The Four Skulls of Jonathon Drake
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Hang onto your heads, ladies and gents, because this movie is out to take yours. Eduard Franz, Valerie French, Grant Richards, and Henry Daniell bring this tale of curses, shrunken heads, and tribal rituals to B-movie heaven. This movie shared a second seat with another film you’ll find in The Locker, Invisible Invaders.
As with any great B-movie, The Four Skulls of Jonathon Drake begins on a confusing foot, leaving one asking some very cogent and fundamental questions such as: What’s going on? Who are these people? What’s happening now? Kenneth Drake is seeing skulls and it is vexing him! When his butler finds him dead in the floor, little did the butler know he had JUST MISSED the curare wielding Jivaro Indian that was about to cut off his head. When Jonathon Drake arrives to find his brother is dead, embalmed and in a coffin, he wants one final look. When the coffin is opened, everyone discovers that his head is gone!
I'm sure that there was a head attached when I put him in there!
The police arrive and find Kenneth’s personal physician on the premises having tea with creepy Dr. Zurich. Dr. Creepy has a flat affect, looks like death warmed over, and is an expert on the headhunting Jivaro Indians who decapitate their victims and shrink their heads to capture their soul. So, in true B-movie police fashion, their suspicions aren’t aroused in the slightest. When the skull of the recently deceased Kenneth Drake suddenly makes an appearance in a locked cabinet, the “curse” on the Drake family is brought out into the open. It seems that the men of the Drake family die on or near their 60th birthday, they are beheaded, and the skull turns back up for convenient display in the family crypt.
After much running around, a failed attempt on the surviving Drake’s life, and the police finally catching up to the going’s on, it is revealed that the creepy Dr. Zurich was beheaded by the Jivaro Indians almost 200 years ago, but somehow his head was attached to the body of one of the Jivaro Indians and he has been haunting the Drake family for two centuries to lift the curse and ease his suffering.
Why would you think he's evil. Just because he's totally at ease lounging next to a shrunken human head..
Well, as you can suspect, this movie is rife with awesomely questionable moments. First off, there is a 6-and-a-half-foot tall bamboo knife wielding Jivaro Indian lurking around with his mouth sewn shut, curare coursing through his veins, and wearing clothing made of human skin that somehow..SOMEHOW seems to be missed by everyone for the most part during the movie. It’s unclear if this guy is a dutiful servant, unwitting slave, a zombie, or what! I have to give him credit though. His Olympic level lock picking skills are bad-ass. He worms his way into locked coffins, locked crypts, and locked cabinets with ease..not to mention the ease in which he scales trellises and breaks into houses. He also has mad drumming skills.
One of the burning questions I had was if the Drake brothers were hallucinating seeing the four skulls or if they were under some sort of spell? Had they convinced themselves that they were actually cursed or were just simply a little batshit crazy? For me, the jury is still out. Also of note, when Jonathon Drake was attacked by Zutai, the Jivaro Indian heavy, the family Doctor finds Drake and pronounces that he has no pulse. I’m thinking that this is it for poor Mr. Drake! When Officer Plotpoint takes the pillow case stained with blood to the crime lab, it is discovered it contains curare. The antidote is devised and administered and Mr. Drake makes his eventual recovery. Hang on..wait a minute! He didn’t have a pulse! He was dead! Since when do dead folks lay in bed for hours or days and then magically make a recovery? Usually they just start to get a bit stinky. This is either the absolute worst Doctor or the fasted crime lab in the world. Keep in mind that this is the same family Doctor who pronounced Kenneth Drake dead, determined that he died of a cardiac occlusion (because the last three members of the Drake family died of the same) and all without an examination, testing, or an autopsy.
What a ripoff! I only see ONE skull !!
Yeah.. I totally get how people missed THIS guy roaming the countryside. He looks completely stoned here!
Speaking of the cop, he has the deductive prowess of a cucumber. I mean, I knew that this Dr. Zurich was the heavy the moment he appeared on screen. I’d also like to give a shout-out to the local police crime lab in this movie. Who knew that local crime labs in the 1950’s were so adept at identifying clothing made of human skin (I mean..is that something they regularly test for?) or deducing percentages of human blood/curare samples off a bullet stuck in a tree? Not to mention being able to discover, in short order fashion, that there never has been a Dr. Zurich anywhere in America nor had he ever attended or taught any college or university. I have a computer and the interwebs at my disposal and I doubt I could find out that information.
One final note..the background music was quite good. Good organ music and other creepy instruments and effects help to “set the mood.” However, the ADR (after dialogue replacement) is a bit dicey. Also, the sound effects for poor Zatai getting injured were really odd. He gets shot a couple of times then gets kicked into a fire and each time it sounds like an odd remaster of the “bullet ricochet” that is prevalent in many westerns. It was a REALLY odd sound choice.
Up to this point, I've held back on any "getting a little head" references.. but my resolve is waning.
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Yeah lady, I'd be screaming too.