Friday, December 9, 2016

Doctor Death: Seeker of Souls (1973)

          Enjoyably ridiculous, the supernatural horror thriller Doctor Death: Seeker of Souls benefits from a unique performance by John Considine in the leading role. By his own admission, Considine received zero guidance from director Eddie Saeta, so Considine went big in his first take and stayed there throughout production. What’s more, because the actor knew going in how silly the script was for this project, it’s tempting to credit him with an appropriate sense of irony, as if every florid line reading or theatrical gesture is a wink-wink commentary on the inherent goofiness of the piece. In any event, Considine is fun to watch because his performance is so absurdly stilted, channeling every bug-eyed excess that John Carradine, Boris Karloff, or Vincent Price ever brought to a similar role, only without the elegance or nuance one associates with those actors. Adding to the picture’s considerable kitsch factor are the polished production values—clearly, Saeta and his crew thought they were making a proper horror picture—and the campy extremes of the plot. Whereas most shockers about mad scientists portray brilliant characters driven to extremes by obsession, this one offers the parallel image of a madman driven to distraction by a sort of incompetence. After all, the title character spends most of the movie trying to complete one task, so he’s a bit like that guy in your office yelling at an uncooperative copy machine.
          The nominal protagonist is Fred Saunders (Barry Coe), a businessman whose beautiful wife, Laura (Jo Morrow), just died. Determined to defy mortality, Fred searches for a spiritualist who can revive Laura, eventually meeting Tana (Florence Marly). She “represents” a magician named Dr. Death (Considine), so on some level, Doctor Death: Seeker of Souls is about a psychopath with a talent agent. Dr. Death’s trick is transferring souls from one body to another, so he promises to help Fred in exchange for $50,000. Thereafter, Dr. Death seeks a soul to put inside Laura’s body. Unfortunately, Laura’s corpse resists Dr. Death’s mojo, so he goes on a killing spree while searching for a soul with which he can reanimate Laura’s corpse Watching Dr. Death get more and more annoyed while this process drags along is morbidly funny. The picture also provides some domestic melodrama, because Tana becomes jealous of Dr. Death’s new sexual plaything, Venus (Sivi Aberg). Leading man Coe is beyond forgettable, and the same is true of starlet Cheryl Miller, who plays the hero’s secretary-turned-lover. So while Aberg is lovely, Marly is suitably deranged, and Leon Askin (who plays Dr. Death’s henchman) provides some unintentional laughs whenever he moves his bulky frame across the screen, it’s all about Considine.

Doctor Death: Seeker of Souls: FUNKY


Unknown said...

You forgot to mention Moe Howard is in this movie!

Hal said...

Moe's final film. He was likely cast by the director, for Saeta was assistant director on many Three Stooges shorts in the 1950's. He was primarily an assistant director, spending over thirty years in that capacity before directing two TV episodes (one was an interesting episode of HONDO) in 1967, and this was his lone feature film as director.