charges, but broadly hints he believes Mike's off his rocker, what with the lion mauling and the boozing, and needs more rest. And he'll just hold onto that revolver for Mike for a week or two, until he's all better.
After the police leave, Janet makes it clear she's also convinced it was the DTs. But she still wants to help him. Mike sullenly proclaims, "I don't need any help." Janet replies, acidly, "No, Mike, you never did!" and on that note exits. Game, set and match.
Mike takes another walk in the park, stops and sits on a bench. He lights a cigarette. After a moment, he notices two figures, way off in the distance, running toward him. Drums. "Surprise!" theme again, as camera zooms in on two Simbaza warriors. In the middle of Regent's Park! Drums, overlaid with a whispered chant, as they draw closer. They're obviously after him. They chase him across the skyline. Mike runs like a nerd.
I think a word or two should be said here about the incredible fortitude of the extras who played those two Simbaza warriors, who're running around the park in a cold London rain dressed in faux-leopardskin briefs and leather sandals – although one of them must have won the coin toss, because he got to wear a sort of raggedy mini-poncho.
They chivvy Mike across a meadow and into some miraculously dry and sun-dappled woods. Then down a rain-slicked path. Then dry woods, then out on the drizzly greensward again. Mike stumbles, falls – and wakes up screaming, to find the doctor's back and giving him an injection. The doctor tells him his wound's not healing correctly, and he needs more rest.
Janet's there ... and Scarecrow, and the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, and Toto, too! Janet asks the doctor if the wound's causing Mike's hullabalutions. The doctor suggests it's the booze; Janet angrily retorts he's a heavy drinker, not a drunkard. Not once, but twice. Interesting distinction, though I don't think the repetition makes it any more believable.
Drums. Back to the veldt: Saidi's still lashed to the frame. The witch doctor and another Simbaza drop by to check on his facial. Then they go away. Will this hellish torment never cease?
Back to the hotel room: Janet looks concerned, while Mike twists and turns in his bed, dreaming of a Simbaza warrior checking on Saidi once again, probably to see if it's time for that facial to come off. Later, Janet's fallen asleep, and Mike seems to be resting peacefully.
But the camera slowly pans toward the window: Drums! It's Natty Simbaza, Peeping Tom! Mike writhes in sweaty delirium. Montage: Simbaza warrior staring at Saidi, recaps of Mike's voodoo curse installments so far, replays of gold lamé butt, although weirdly, this time the dancer is wearing a frilly chiffon top. Then she's a voodoo priestess. No matter the venue, she still can't dance. More flashbacks to the chase across the park green. Then a quick flash of something truly horrifying: Janet's mother! Now Whoopi Goldberg's hanging with the Simbazas. The dancer caps her performance by falling down into churned-up mud.
Back to Mike, in the throes of his nightmare. Janet's nursing him when MIL arrives. MIL tells Janet there's nothing she can do here, and demands she come home with her. (With a MIL like this, a curse really seems superfluous.) Janet tells MIL no way: Mike finally needs her.
Three days later, the doctor's very concerned because the wound's not healing. He tells Janet he can't keep sedating Mike. He thinks the trouble is all in Mike's head, and tries to convince her to have him put away. Janet refuses.
Nighttime: Mike wakes up, and goes to the bathroom. He sees Natty Simbaza at the window again, but this time his persecutor is holding a child up in the air, and Mike hears his son crying "Daddy! Daddy!" Mike reels, collapses on the floor. Janet finds him passed out on the rug.
The next day, Janet visits a local African Studies professor – who actually seems to be African, but you can tell he's one of the good ones, because he dresses conservatively and wears horn-rimmed glasses. The prof fills her in on the whole Simbaza/voodoo thing – making this the fourth time we've gone over this, just in case no one was listening during those previous recitations. According to him, Mike will continue to waste away and die, and there's nothing she can do about it. Mike's only chance is to go back to Africa, seek out and slay the man who cursed him.
Janet's dubious, but back at the hotel Mike resolves to return to Africa. "Cable Lomas and tell him I'm coming back to kill that devil!" he tells her. "It's my only chance." He's so masterful ...
Africa: Mike's sitting in a tent. Janet ushers Lomas in. The Major tries to hide his shock at Mike's appearance. Not that he looked all that healthy to begin with, but wardrobe attempts to fake the effects of the voodoo weight loss plan by having him wear a shirt that's a size too big, plus they tuck a blanket around his legs, to give him that feeble invalid look.
Mike asks Lomas if the bearers are ready. Lomas tries to dissuade Mike from going off into the bush in his condition, but Mike says he has to go back to where it all started. It's his only chance. (I think by now we've all grasped that point, right?) Lomas suggests he ought to go with him, but agrees a little too readily when Mike says he should stay with Janet.
Cut to Mike, and it's deja vu all over again, as he's tooling down a familiar stretch of "African" dirt road. Manly theme. Mike's alone, so I guess it turned out that the bearers weren't actually necessary, after all.
Mike stops the Land Rover, gets out and heads toward Simbazaland on foot, toting his rifle. Oh, and forget about all that wasted-away-by-the-curse stuff: Mike's clearly feeling just fine. He's even acquired a bit of a paunch.
Back to Saidi, who's now being given a perhaps overly enthusiastic Ashiatsu massage, while the Head Simbaza pounds on a drum and yells some more. Mike shows up, and shoots the masseur, tragically, just as he was trying to do something for Saidi's tennis elbow. This seems a bit excessive to me: Mike could have just stiffed the poor guy on his tip.
Head Simbaza takes off for the maples. Mike quickly checks on Saidi, who's semi-conscious and mumbling incoherently, then he proceeds to hunt down his bitter enemy.
Mike stalks the Head Simbaza through African maples. Songbirds are caroling sweetly.
Head Simbaza fights back with tactics familiar to anyone who's studied the works of Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett: he pops up and subjects Mike to a severe taunting. Mike shoots at him repeatedly but always misses, and then Head Simbaza ducks back into the underbrush. (Apparently the latest manifestation of the voodoo curse is that it's turned Mike into Elmer Fudd.) Note that Mike's bolt-action rifle fires like a semi-automatic, that is, Mike squeezes off shot after shot without having to work the bolt. Hell of an invisible magazine on that rifle, too: he must have shot at least twenty rounds so far without reloading.
Uh-oh, now he's got only one bullet left! He shoots his last bullet, and once again fails to hit his mark. Mike's chased through the woods, pursued by the intro to "Wipeout". Drums. Now Mike's jogging across the English veldt, and Head Simbaza is after him. Mike makes it to the Land Rover, his enemy close behind him. But now the tables have turned: it's 20th Century British utility vehicle against primitive voodoo wiles!
Mike chases Head Simbaza with the Rover for a while, although he's such a timid driver that Head Simbaza hardly has to exert himself to stay ahead of him. Strangely, it never seems to occur to the Head Simbaza to leave that nice, level road and take off through the rough.
Head Simbaza eventually tires of this nonsense, turns, hurls his spear and in his final, crowning act of passive-aggression, lets Mike run over him. (Boy, is he ever going to feel terrible about that!) Mike stops the Land Rover and gets out. Slow zoom in on the front of the Rover, where we see the Head Simbaza's leg sticking out from behind a tire.
Voice-over: The curse is broken! Broken as the gods demand: by death!
Cue manly music. Credits roll, as Mike helps Saidi walk out of Simbazaland. The sun sets over the English veldt. The End.
As curses go, this one seemed … well, distinctly second-rate. Mike's marital problems and fondness for the tipple preceded his encounter with the Simbazas. True, Saidi did go after him with a knife, but can we be certain that voodoo had a hand in what might merely have been a labor/management dispute? Other than that, the dire effects of the Simbazas feared black magic seem to have been confined to bad dreams, a slight infection, and – possibly – poor judgment, resulting in an embarrassing one-night stand. And they couldn't possibly be blamed for that mother-in-law. On the whole, I think the passive-aggressive tactics were more successful. They certainly made Mike look pretty foolish.