With time comes obscurity, especially in the context of older film. It’s easy to look back at classic horror movies from the early age and find them laughable because they simply didn’t have what we do today. There are monsters with zippers, and suspenseful scenes that, to contemporary audiences, would pass for jokes. In the case of Voodoo Man, a horror flick from 1944 starring Bela Lugosi as a doctor attempting to resurrect his wife, it’s difficult to see tension in the winking humor that the storyline brings; what’s meant to be scary is, now, surrealistically funny, not only with the racial connotations of voodooism but also the simplistic portrayal of zombie-like subconsciousness.
It’s difficult to imagine what Voodoo Man‘s audience would have experienced. And more than that, a viewer must wonder how much of Robert Charles’ story is meant to be funny rather than scary. In some ways, director William Beaudine is interested in scaring up a few chuckles instead of shivers, especially with the film’s final metacommentary which mentions both Bela Lugosi and the title of the film. Voodoo Man is an amalgamation of horror themes that worked long before this film ever came to be; in fact, this is Lugosi playing a caricature of some of his more serious roles, in particular White Zombie and mad doctors like The Black Cat. That in itself deserves a laugh, because there’s a tongue-in-cheek attitude to Voodoo Man that indicates recognition of the film’s more ridiculous elements.
When taken less seriously, Voodoo Man becomes a fun little film that does a fairly good job of mocking and parodying elements of the mad scientist subgenre. Lugosi and his henchman – John Carradine as Toby, George Zucco as Nicholas – really play up the hammy aspects of the film’s characters, opting to exaggerate their quirky tendencies. Zucco is forced to dress up in tiger garb – the original title of the film being Tiger Man – during all of the brainwashing ceremonies, one of the most memorable moments of the film. It’s really a funny moment that takes the horror out of the premise, and that’s for the best – Voodoo Man never really finds a way to scare the audience like I Walked with a Zombie or White Zombie did years earlier.
Still, Voodoo Man holds its own as a horror comedy, especially with the early attempts at metacommentary it displays. It’s also got a great cast of horror experts and the beauty of great female actresses Ellen Hall, Wanda McKay, and Louise Currie. Though it’s not technically savvy or even expertly crafted, Voodoo Man is an interesting excursion into the mad doctor/hypnotic zombie format that so often made its way into low budget productions during the time period. However, those who enjoy the classics will get the most out of this release – anyone who finds it hard to sit through older films will want to skip this Blu-Ray, since it offers no special features whatsoever.