October Horror Movie Challenge: THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE (1959)


Starting out as good clean entertainment and then transforming into a veritable hoot towards the end, THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE (1959) is one of those films that I can’t imagine anyone regretting having seen unless they’re made of stone or have had their heads cleaved from their bodies by a giant native. It’s adeptly put together by its crew and gamely acted by its cast including a paunchy Henry Daniell who never once looks embarrassed by the material, though the late revelation that he’s actually the centuries-old head of a white dude sutured onto the body of an Indian would certainly make most thespians red in the face. Taking a premise that would have fit very cozily in a creepy radio drama like LIGHTS OUT! or THE HALL OF FANTASY, the movie tells the tale of a cursed family whose male members are doomed to die on their sixtieth birthday only for their decapitated noggins to be shrunken down to tennis ball-size by a voodoo avenger. There are some nice juicy moments like Eduard Franz’s vision of the grinning skulls dancing over his bed like sugarplums but the picture does occasionally show its humble origins, such as when Daniell’s menacing lackey (Paul Wexler) tries to stab the detective hero with a very floppy “steel” stiletto. My favorite bit is when the sewn-lip native returns to his master from a task empty-handed and Daniell asks “What happened?” Director Edward L. Cahn, no stranger to this kind of material having helmed both VOODOO MAN and ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU in 1957, has Orville H. Hampton’s script moving at a spritely pace, keeping this programmer on a steady wave up to its high, comic book-lurid finale.

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