The 1950s saw Boris Karloff take on a lot of television work including the starring role in Col. March of Scotland Yard as well as the host and sometimes star of the unaired anthology series The Veil. In 1957, he would return to genre that treated him so well in Voodoo Island, a rather forgettable flick which had Karloff taking on the role of a pessimist and non-believer for once.
Karloff is a myth buster by the name of Phillip Knight who is hired by hotel magnate Owen Cunningham to check out a mysterious island. He had sent several men to survey it as a possible future hotel location but only one man returned, turned into a zombie. So Knight and a group of adventurers including the icy Sarah Adams (Beverly Tyler), the stereotypical horny male Matthew Gunn (Rhodes Reason, King Kong Escapes), the untrustworthy Martin Schuyler (Elisha Cook, The Haunted Palace, Messiah of Evil) and Claire Winter (Jean Engstrom), who has an eye only for young Sarah, head to the island to investigate. With their boat broken upon arrival, they head out to the jungle but all they find is an island is full of man-eating plants, natives and voodoo worshippers. With no plane, no boat and no motor car, things don’t look to good for our castaways.
As far as horror films go, this may have been the first time that Karloff starred in something that was clearly beneath him. There are certainly worse movies out there but what really hurts this film is the nonsense that permeates throughout the plot. First, the island is in the south Pacific, which I’m fairly certain is not voodoo central. The man-eating plants look incredibly cheap and laughable (think Bride of the Monster). How quickly the icy Sarah warms up to Gunn is way too predictable. And isn’t it amazing how she is able to change her hairstyle in a flash to make herself more attractive. And isn’t it equally funny how quickly the natives decide everything is okay after they eliminate the money hungry Schuyler?
Karloff does take on a very different role here. Rather than being a mad scientist bent on conquering the world with a race of killer plants or seeking out the mysteries of voodoo, he doubts everything or approaches it scientifically, almost to a fault. This is really the first film in which he plays a fairly sane character in a then modern setting. Too bad Voodoo Island didn’t have more going for it. About the only plotline of note is that of the obvious lesbian character Claire Winter. It was kind of surprising how it got past the executives and censors of the day but refreshing to see all the same.
I can’t really recommend Voodoo Island. However, the picture is sharp and clear. All the better to see how disappointing this flick really is. Catch the trailer and decide for yourself. You can still track it down as part of the MGM Double Feature DVD alongside the much better Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake.