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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Doctor Death: Seeker of Souls (1973) review


John Considine (Dr. Death), Barry Coe (Fred Saunders), Cheryl Miller (Sandy), Stewart Moss (Greg Vaughn), Leon Askin (Thor), Moe Howard (Volunteer), Florence Marly (Tana)

Directed by Eddie Saeta

The Short Version: Thoroughly enjoyable obscure horror rarity featuring an infinitely memorable grand guinol style lead villain. Saeta may have never directed another movie, but he makes this sole entry deliciously memorable and fun. Without John Considine as Dr. Death, it's unlikely the film would be as good as it is. A hidden gem of 70's horror.

Fred Saunders, unhealthily distraught over his wife's death tries various avenues to bring her back from the dead. When seances prove false and a ghastly Brotherhood of the Dead proves deplorable, Fred learns of a man who professes to be able to transfer souls from one body to another utilizing a magical serum. Named Dr. Death, Fred seeks his assistance. After realizing the devilish doctor isn't above murder, Fred decides against the procedure after the first attempt fails. However, the thousand year old Dr. Death must learn why the corpse refused the soul. With no intentions of going away, the bodies of beautiful women begin stacking up.

This rarity from the swinging 70's perfectly captures that decades swanky style and flamboyantly colorful outfits. Director Saeta had never directed a horror film before, but makes his debut outing count. This also appears to have been his sole movie directing gig (outside of numerous work as an AD). Apparently, the COUNT YORGA films were very much an inspiration on this motion picture. Dr. Death has a brutish assistant named Thor that recalls Brudah from the YORGA movies and there's definitely a PHIBES vibe present, too.

Considine is a really far out freaky dude decked out in his flashy duds. He's got a comically memorable look about him and some of his lines, while healthily delivered, are worthy of a Grand Cheese Award (I command you! Get into that body!!). There's also a nice smattering of gore including a poor woman who's cut in half in suitably gory fashion. This scene reminded me a lot of H.G. Lewis's THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970). Moe of THE THREE STOOGES, Moe Howard, has a small role during this sequence so the Stooge lovers in the audience will get a kick (and a finger in the eye) out of spotting him in the crowd.

Moe Howard, formerly the head STOOGE, lends his ear to this dead woman's breast...more than once...he has to make sure, you know

The movie is occasionally all over the place, but this works in its favor as Considine manages to maintain audience attention at all times. His suave demeanor commands it. There's virtually no one to root for as the character of Fred Saunders (at first at least), seems to be a bit unhinged himself, which leaves things soul-ley (haha) in the court of Dr. Death to carry the movie. But again, the movie works best when Considine is onscreen which is the bulk of the picture. Frequently resembling a gory TV movie of the week, this, too, aids the production lending it a quirky charm. There's also some genuinely light funny moments present. One wonders just how this entertainingly garish horror film managed to stay under the radar for so long.

Adding layers to this lovingly chintzy movie is a nifty back story about Dr. Death and how long he's been around told with inspired voiceover from Considine and visualized through tinted flashbacks and a smoke enshrouded sequence showcasing the various bodies Dr. Death has occupied throughout the centuries. This bit also reveals Dr. Death to possess (haha) a twisted sense of humor throughout his torrid and lustful existence.

"This child kisses better when she's dead than Tana did when she was alive!"

There's also an unmistakable air of necrophilia involving the character of Fred. At the beginning after his wife has died, he demands her tomb to never be locked. Moments later, we see him preparing to kiss her corpse as the screen fades to black. Over halfway through, Saunders begins to exhibit something resembling normality as he begins a relationship with his beautiful blonde secretary.

Stewart Ross (right)

Fans of STAR TREK (the original series) will recognize Stewart Moss as Greg. He was an ill fated crewman in 'The Naked Time' and one of the ruthless aliens in 'By Any Other Name'. The score by Richard LaSalle is boisterously Hammeresque in places and adds to the enjoyment of this gloriously silly romp.

This little discussed low budgeter will hopefully garner some new fans and also attract the attention of those who may have seen the film at some point over the years. A ton of fun, horror lovers searching for some undiscovered cheap thrills would do well to seek out DOCTOR DEATH.

This review is representative of the Scorpion Releasing DVD

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