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Millionaire hotel developer Howard Carlton, stymied in his attempts to develop a new resort on a seemingly deserted Pacific island, calls in author and television personality Phillip Knight. Carlton explains to Knight, a professional "debunker" of mysterious phenomena, that he had sent a four-man survey team to the island, but only one, Mitchell, returned. Mitchell was found in a boat beached on another island, fifty miles away, by trading post operator Martin Schuyler, and now is in a coma-like trance. Knight offers to explore the island for Carlton but insists on taking Mitchell along to see if he can be shocked out of his trance. Carlton agrees despite the protests of Dr. Wilding, who has been caring for Mitchell. Also accompanying the group are Carlton's assistant, Barney Finch; Sara Adams, Knight's brainy research assistant; and the sophisticated Claire Winter, Carlton's top designer. During the flight, captained by pilot Vickers, the plane's radio mysteriously ceases to work and Vickers lands at a weather station. While Vickers attempts to repair the radio, the sounds from the station's transmitter appear to incapacitate Mitchell. When Mitchell collapses, the radio begins to work again, and Mitchell's blood pressure and pulse return to normal, although he is still catatonic. The next morning, the group arrives safely on the island at which Schuyler's trading post and hotel are located. Greeting them is gruff American guide Matthew Gunn, who listens as Finch and Knight persuade Schuyler to rent them his boat to transport them to the other island. Schuyler is reluctant but Finch promises him an exclusive transportation contract after Carlton's resort is built, and Schuyler's greed overwhelms his caution. Knight scoffs at Gunn's warning that for the past fifty years, the island has been taboo to the local natives because no one has ever gone there and returned, other than Mitchell. Gunn insists that the natives truly believe in voodoo and other superstitions because they are the only way they can cope with their often difficult lives. Later that evening, Wilding is put into a temporary trance that he cannot explain and Mitchell wanders out of the hotel. The group follows him as he crawls onto Schuyler's boat, then dies. Schuyler confirms that Mitchell is in the exact position he was when Schuyler originally found him after he was washed ashore, and Gunn adds that Mitchell's arms are pointing to the strange island. Wilding then departs with Mitchell's body, which he intends to autopsy. The next morning, as the group boards the boat, they find a voodoo bag containing six death wish charms, one for each of them. Knight dismisses the others' concerns and tosses the bag into the water, after which Gunn pilots the boat toward the island. When they spot the island, however, the boat suddenly breaks down, and Schuyler and Finch worry that the curse is taking effect. Although Gunn determines that the fuel line has been fouled by a bug, he cannot restart the boat, and the group must wait to land until the next morning, when the tide comes in. As they disembark and begin exploring, Gunn taunts Sara, calling her a machine while she notates facts and figures for Knight's research. As they forge through the jungle, the outsiders are watched by hidden natives and led by a series of clues to the campsite established by Mitchell. The men then attempt to retrieve the supplies from the boat but discover that the food has become infested by maggots. Knight insists that there must be logical explanations for their misfortunes and orders everyone to rest. Sara and Gunn cannot sleep, however, and when they walk together, Gunn accuses Sara of not being a real woman and being incapable of love. Sara retorts that Gunn hides behind his ever-present supply of liquor, and after she stalks off, Gunn tosses aside his bottle. The next morning, the men explore, and although Sara is nervous, Claire wanders off to do some sketching. When Claire goes for a swim, however, she is attacked by large, carnivorous plants. The others hear her screams, but by the time they find her, she is dead. Deeply shaken by Claire's death, some of the group wants to leave, but Knight insists that there must be natives on the island who have left clues to lead them deeper into the jungle, and that if they turn back, they will be slaughtered. The distraught Sara and Gunn attempt to comfort each other, and Gunn admits that during the war, he captained a boat that was sunk near the islands, and that all of his men were lost. Seeing Claire die reminded him of his former helplessness, which caused him to start drinking. Just then, Sara is attacked by another carnivorous plant, and the group is forced to run farther into the jungle. That night at camp, Sara confesses to Gunn that she no longer hates him, and after Gunn apologizes for his behavior, the couple embraces. Early in the morning, Barney is attacked by a plant and dashes off before stopping in a nearby clearing, where he sees two young girls playing. When one of the girls is killed and eaten by a giant plant, Barney is driven insane and goes into a trance similar to Mitchell's. The group is then surrounded by natives and taken to their village, where Knight and the others are astonished to see four voodoo dolls, representing Mitchell and his companions, with needles protruding from their hearts and heads. The native ruler explains that fifty years earlier, he led the few remaining natives, chased by the encroaching civilization of the white man, to the island, where they allowed the carnivorous plants to surround the village to protect them. Although Knight attempts to placate the ruler with a string of lies, claiming that if he allows them to return to civilization, Knight will protect their secrecy, Schuyler claims that he has a right to make money off the island's development. After they are all tied together and tossed into a guarded hut, Knight reprimands Schuyler for his interference. In the morning, the group awakens to discover that Schuyler has disappeared, replaced by a voodoo doll bearing his image. Knight manages to free them from their bonds and, leaving Sara and Gunn behind to watch the catatonic Barney, searches for Schuyler. Knight finds the hysterical man on a rope bridge over a swiftly moving river, and although he tries to calm Schuyler, when the voodoo doll resembling him suddenly appears on the bridge, Schuyler plunges to his death. The ruler and several guards bring Barney, Gunn and Sara to the bridge, where Gunn is astonished to see the doll, which had been tied to his wrist. Now fully believing in the powers of voodoo, Knight apologizes to the ruler and promises that the natives' secrets will be kept. Wishing them a safe journey, the ruler allows them to leave, escorted by several of his men to protect them from the plants. While Sara and Gunn walk hand-in-hand ahead, Knight gently leads Barney to safety.
Jack T. Collis
Wesley V. Jefferies
Howard W. Koch
Charles G. Schelling
John F. Schreyer
Not one of Karloff's stellar efforts, Voodoo Island (1957) is still an enjoyably tacky horror thriller that just might scare the bejabbers out of a five-year-old child. For one thing, the carnivorous plants seen in the film were exact replicas of known biological species. Of course, they were enlarged several times and created out of rubber, paper and plastic.
Voodoo Island is also a little kinky around the edges. Is it more than a little obvious that anthropologist Claire Winter (Jean Engstrom) appears to have a mighty big crush on fellow safari member, Sara Adams (Beverly Tyler)? Another naughty footnote: the film was released in an alternate European version which featured Jean Engstrom taking a dip in the buff. In the American version, she appears clad in a leotard.
Director: Reginald LeBorg
Producer: Howard W. Koch
Screenplay: Richard Landau
Cinematography: William Margulies
Special Effects: Jack Rabin, Louis De Witt
Music: Les Baxter
Cast: Boris Karloff (Dr. Phillip Knight), Beverly Tyler (Sara Adams), Murvyn Vye (Barney Finch), Elisha Cook, Jr. (Martin Schuyler), Rhodes Reason (Matthew Gunn), Jean Engstrom (Claire Winter).
by Jeff Stafford
Voodoo Island was shot in Kauai, HI immediately before Bel-Air's Jungle Heat. Most of the crew and two of the actors worked on both films. A modern source states that Voodoo Island was reissued in the 1960s as Silent Death.