snakepeople karloff

Cult of The Dead (1971)

Cult of The Dead (1971)
Directed by Juan Ibanez & Jack Hill
Starring Boris Karloff, Julissa, Tongolele

Aka
Isle of the Snake People
Isle of the Living Dead
Muerte viviente, La (Mexico)
Snake People

During the last years of his life horror legend Boris Karloff made four films for a low budget company that operated out of Mexico. The scenes with Karloff were shot in Hollywood by B-movie schlock master Jack Hill and added via creative editing. This was Karloff’s second last flick and unfortunately a far cry from horror classics like Frankenstein (1931) or The Mummy (1932). Karloff is very frail and spends much of his scenes seated, possibly due to long suffering back problems from years of wearing a heavy brace dressed as the Frankenstein monster. It wasn’t uncommon for Boris to play characters confined to a wheel chair during this period.

Director Jack Hill has quite a few cult classics under his belt including Foxy Brown, Coffy, Spider Baby, The Wasp Woman and Switchblade Sisters. He also co-directed The Terror (1961) with Roger Corman, Francis Ford Coppola and Jack Nicholson. This movie isn’t his most popular but certainly shows the mark of an exploitation genius.

The film is not quite as bad as many reviewers will have you believe, by no means is it a great movie but there is enough here to keep trashy film lovers entertained. Set on a small, remote island (a remote French colony in the South Pacific) where the natives practice voodoo rituals and worship a priest called Damballah. The local law officials tend to turn a blind eye to the death cult’s bizarre activities until the arrival of Captain Labesch, a stern and militant officer from the mainland who vows to put a stop to the rituals and clean up the local hard-drinking police force. He travels to the island with Anabella (Julissa), a temperance crusader and niece of Carl Van Molder (Boris Karloff), who is a wealthy landowner and plantation tycoon. Labesch and Anabella hope to receive assistance from Van Molder in their mission to clean up the island. Van Molder has spent his life studying parapsychology and warns Labesch not to interfere with the ancient religion of the island’s natives. But Labesch is an arse-hole, so of course he doesn’t listen and begins a campaign to crack down on the practice of voodoo.

The plot is fairly standard, nothing terribly exciting but there is plenty of weirdness, stupidity and occult kookiness to keep the ball rolling. The rituals are probably the best part of the film. I was surprised to see famed exotic Mexican dancer and movie star Tongolele (billed here as Yolanda Montes) in the film. I recently had been given a Mexican magazine devoted to Tongele by a friend, I had previously not heard of her so was thrilled to see her exotic snake dances in motion. Tongele has a long career in Mexican films from the late 1940’s into the 1980’s and is apparently still dancing and acting to this day. And you thought your grandma was cool!

But there’s more than just exotic dancing and voodoo rituals here. “Like what?” I hear you ask. Well, how’s about cannibal women devouring unsuspecting men they meet in bars? The sacrifice of virgins administered by flagellation from a psychotic dwarf? Depraved white men trying to have their necrophilic ways with blue-skinned zombie babes? An erotic dream where Anabella sucks on a live snake and then has a big sloppy lesbian kiss with herself/doppelganger? Murder? Romance? Terrible acting? Bad dubbing? An obvious body-double for Karloff in the Mexican scenes ala Bela Lugosi and Plan 9 From Outer Space? What more do you people want? Blood? … We got that too!!

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