Home Video Hovel: Voodoo Black Exorcist, by Alexander Miller
With a title like Voodoo Black Exorcist, you might get the impression that this 1974 film would be a knock-off of Friedkin’s movie that came out a year prior. In a surprising turn, this is an oddball horror hybrid pursuing more mythical hallmarks than riding on the coattails of The Exorcist.
I have a genuine, unironic love for Blaxploitation cinema, and the horror films that followed are more credible than their reputations would indicate (though Blackenstein and the Blacula series are more reliable than their reputations would indicate). Voodoo Black Exorcist is a misleading title as the film is more of a vampiric mummy variation and a blaxploitation film by name only; so in the spirit of exploitation cinema, this title is either a cut above or cut below in that it exploits the genre of its namesake.
Once the great voodoo priest Gatanebo is sacrificed and buried, he’s exhumed years later and is installed on a luxury liner. Before long, he emerges from his tomb and wreaks havoc on the ship. It seems Gatanebo combats his decomposed state by reanimating himself with his victim’s blood. It’s hard to be clear on his shifting state, but that’s consistent with the rest of the film – the entirety of Voodoo Black Exorcist is a rambling mess, but at least it’s an entertaining one.
There is some perverse charm in the clunky plot that ensues, while the hazy ritual voodoo scenes in the first act have some moxie, and the action that unfolds with a mummy-like Gatanebo offing people on a luxury liner features some exciting moments of psychedelic horror, but the rest is mostly vapid and awkward. The film has the gaudy excitement consistent with B-movie mechanics, but lacks the zany entertainment factor you can derive from bizarro cult movie fodder.
The inept aesthetics of Voodoo Black Exorcist are admirable as it pushes through on its terms, adhering to its incomprehensible laws of nonsense filmmaking. It’s a strange pleasure to watch even if there are some jaggedly rough edges and moments that veer on stupid. There is some perverse charm in the clunky plot that ensues, while the hazy ritual voodoo scenes in the first act have some moxie, and the action that unfolds with a mummy-like Gatanebo offing people on a luxury liner features some exciting moments of psychedelic horror, but the rest is mostly vapid and awkward.
The fine line between “bad” and “so bad it’s good” is barely visible; it usually boils down to genre, pacing or personal disposition. We aren’t treated to the insouciant charm of something by Z-grade maestro Ed Wood, whose work had a rapid succession of bewildering maneuvers that are consistently entertaining. Nor does director Manuel Caño tend toward the excessive gore and expressionist violence that makes European cult directors so endeared to the point we forgive their bad dubbing and plotless knock-offs. The biggest hurdle to overcome with Voodoo Black Exorcist isn’t the thin story or in-credible acting (although that doesn’t add to the fun either), but the snail crawl pacing of the narrative. Clocking in at 88 minutes, this movie takes us onto a boat loaded with obnoxious people and seeing them getting slaughtered would have been deviant joy a schlocky movie like this could provide, but the deaths are too infrequent and the peripheral dialogue too benign.
With its title and tagline that reads “This Dude Means Business, So Watch Out When Your Nerves Start to Shatter!” I was hoping this would feature an actor of Richard Roundtree, or Fred Williams’ stature presiding over an exorcism ritual. But Voodoo Black Exorcist‘s closest connection to the Blaxploitation genre are some voodoo rituals and actors performing in blackface. The latter leaves a bad taste in the mouth, even though it feels like the result of strange intentions, not bad ones. I’m sure this was shot on the quick and retitled as a means to cash in on the 1970s grindhouse market.
While the side of me that has a proclivity toward B-movies and cult films appreciates the unabated oddities that lie in the heart of Voodoo Black Exorcist, nostalgia for novelty cinema won’t blindside me to films lesser points. This will appeal to fans of cult cinema, B-movies, and horror completists, other might not have the patience. Regardless, this is a strange curiosity.