Friday, August 6, 2010

Film #35: Voodoo Island (1957)

Submitted for your approval, a short list of stuff that white people like:
-Picking their own fruit
-Appearing to enjoy classical music
-Standing still at concerts
-Stealing land from native peoples

Say what you will about white people , but they are pretty much pros at this last example. Except when it comes to Voodoo Island. Those pesky white enslavers are no match for the Pacific Rim punks in this week’s 1950s film. These natives have more than just stone spears and nose-bones on their side… they also sport the dark art of voodoo.

This cautionary tale against the 1950s mantra of US global domination begins back in white-enslaver occupied land (Hawaii), where a motley group of surveyors, sexy architects, even sexier researchers, hunky sailors, and an expert on debunking myths (Boris Karloff) are assembled by a rich industrialist developer.

Seems money bags recently bought an uncharted island in the middle of the Pacific, only to have his team of island surveyors all mysteriously disappear – except for one man. But like a bikini returned to Target by an incontinent chick with crabs, that guy didn't come back in good shape. He returned, but returned as a brain-rotted zombie who can’t speak the horrors his wide-eyes scream.
Word starts to spread that the island really is shrouded in the evils of voodoo by hidden natives, as previous stories go.

So, hoping to dismiss these wild claims and begin building an environment-crushing resort on the Island, the industrialist calls in his aforementioned second team led by Karloff to get over to his investment and sort that shit out. A few grass-skirted natives and wild stories of voodoo can’t stop modern progress!

Boris Karloff’s Phillip Knight is the great white hope for the island. A hoax-buster and smug skeptic, Knight has reached fame in print and TV for his blunt and scientific dismissal of phooey legends and crap-filled tales. The bastard once even pulled the beard off a Macy’s Santa Claus in front of a line of snot-nosed squirmers. What a dick.

Knight and his team hop on a flight to the prehistoric-looking land, and soon find out the hard way that Voodoo is indeed real, and some islands just shouldn’t be disturbed. Unlike those pushovers in Hawaii, these Pacific islanders are breaking out all their hexes and dinosaur era creatures in the fight to remain pantsless and uncivilized. "I say, Let My People Freeball!" shouts one bearded islander.

As the following original movie tagline says, the white people hired to trail blaze the way for four star sea side dining and snorkeling excursions soon "SEE! Men Turned Into Zombies! SEE! Woman-Eating Cobra Plants! SEE! Strange Voodoo Rituals! SEE! The Bridge Of Death!”

See! What! We! Mean! By! Watching! The! 1957! B-movie! “Voodoo Island”!

RDHP Ratings and Reviews

C-Rating: 1.9
Chris Dimick voodoos:
“Hi Voodoo Island. Yeah, I know I’ve been a little distant since you showed me your “The End” the other night. But sit down and I’ll explain why I called you to this Starbucks.

I’m not going to beat around the bush here… so let me just get to the point. You see, I don’t think we should see each other anymore. Ever again. In fact, I don’t think we were EVER meant to see each other, or at least I was ever meant to see you.

Oh, come on, don’t look at me like that. I’m sure you knew this was coming.

I mean, sure, when we first met things were wonderful! You were showing off with your ties to Boris Karloff and sporting that attractive Hawaii-Pacific Island theme that you know I love so much. And hell, you even had a soundtrack composed by one of my favorite musicians, Les Baxter! It seemed like you really knew me.

You promised you would show me things I’d never seen in a movie, or would at least enjoy seeing again –zombies! Man eating plants! Danger and horror and voodoo! Oh, how I swooned! I even like that whole anti-US expansion thing you have going on there. For a 1950s movie you seemed cutting edge and dangerous, at least from your packaging. Things were going great, you know, until we spent more time together and I began to see that I just didn’t feel the same way about you. Your true, unattractive colors started to show through the front.

Now, now. Don’t cry. I know this is hard. I’m just being honest.
Where did you go wrong, you ask? Hmmm, well there is really no nice way to put this; but here goes.
First off, your Boris Karloff was Boris Karloff, only instead of a sharp-witted, creepy looking master of horror he appeared with you as an aging, bloated, leather-faced old man who looked like he had spent too much of his "Frankenstein" money on tanning booths.

And yeah, your soundtrack was by the great Les Baxter like you said, but the father of exotic somewhat disappointed with this effort as the music was less the lounge exotica that he excelled in but more a lame orchestral rip off of his best work. Can’t blame the brother, as I’m sure working on the soundtrack to a B-movie stinker like you wasn’t his top priority at the time when he was also working on quintessential 1950s exotic lounge records like "Tamboo!" and "Space Escapade."

Then there were all those exciting promises that never showed up, or did so in weak fashion. Your zombies! They were merely frazzled white squares staring wide-eyed at the camera. The danger and horror were nowhere to be found throughout our entire run together, unless you think walking through the jungle or flying on a plane scary.

You didn’t even get to any of your so called action until ¾ of the way through our relationship, and by then I was already well bored.

And it was all I could do but burst out laughing when you whipped out your “woman-eating cobra plant” or whatever it is you call that limb noodle looking tentacle thing. Ohhh, there there, okay, I know you can’t help it… you were just produced that way.

Now, now, don’t hang your head in shame. There are plenty of movie-lovers in the sea that you can spend time with who would appreciate your type. Like whom? Well… you know, like drunken horror movie marathon fans who need a sleep break, or that insomniac who tunes into Turner Classic Movies at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday in order to feel like he isn't alone. I'm sure that guy would love to see your cobra plant. See! Plenty of opportunity for people to appreciate you! People other than me.

Well, I’ve said all I need to I think, and it is probably best if I just go. May I never lay eyes on your again. Here is five bucks, the coffee is on me. And, you know, we can always be friends. If anything, you will always be RDHP Film Number #35 to me. We will always have that.

Good bye, Voodoo Island. I hope you burn in hell… I MEAN, best of luck.”

N-Rating: 1.5
Nick Rich voodoos:
"This film was really something... something I want to see, no... but it was definitely something. When I figure out what I'll be sure to let you know.

Off the top of my head I'd say this film is best served as a viewing for the crew from MST3K, but such was my boredom with this flick that I'd be hesitant to subject the crew to such an experience (although the evil masterminds who arrange MST3K's viewings would find it a perfect fit for their particular brand of torture). As a general rule, we try not to use the RDHP as a vehicle for torture, but unfortunately a session or two does slip through (note: I fully acknowledge the previous link's picture has little or nothing to do with, well, anything... but due to its sheer awesomeness I felt compelled to include it in this post).

Now, hey, I like a good bad movie as much as the next guy, but Chris and I are busy dudes and the time carved out of our schedules for our viewings is fairly precious... so I'd rather not fill it with poorly conceived/executed films that remind us once more that God is not a white man. Much less fill it with a film that for some reason Chris and I both were having trouble making fun of! If we're dealt a bad hand, we usually are good sports about it and heckle the film accordingly... but something about this film left us both struggling to crack some wise. Don't get me wrong, there was wise cracked - but mostly it felt like we were doing so out of desperation more than general amusement... which I suppose, in its own way, quite a feat. Silencing both myself and Chris is something the women in our lives have been trying to do... well, since they met us! So in that respect, bravo Voodoo Island!

In every other respective, however, Voodoo Island has got 'som 'splaining to do'!
  1. You have to care about the characters in a film if you want the audience to feel anything about them dying.
  2. The characters in a film have to care about living if you want them to be relatable.
  3. Boris's voice is always soothing, but his presence just isn't the same when he's present for a paycheck. :(
  4. I know it's 1957, but fake looking monsters aren't supposed to look so fake.
  5. I know it's 1957, but why have a British dude (who is paler than Boris) play the tribe's chief when you have natives playing all of the other islander parts? He didn't have that many lines...
  6. How are you gonna package the film as an action adventure full of thrills and chills and have one of the most exciting scenes be Boris looking through a surveying scope?!?!
  7. Seriously, the creatures look fake. Troll 2 fake.
  8. Never mention zombies to me if there isn't going to be brain eating.
  9. You know you're in trouble when Boris Karloff can't save your film.
Now, probably the only thing I was impressed with was the performance by the zombified man in this film - his wide-eyed stare closely resembled the look Chris and I employed when watching most of this film. Impressively wide-eyes aside, this film really didn't have any redeeming qualities... so unless you find yourself locked on a space station being forced to watch bad movies with your homemade robot friends, stay away from Doodoo Island, er, I mean Voodoo Island. (Aint't I a stinker?)

The Skinny: Watch this film if you have always wondered what a lobotomy feels like... on second thought, no, don't watch this film."

(Above) A still from the best part of the movie.

Things We Learned from Voodoo Island:
-Karloff likes to wear his baseball hat like a gangsta.
-Men have deep problems only the drink can solve.
-If you don't watch it, a lady will knock that chip off your shoulder.
-Coconut crabs can drop from the sky and bite.
-Liquor has "more guts" than water.
-All working women are just "machines" who can't "feel the love of a man" in the 1950s.
-When in danger, run into the woods silently so no one knows you are there.
-Don't threaten the natives about destroying their land after they capture you.
-Voodoo is only practiced to "impose fear in superstitious people."
-Smooth as a baby's bathtub is really smooth.
-You don't look alive unless you look sexy.
-Man-eating plants always go straight for the breasts (below):

Quote of the Viewing:
[Upon investigating the death of a crew member, the white people group find a sack full of ashes and various pieces of paper, which Boris identifies as various written "death wishes" for each of the occupying white force.]
Nick: "Death Wish, is Charles Bronson in there?! Or, maybe just his mustache?"
Chris: "I wouldn't want to find out."

The RDHP Presents:
Famous White Imperialists
Hey, 'The Man' may be trying to take down your people for his own nefarious plot, but rest assured... he has his reasons and will not be deterred! Below, some white imperialists who just can't get enough of invading native people's lands.

Christopher Columbus
Sure , sure... all he was interested in was their spices! If you believe that one, I have a great lead on some flying-monkey insurance I could sell you...

Serious as a heart attack, he invaded the rap music charts... as soon as white people stop thinking 'rap' is what you do to presents, I'm sure they'll be very impressed!

The Union Army Dude from Dances With Wolves
Nothing breaks up a pow-wow like the cavalry! C'mon! Can't a brotha grow his hair out and go native?

Harlem invading Manhattan Hipsters
On an island know for its diversity, one group is trying to change all that with their sloppy-clean style and handle-bar mustaches...

Parker Selfridge
The reason why the Na'vi are born blue.

English Invasion of Ireland
A rare instance of white people invading even whiter people.

Dorthory Gale
You only saw the children's version. In real life after killing both "evil" witches, Dorthory ruled Oz with an iron fist, thanks to the help of her Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow henchmen. Dorthory even enslaved the munchkins and forced them to dance at her will.

A Les Baxter Tribute:
By Chris Dimick

Grab a tumbler full of rocks and whiskey, settle into that living room leather armchair, and get ready to explore the universe through the sounds of lounge. The composer of Voodoo Island's music, Les Baxter, is considered the father of exotica lounge music -- that quirky, bizarre subgenre of orchestral/vocal jazz that peaked in popularity in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

A listen of Baxter's albums enables one to become an armchair world explorer, letting the smooth arraignments whisk you away to a harem tent in the Middle East on one track, then the center of a Pacific Rim luau the next. (I'm not talking about "lounge" music popularized by the Rat Pack. That was Top 40 that has come to be known as lounge in modern times.)

Exotica lounge was world music written and played by Americans in America. It was part stereotype/part embellished representation of the sounds of faraway lands. Exotica also was born of the Space Age, and attempted to make musical sense of rocket ships, alien planets, and the sounds of dark space. Hawaii's transition into statehood in the late 1950s, and the resulting Hawaiian pop culture craze, influenced lounge's sound as well by inspiring "island" and "tiki" music and fostering remakes of traditional Hawaiian anthems.

It is easy to understand why exotica lounge was used in so many horror and sci-fi movies of the 50s and 60s. It is a sound that is part campy, part mind blowing, and usually unlike anything anyone had or has heard before.

But exotica lounge is not just meant for the screen. The music is best enjoyed without visuals, letting the listener's mind's eye be transported to those faraway lands that typically even the composer himself had never visited. (This was before commercial air travel was common or affordable).

Les Baxter was a well traveled man, however, and picked up musical sounds from around the world that he craftily incorporated into his music. While he had many great exotica lounge counterparts, including Martin Denny, Esquivel and Arthur Lyman (click on the links to hear these lounge legends), Les Baxter is considered by many to be the king of the genre.

The 1950s and 60s lounge was fun, flowing and happy music for happy times, when most American's could afford a stiff drink in their glass, a package of hot dogs sizzling on their BBQ, and a fresh Les Baxter album humming away catchy, bouncy, imaginative tunes. Tunes that transported folks to the Sputnik-filled skies.

When the world is going to end tomorrow in a nuclear holocaust, why not listen to an exotica lounge record and slowly get stoned on great bourbon!?

As an avid lover of exotica lounge, and a person who considers Les Baxter a musical genius, I encourage you to at least take a quick listen to the below homage to the late, great Baxter. Don't be shy if the music makes you smile... it is supposed to do that. Just close your eyes, and let the music transport you into that rocket ship with Alan Shepard.

He won't mind, just tell him Les Baxter sent ya.

Like what you heard?! Click here for another exotica lounge Les Baxter hit!

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