Voodoo Black Exorcist (1974)
Studio: The Film Detective
Release date: May 23rd, 2017
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
If nothing else, most exploitation films boast curious production tales or idiosyncrasies that make them interesting despite their relative quality. So it is with Voodoo Black Exorcist, a movie that features no exorcists, several white people, and some voodoo. To figure out why 2/3rds of its title is misleading involves looking back to 1974 and surveying a genre landscape that was blossoming with Blaxploitation and Exorcist rip-offs. Between the likes of Blacula and William Friedkinís film, hucksters (and duplicitous distributors) across the globe had all the inspiration they needed to churn out quick cash-ins. It goes without saying that this particular title represents the exploitation circuit at its most, well, exploitative. Feeling less like an intentionally provocative title and more like a distributor playing word salad with a drive-in marquee, Voodoo Black Exorcist is hilariously confounding in its misleading nomenclature, and the fact that Iíve spent so much time detailing it should provide a clue about whether itís actually worth a damn as a movie or not.
Spoiler: not so much! Donít get me wrong: it certainly has its moments (most of these things do, after all), but itís mostly shoddily-crafted nonsense that opens with a confounding scene involving two African (read: Spaniards in blackface) lovers (Aldo Sambrell & Eva Leon) having a tryst on a beach. Their affair is swiftly interrupted by another man who is none too pleased about this frolicking, so a duel ensues that leaves the interloper (the womanís husband, presumably) impaled on the beach. The local tribe is even more pissed about this outcome, as they soon stage a voodoo ritual that ends with both of the lovers being hacked to death before viewers are shuttled off to the 20th century via some stock footage of the space program (2001 it fucking isnít).
All these years later, the mummy of a slain man has been recovered by a doctor (Alfredo Mayo) and his assistant/fuckbuddy (Leon, playing a dual role). They promptly stow it away on a cruise ship, where the mummy inexplicably comes to life and conveniently realizes that the descendants of the tribe that slayed him are aboard the boat. So, too, is his reincarnated lover, and his attempts to reconnect with her are thwarted by both his bloodlust and his bizarre courting habits.
So, yeah, after all that, it turns out Voodoo Black Exorcist is just a fucking mummy movie. But I suppose itís not just any mummy movie: this one mostly unfolds on a boat and sometimes feels like a slasher movie, which makes it the Jason Takes Manhattan of mummy flicks, I guess (speaking of misleading titles). Truthfully, itís the only part of the film that works, and even though itís not fully explained, I gathered that the mummy has to kill in order to maintain his more acceptable appearance. Otherwise, he turns very much into a mummy, albeit one whose head looks like itís been cooked into a meatball and smeared with chocolate.
While this development makes me wonder if he isnít actually a wolf man instead, itís a functional one that keeps the wheels greased with the blood of his victims. Enthusiasts of decapitations involving obvious papier-mache heads will be positively delighted by the amount of carnage here (and this is not to mention that poor Leonís initial decapitation is replayed ad nauseam thanks to the mummyís traumatic flashbacks). Some outrageous butchery is gleaned from all of this: one of the decapitated heads ends up in his reincarnated loverís bed (he thinks itís a token of his vengeance-fueled love, I think it unnecessarily makes me wonder why Iím not watching The Godfather), while another guy is literally steamrolled to death. When it wants to be, Voodoo Black Exorcist can be a hoot, and Iím sure all this suggests itís a worthy entry in the scuzzy, disreputable grindhouse canon.
Unfortunately, these are just the highlights that arrive in concentrated spurts. Somehow, a movie that features such inspired outbursts is mostly a bore, as itís bogged down by tedious characters and a lethargic non-plot. Theoretically, a police investigation breaks out about halfway through when someone realizes multiple decapitations arenít normal cruise protocol, but the detective in charge spends most of his time swilling liquoróthough I suppose that does account for how quickly he believes thereís an ancient, undead mummy wreaking havoc, so maybe I shouldnít knock his methods. Itís also worth noting that all the bloodshed doesnít kill the cruise vibe since the festivitiesóincluding a recreation of Haitian voodoo ritualsógo on mostly undeterred. The listlessness of it all grows tiring; after a while, Voodoo Black Exorcist isnít a story so much as itís a collection of scenes ranging in various quality. At their best, theyíre capturing delirious, violent junk; at their worst, theyíre subjecting us to an awkward, heatless romance between two bored leads. Even the occasional inspired, canted angle or a wild, dubbed-in accent doesnít do much to jolt the stilted, lethargic proceedings.
Voodoo Black Exorcist does at least have the decency to end on a high note, and it does so with fucking haste. Noteworthy in both its tonal discordance and its quick resolution, this conclusion is so abrupt that even the notoriously curt Hammer movies might take issue. Where those films at least featured some kind of conclusive reaction shot, this one splashes ďTHE ENDĒ right on the screen before the audience can even let the ending sink in. I canít decide if it does so out of disinterest or embarrassment, but either way, itís much appreciated. Itís often said that itís good to leave an audience wanting more; I say itís equally important to realize when theyíve had enoughóor, in this case, more than enough.
If youíre a connoisseur of public domain collections, chances are youíve at least laid eyes on the title Voodoo Black Exorcist, as thatís been its home video habitat in the digital area. However, The Film Detective has rescued it from the bowels of obscurity and the shoddy presentation this fate usually entails, as the studio has released a restored, widescreen version of the film on Blu-ray. It should prove to be a bit of a revelation to anyone familiar with the title: the source material shows some minor blemishes throughout, but itís otherwise quite pristine. The resolution also feels a tad soft compared to other recent cult releases, so the colors and detail donít quite pop, though theyíre certainly adequate. Really, that seems to be the mantra here: this is certainly the best Voodoo Black Exorcist has looked in over 40 years, and thatís enough. While Iím sure any supplements for this might be illuminating, The Film Detective has carved out a neat little niche in restoring these public domain titles to some semblance of glory. It also gives hope: I don't want to say we're scraping the bottom of the barrel here, but this is proof that just about any title has the chance to be released to Blu-ray at this point. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: