VOODOO WOMAN. American International Pictures, 1957. Marla English, Tom Conway, Mike “Touch” Connors, Paul Blaisdell. Written by Russ Bender and V. I. Voss. Directed by Edward L. Cahn

THE DISEMBODIED. Allied Artists, 1957. Paul Burke, Allison Hayes, John Wengraf. Written by Jack Townley. Directed by Walter Grauman

   Movie fans remember 1957 as the year that brought us Bridge on the River Kwai, Twelve Angry Men, Paths of Glory, and The Spirit of St. Louis, but I will always recall it fondly as the banner year that delivered not one but two ersatz jungle epics with schlocky monsters and witchy women portrayed by iconic starlets of that tawdry form.

   Voodoo Woman is a thing of shreds and patches, apparently thrown together by producer Alex Gordon in the wake of The She Creature — a remarkable film on its own — with bits and pieces of that film’s eponymous monster, director Edward L. Cahn and stars Marla English and Tom Conway, who sports the silliest headgear ever committed to film.

   Conway plays a Mad Doctor determined to combine “the white man’s science and the black’s voodoo” to create a monster that will do his bidding. Which may seem a bit redundant in these days of the Internet, but he finds the perfect subject for his experiments when Marla comes strutting into his Jungle Hell.

   Marla English had a rather brief and unheralded film career, but her appearances here and in The She Creature ensure her a place in the archives of tacky movies. In She Creature she projected a virginal impassivity that made her the perfect palimpsest for Chester Morris’s regressive enterprises. Here she gets to vamp it up as the most literal of femmes fatales, a woman literally consumed by greed who cheerfully drags her cast cohorts down with her.

   We first see Marla hanging out in some junglefront dive, plotting to track down hidden treasure in the tropical backwoods. Or what passes for the tropics here; mostly it’s the usual stock-footage long-shots intercut with a sound stage sparsely furnished with defeated-looking foliage and bespoke rubber undergrowth. There’s even a moment when Marla and her guide (Mike “Touch” Connors) cuddle around a campfire, and as the camera pans to take in their antics we see two stage hands jump out of the way!

   It all gets a bit hard to take seriously, particularly when Mad Doctor Conway decides amoral Mara is the perfect subject for his experiments in monster-making, and she agrees whole-heartedly, as a means to acquire the lucre stashed somewhere thereabouts. She is duly promoted to monster-in-chief (actually played by Paul Blaisdell, in parts of his She Creature costume, a plastic mask and mop-wig) and proceeds to wreak low-budget havoc about the place until we’ve reached a respectable running time and can end the suffering.

   Well it ain’t much, but director Cahn was a past master at moving things along quickly, hero Mike Connors shows plenty of the charm that led him to TV stardom, and Tom Conway does a splendid job of not dying of shame. With all this and Miss English too, Voodoo Woman ranks as a genuine Guilty Pleasure.


   Moving on to The Disembodied, I can praise it with faint damns by observing that it’s a bit less tacky-looking than Voodoo Woman. The fake jungle is a bit less threadbare, the costumes not so tacky, and star Allison Hayes makes a splendid entrance, trying to kill her husband with a voodoo curse.

   Allison Hayes was literally one of the giants of Really Bad Movies, with a starring bad-girl turn in Roger Corman’s Gunslinger, followed by Zombies of Mora Tau, The Undead, The Unearthly, The Hypnotic Eye, The Crawling Hand, and of course Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Her very presence in a starring part guarantees a certain sleazy splendor, and Disembodied offers one of her best(?) roles as a part-time voodoo queen, slinking about in silky dresses, high heels and/or animal skins as she falls for a passing wildlife photographer (Paul Burke) and decides he’d be perfectly cast in her road-show production of Double Indemnity when tribal magic proves ineffectual in killing her husband.

   It seems Allison moonlights (again, literally) as the local Voodoo Priestess, and when Burke shows up with a dying buddy in tow, she saves the man’s life by cutting the heart out of one of her worshippers—some religions are just harsher than others, I guess, but it makes me glad I was raised United Brethren.

   Anyway, the voodoo magic saves the man’s life but it has the deleterious side-effect of turning him into a zombie, possessed by the dead native’s spirit. And I’m afraid that’s all the Monster we get for this picture.

   Director Walter Grauman is no Edward L. Cahn, either. Where Cahn moves through Voodoo Woman with commendable speed, Grauman lets Disembodied bog itself down in long stretches of needless dialogue, courtesy of writer Jack Townley, who spent much of his career writing for Gene Autry and the Bowery Boys. In their hands, Ms Hayes’ alluringly repellant screen presence goes for very little, and the surprising thing is that she manages to radiate so much energy and still not be the least bit convincing.

   So on points, I’d have to award the Oscar in the fakey-jungle-monster-movies category to Voodoo Woman, but for lovers of awful movies, both films are required viewing.