01 October 2014

The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959)
70 min.
Directed by Edward L. Cahn.
With Henry Daniell, Valerie French, Grant Richards, Eduard Franz, Lumsden Hare, Paul Wexler, Frank Gerstle, Howard Wendell, Paul Cavanagh.
On paper, this 1959 horror would seem to have everything going for it.

Let's see, there's a cool plot about shrunken heads, there's Henry Daniell (from Val Lewton's 1945 Body Snatcher) as the archvillain, there's a mute voodoo giant (Wexler), and more.

But none of it goes anywhere.

The story: Jonathan Drake (Franz) is preoccupied. He thinks there may be an ominous curse placed on the Drake family. His fears appear to be justified when his brother Kenneth (Cavanagh) dies suddenly. Seems the past several generations of male Drakes have all died unexpectedly at around age 60.

Even more mysteriously, after death, their heads have disappeared from their bodies...and the bone-white skulls have reappeared in the Drake family vault! Jonathan's father, grandfather and his brother have all perished in this bizarre way.

Now, it seems Jonathan will too. But what curse is actually in play here, and who pulls the strings? Could it be the weird Dr. Zurich (Daniell)?

Four Skulls could have been delirious matinee fun. But unfortunately, it has a total lack of energy and oomph. The leads Franz and French fail to inject any vitality into the action.

Indeed, French is guilty of an especially blank and directionless performance.

Only Daniell makes an impression here, as the sneering witch doctor Zurich. The pacing doesn't help matters, basically being in lockstep with the dull acting.

On the upside, director Cahn (1958's It!) serves up a professional-looking piece here; the overall production design is adequate, and there's a few valiant attempts at cultivating some atmosphere.

But alas, it's all for naught.

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