‘Written, produced and directed to scare the daylights out of you!’
The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake is a 1959 American horror film directed by Edward L. Cahn (It! The Terror from Beyond Space; Voodoo Woman) from a screenplay by Orville H. Hampton (The Snake Woman; The Alligator People; Mesa of Lost Women).
It was one of a series of films they made in the late 1950s for producer Robert E. Kent’s Vogue Pictures on contract for distribution by United Artists. It was made as a part of a package with Invisible Invaders.
The film’s score was provided by Paul Dunlap (I Was a Teenage Werewolf; Blood of Dracula; The Angry Red Planet).
The film is released on Blu-ray by Scream Factory on June 27, 2017.
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Eduard Franz (The Thing from Another World), Valerie French (The 27th Day), Grant Richards, Henry Daniell, Lumsden Hare (Svengali), Howard Wendell (The Munsters), Paul Wexler (The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters), Paul Cavanagh (The Man Who Turned to Stone; Francis in the Haunted House; House of Wax), Frank Gerstle (Killers from Space; The Neanderthal Man; The Magnetic Monster).
‘The evil that men do lives after them” (opens with this quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar).
Jonathan Drake (Eduard Franz), a university professor specializing in the occult, is summoned to the home of his brother, Kenneth Drake (Paul Cavanagh), when a family curse threatens Kenneth’s life. Jonathan Drake arrives too late to save his brother from a violent death and subsequent decapitation before his burial.
The curse is the work of Dr. Emil Zurich (Henry Daniell), a Swiss agent who was a member of Jonathan Drake’s ancestor’s exploration party two hundred years previously. Zurich was captured, thus forcing Captain Drake to lead a rescue party into the jungle: Drake’s party massacred the tribe (save for the tribal witch doctor Zutai (Paul Wexler), only to find that Zurich has been beheaded.
Zutai, now a zombie with his mouth sewn shut in the manner of a shrunken head, is assisting the miraculously resurrected Zurich in his pursuit of revenge and supernatural destiny against Captain Drake’s male descendants. Zurich and Zutai lay their plans to murder and behead Jonathan Drake, which will end the curse on the Drake family.
“Even with the numerous plot holes, it’s easy to see why this movie had such an impact on the people who remember it. The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake was an unusual film for its time, with imagery that was sure to leave an indelible impression on the young audience that viewed it. Is it a “forgotten classic?” Hardly. But it’s certainly good entertainment for genre fans who crave something a little different.” Exclamation Mark
“Cahn’s direction is pedestrian, but he manipulates the paraphernalia of skulls and shrunken heads to eerie effect, while Daniell and Wexler (the latter’s zombie unnervingly boasting the sewn lips of a shrunken head) make superbly sinister presences.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror
” …done with a commendably straight face. Daniell, in particular, overcomes the deficiencies in the script and Edward L. Cahn’s pedestrian direction.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook
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“While the events of the movie may appear supernatural to the characters, the naturalistic explanation seems obvious enough to the audience, as we get to watch the mad modern-day witchdoctor shrinking heads and all that jazz. However, at the last minute, the villains get a wonderfully preposterous and grisly supernatural explanation that is way weirder and more supernatural than most of the stuff that you’ll find in movies this far back, which is delightful…” Orrin Grey, Innsmouth Free Press
“Cheaply made but full-blooded occult horror, rather effectively done by a cast that knows how.” Leslie Halliwell, Halliwell’s Film Guide
“This South American mumbo-jumbo, done to a turn by a better than average cast, serves up some grisly thrills.” Picturegoer magazine, 1959
“Somewhat resembling a 1950s William Castle effort (especially a sequence with four floating skulls) veteran workman director Edward L. Cahn is able to cram enough thrills into 70 minutes, and the cast does a decent job with the material. Wrinkly Daniell makes a really creepy villain, and as a witch doctor is able to perform some nasty things (the head shrinking is pretty graphic for the time) in his dungeon-like basement.” George R. Reis, DVD Drive-In
” … a cheap comic book-style mystery interspersed with cops in a crime lab. Henry Daniel (Dr. Zucco from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) and the rest of the cast are surprisingly good. Too bad the story, script, and direction are awful.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers
“The film looks just fine for a studio-bound “B,” and director Edward L. Cahn and DOP Maury Gertsman manage to create an unsettling atmosphere with their limited budget. Among their film’s numerous horrifying bits are a quartet of floating skulls, what amounts to a how-to lesson on the shrinking of human heads … that headless corpse, poisoning by curare, and a pair of sandals made of human skin.” Sandy Ferber, Fantasy Literature
Cast and characters:
- Henry Daniell as Dr. Emil Zurich
- Valerie French as Alison Drake
- Grant Richards as Lt. Rowan
- Eduard Franz as Jonathan Drake
- Lumsden Hare as Rogers
- Frank Gerstle as Coulter
- Paul Wexler as Zutai
- Howard Wendell as Dr. Bradford
- Paul Cavanagh as Kenneth Drake