Rushed to hospital following a fatal car crash, Laura Saunders (Jo Morrow) expires leaving her husband, Fred (Barry Coe), devastated. Shortly after his wife’s burial in an unlocked tomb, Fred is plagued by ghostly visions of Laura who promises to return from the grave then morphs into a hideous cackling ghoul. Most sane people would be scared witless, but Fred visits a series of phony spiritualists and psychic frauds in the vain hope one of them might hold the power to bring his beloved back to life.
Eventually a newspaper ad (!) leads Fred to the exotically accented Tana (Florence Marly) who introduces him to flamboyant magician Doctor Death (John Considine), whom sepia-tinted flashbacks reveal to be one-thousand years old thanks to his formula for transferring souls from the recently-deceased into younger, healthier bodies. Variously described as “the greatest genius of our age” or “the most powerful man in the world”, none of this explains why he’s hiding out in a basement performing cheesy stage shows like a Las Vegas showman. Fred realises he’s found his man when Doctor Death transplants the soul of a disfigured girl into deceased sex bomb Venus (Sivi Aberg). In return for a hefty fee, the good doctor agrees to revive Laura via his soul transplant technique. The unlucky donor is Tana, having angered DD by flinging acid at Venus in a fit of jealousy. However, Laura’s body rejects Tana’s soul. Disturbed by this unprecedented failure, Doctor Death and his bloated, disfigured henchman Thor (Leon Askin) go on a kill-crazy rampage around town, searching the right soul to inhabit Laura's body. Having had second thoughts, Fred sets out to stop them, especially after Doctor Death sets his sights on his perky new girlfriend, Sandy (Cheryl Miller).
This oddball obscurity is trashy nonsense all the way, though fans with an affection for the pulpier side of Seventies horror may be charmed by its garishly goofy EC comics vibe. In his only directing credit, former assistant director Eddie Saeta shoots in the cramped style of a vintage TV movie, but the film doesn’t stint on the gore. Numerous bloody murders, a severed head in a box, plus one memorable scene where Doctor Death is stabbed by a street punk only to melt his face spurting acid instead of blood, combine to keep things lively in spite of the plastic performances, a campy score straight out of Scooby-Doo and a larky script whose streak of self-parody routinely crosses the line into outright indifference.
One scene where Adam West look-alike Barry Coe follows the smiling spectre of his dead wife carries an air of morbid romance akin to the straight gothics of Mario Bava, but for the most part the filmmakers play things tongue in cheek inviting viewers to laugh along with the hokey plot. Things grow tiresomely repetitive as Doctor Death keeps killing girls, failing to shove their souls into Laura’s body. TV stalwart and regular Robert Altman collaborator John Considine hams it up with his best Vincent Price impersonation as he remarks one corpse kisses better than Tana did while alive (!), kills a young man trying to scare his girlfriend (“And now, young lady, I’ll show you how a professional scares the girls!”) and, in a post-modern gag that foreshadows Scream (1996), attacks a girl in bed watching a scary movie. However, the overall impression is of a horror film made by those with a certain disdain for the genre and more than happy to laugh at anyone who takes this nonsense seriously.
Why Laura’s spirit promises she’ll return only to then urge Fred to let her rest in peace, is most likely due to producer-scripter Sal Ponti making things up he goes along. Ponti was a professional songwriter and penned the first song recorded by Sixties teen idol and actor Fabian Forte. He had a minor career as an actor, under the stage name Anthony Hall, appearing in films such as George Pal’s Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1960), though mostly for television in popular shows like I Dream of Jeannie and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Music was clearly his greatest passion given he not only toured the US fronting a Vegas-style revue but penned a few musicals including one based on the life of Mary Magdalene. He succumbed to lung cancer aged fifty-three before he could realise his dream of staging one of his musicals on Broadway. In fact several of those involved in producing Doctor Death: Seeker of Souls came from a musical background as the film was released by Cinerama, a company owned by Bing Crosby, and co-financed by legendary Motown boss Berry Gordy who allegedly directed one of the scenes where Doctor Death tries to coax a spirit into entering Laura’s body. The twist ending is just as kitsch and silly as the rest of the film whose sole notable aspect is a surprise cameo from Moe Howard of The Three Stooges, in his last role, as an audience member at Doc Death's stageshow who cops a feel when asked to verify a sexy girl is truly dead!