by Amando de Osorio
Next thing we see is a party of safari-ing folks most of whom I believe qualify as Jive-Turkeys. Their leader, one Jonathan Grant, is played by none other than that great mustachioed purveyor of protagonism, Jack Taylor. Once you’ve seen Jack Taylor, you never forget him. He’s the bloke who shaves for a few minutes during Female Vampire and spies on Dyanik Zurakowski while she gets undressed in The Vampire’s Night Orgy. Osorio used him a bunch of times, including his third entry in the blind dead series The Ghost Galleon; my first encounter with Jack and his bottomless face. His role as Grant is actually one of the few he was suited to, in that he isn’t chasing anyone’s skirt and I don’t have to watch him do so.
So Grant and his team show up in Bumbasa (the English language dubbing correctly identifies the region as Mumbasa, which is real, but the titles have it wrong) looking to document endangered species. The team – a dark skinned professor Rod Carter and three buxom women, Liz Meredith, Carol Harris, and Tanika – are greeted first by the prying eyes of a bunch of villagers for no real reason. Those gentleman are driven away by the arrival of Tomunga, a local fur trader who's been expecting them. He tells them the place is haunted by ancient voodoo and they’d do good not to linger. Carter and Grant think they know better and decide to hold their camp for a day before pressing on further into the jungle. And while they discuss this some exposition comes out. First is that Carol is the daughter of whomever is funding their expedition. She’s also got a crush on Carter, who’s shacking up with Tanika. That night Carter gets the first watch and spends it screwing Tanika half submerged in a stream while Liz photographs them from a bush. When Liz gets tired of snapping pictures she wanders off into the same voodoo ceremony that claimed the girl from the prologue and she gets her head cut off. When we see her next she will be dressed in a leopard print bikini like the first girl. The next day tensions run high. Liz is gone, Carol is mad at everyone, Tomunga gives no help other than to say ‘get out’, and when Grant develops the photos in Carol’s camera, he sees that his lookout was doing no such thing. Then the natives decide that suspense isn’t really what this film does best and kill both Carol and Grant. Just one more voodoo ceremony left, but will Rod stop it in time?
This movie does have a few nicely composed shots in it and the photography cleans up nice on the DVD transfer, but the thing I’m gonna remember years from now when the plot escapes me is the footage of Bárbara Rey, Loreta Tovar, and María Kosty bouncing around the jungle in leopard print bikinis. Now, I’m not sure what religion worships the god of themed stripper costumes but Osorio seemed fairly certain that when you die in a voodoo ceremony, you come back in leopard. So, how does he stage the stalk-and-kill scenes featuring our undead beauties? He has them hop like bunnies and then shows it in slow motion. He knew his audience, I’ll give him that. There must be some kind of prize for this – the film has seven characters and we see five of them naked before the credits roll; of the four women (not counting the topless girls in the voodoo ceremony) in the movie, they are all topless at one point and three of them get to bounce around like they’re in a wet t-shirt contest at Señor Frogs. I’ve never seen anyone give that kind of thought to the obligatory naked women in a zombie film. That sort of care I’ve only seen in Russ Meyer’s movies.
As for the voodoo, this film has the blasphemy points of Wes Craven’s Serpent and the Rainbow. Night of the Sorcerers doesn’t have anything that you wouldn’t find in the earliest of voodoo pictures (the genre went largely unchanged from I Walked With A Zombie onward), except now we’re treated to racism and nudity set to Muzak! That the plot is largely unremarkable isn’t really my complaint, it’s simply that there didn’t appear to be the slightest hint that anyone gave this bullshit a second thought. Now, King of the Zombies isn’t exactly what I’d call progressive, but put it in the context of its 1941 release date and Night of the Sorcerers starts to look a lot more pathetic. I would have thought that the blaxploitation movement and especially Sugar Hill’s release in the states would have sent ripples around the globe, and I guess in a way it did. Voodoo zombie pictures essentially became extinct soon after this one (they were even given a sort of farewell in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie), or anyway, they evolved. When it became clear that people wouldn’t come out for a voodoo picture, producers found another genre to populate with naked natives, heedless violence and more xenophobia than you can shake a stick at – the cannibal movie (the degrees of separation meet at Zombi Holocaust, and I mean that two ways – the meeting of the zombies and cannibals and the big ass mistakes made in the hands of distributors).