Monday, December 3, 2012

#22: Voodoo Black Exorcist

Drive In Movie Classics
Disc 6: Side B
1973

Let‘s get this out of the way now: Voodoo Black Exorcist only delivers on a fraction of its convoluted, haphazardly-constructed title. One third of it, to be precise. The movie opens in the distant past somewhere in the Caribbean, where hulking shaman Gatanebo (Aldo Sambrell) kills some scrawny, balding little guy in order to defend the honor of his beloved Kenya (Tanyeka Stadler). The action then shifts to an exotic ceremony full of sudden zooms and jarring close-ups of chanting, writhing, grass-skirted natives, who behead Kenya, toss around a papier-mâché lump that vaguely resembles Kenya’s head, and then slaughter Gatanebo in apparent retaliation for the murder of their clansman.

All of which is sort of voodoo-y, I guess. So there you go. There’s the voodoo in Voodoo Black Exorcist. At no point in the movie, however, does exorcism come into play. As for the black part of the equation--well, that, too, is up for debate, considering the actors playing Gatanebo, Kenya and even the balding, algebra teacher-looking man from the prologue all seem to be Caucasians in black face.

In other words, a title as ridiculously lurid as Voodoo Black Exorcist can only disappoint. No surprise there: Misleading titles are a b-movie tradition. But can Voodoo Black Exorcist deliver some abrupt, largely incomprehensible narration (another b-movie tradition almost as rich and storied as misleading titles)? Fear not: Just take a gander at this baffling bit of anti-poetry, which plays over a shot of Gatanebo’s sarcophagus and which rivals Plan 9’s speechifying Amazing Criswell for sheer goofiness:

“Happenings in life repeat themselves,” our narrator tells us. “Within a thousand years, two thousand, Gatanebo will seek Kenya. Blood will be spilled. Terrible things will happen again. And everything will start again. Begin again.”

Cut to stock footage of rockets blasting off into space. Cheesy psychedelic rock guitar-noodling is heard on the soundtrack. Apparently, it’s now the present day, circa 1974. Gatanebo’s sarcophagus has been discovered by a collector and is being transported aboard a luxury cruise ship populated almost exclusively by sweaty, cigar-smoking men with receding hairlines and poorly dubbed exotic dancers, one of whom--Sylvia (Eva Leon)--looks a lot like Kenya, sans black face. Naturally, Gatanebo comes back to life. He, too, is sans black face. In fact, the actor’s noggin is now slathered in thick gobs of putty makeup, making him look like a low-rent knock-off of Boris Karloff--a minstrel mummy, if you will. .

The second act consists almost entirely of slow-motion flashbacks of Gatanebo and Kenya frolicking on the beach, interspersed with shots of Gatanebo wandering the ship’s decks and occasionally beheading passengers. One of these passengers resembles Kenya’s killer and Gatanebo sneaks into Sylvia’s cabin to dangle the bastard’s head over her sleeping form. “Your killer is dead,” he intones flatly. “I bring proof of my vengeance oh Kenya, most beloved of women.” He then sets the head down beside Sylvia and slowly backs out of the room.

See, deep down Gatanebo is a romantic, prone to grand, irrational acts of love and spouting nonsensical, pseudo-blank-verse in the style of the film’s infrequent narrator. “The sea is beautiful, isn’t it?” he asks Sylvia at one point. “However, there are many creatures in the center of the earth who have never seen it. Imagine how they’d feel, if put here now. That’s how I felt when I found you again.” Truer words have never been spoken, at least not by a moldering, sentimental voodoo-killer.

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