Sold at grindhouse theatres as a blaxploitation twist on The Exorcist (1973), this Spanish-Italian effort is actually a fairly traditional, if slightly sexed-up, mummy movie. In fact, black viewers may take offence at the prologue which features white actors in blackface as tribal lovers canoodling on a Caribbean beach until interrupted by her spear-wielding father. Bald, buff, voodoo priest Gatanebo (Aldo Sambrell) kills the old man but vengeful natives sacrifice him and his ladylove as part of a freaky voodoo ritual, heavy on the flaming torches, topless dancing girls and fake plastic severed heads. “Happenings in life repeat themselves”, intones our cryptic narrator. “Within one thousand years -” He suddenly changes his mind. “Two thousand years. Gatanebo will seek his beloved. Blood will be spilled, everything will start again.” Yikes!
Stock footage and still photographs of the Apollo 11 moon landings play over the opening credits accompanied by Fernand Morcillo’s funky fuzz guitar soundtrack. Presumably intended to illustrate the passing of time, the lingering images carry a side-effect that suggests NASA, Neil Armstrong & co. have some role to play in all the voodoo nonsense that transpires. If only…
A recently unearthed sarcophagus is loaded aboard a luxury liner sailing the South Seas. Hairy, old Professor Robert Kessling (Alfredo Mayo) now seems twice as smug, since lovely secretary Sylvia (Eva León) doubles as his lover, although she is secretly growing weary of being at his sexual beck-and-call. A band led by a scantily-clad, fire-eating dancer (Tanyeka Stadler) entertain passengers with tribal rhythms, while the shrewish Mrs. Thorndike (María Antonia del Río) nags her long-suffering husband Albert (Enrique del Río). The old bat sneers contemptuously at the Caribbean crew’s superstitious fears about the cursed sarcophagus, even though she herself reads tarot cards predicting a mysterious stranger will bring death aboard their ocean cruise.
Sure enough, Gatanebo rises from his sarcophagus and, via a simple but effective dissolve, transforms from lumbering mummy to human again, swiping a gold Nehru jacket that together with his shiny bald head makes him look like a Bond villain gone to seed. He reverts back into a lumpy walking corpse to indulge his homicidal impulses, including pimp-slapping a thief drawn by his snake-shaped golden ring, who becomes his hypnotised slave. In a hilarious touch, a soaring South Pacific style Broadway chorus plays whenever Gatanebo claps eyes on Sylvia, the reincarnation of his lost love. Thereafter he keeps having orange-tinted flashbacks to their ritual murders. Discovering the ship’s steward is the reincarnation of one of their killers (Small world, huh?), he beheads the hapless doof then lovingly lays his severed noggin beside the sleeping Sylvia. Less than impressed, she wakes up screaming.
Gatanebo then ambushes Kessling’s colleague at the airport, runs him over with a steamroller (yes, really) and impersonates the dead man in an effort to get closer to Sylvia. How does a two-thousand year old mummy convincingly impersonate a scientist? By making profound statements like: “God is lost to the universe and can’t be invoked.” Whoa, that’s deep. Anyway, Sylvia laps it up which explains how she ended up with a bozo like Kessling. In a fairly interesting twist, the mummy reveals himself to Professor Kessling who is too fascinated to take action against his murderous rampage, as he keeps killing random people - both on and off the ship - for reasons never made entirely clear.
Voodoo Black Exorcist is a bizarrely schizophrenic production in that half of it has been made with a degree of care, with idiosyncratic angles, sun-scorched cinematography and a screenplay by Santiago Moncada laced with apparently sincere insights into voodoo lore; while the other half is slapdash in the extreme. Most notably during the dancer’s murder where the entire camera crew are visible in a mirror! Manuel Cano, who has a handful of Italian Tarzan knockoffs to his credit, indulges plenty of Caribbean colour with atmospheric voodoo rituals and erotically-charged dance routines, but the story limps along with the mummy free to do as he pleases, unhindered by the vapid “heroes.”
There is humour in abundance, both unintentional and intentional, including one priceless exchange where awoken by the mummy’s nocturnal rampage, Mrs. Thorndike declares: “Did you hear that voice? It chills the blood!” Only for Albert to reply: “That was me. I was dreaming of you.”
However most of the unintentional humour comes courtesy of our would-be hero, the idiotically indifferent Inspector Dominguez (Fernando Sancho). Right after the first murder, the ship’s captain (dubbed with a broad Swedish accent right out of The Muppet Show) summons Dominguez to prevent further bloodshed, but the portly policeman prefers to wait it out and see who else drops dead ("I have a system. I drink gin and wait"). As the bodies start piling up, he potters ineffectually on the sidelines (“I’m a fat, old cop. At my age I don’t want any problems.”) and of one murder victim remarks: “Shame, he made the best hamburgers in the world.” When finally faced with the mummy Dominguez inexplicably instructs his men not to shoot, leading to the priceless scene where one cop tries to fend Gatanebo off with a firehose.
With clods like Kessling and Dominguez on the case, it comes down to a black scientist to identify the murderous mummy. Unfortunately, this flicker of social commentary is undermined when, during the “history-repeats-itself” finale, the plucky Caribbean cop takes his flamethrower to both the mummy and his potential victim. Then stands there grinning like an idiot while an innocent person dies screaming. “A criminal is reasonable, but none of this is” remarks Dominguez. Preach on, oh sage!