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Friday, September 21, 2018

The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959)




Another Friday means another classic from the decade that brought us Rock-n-Roll and T.V. dinners! Two of my favorite things ever. That and of course cheesy movies. That said this one is less cheesy and more creepy, at least for the fifties.

After cool opening credits with a skull, candle, and awesome music we meet Jonathan Drake. He is an academic that has spent his life studying the supernatural. We find out that he did this to try and prevent the family curse. All the men in the Drake clan die on or around their sixtieth birthday. If that weren’t enough to worry about they all also lose their heads. Though the skulls do end up in the family crypt… because someone sneaks back and puts them there! When his brother dies and loses his noggin’ Jonathan is the last remaining male heir and is soon threatened by mysterious supernatural forces. Will he die minus his cranium or will he use the knowledge contained within it to save himself? Well one of those two things are going to happen.

I dig this movie. When people imagine genre flicks of the fifties they think giant bugs and monsters from outer space. I’ve covered a lot of those, but there are others that defy those expectations. The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake is one of those that has neither an alien or atomic spawned menace in it. Here we get a plain old bit of supernatural immortal witchdoctor action. In some exposition we find out that the Drake family is cursed because one of their ancestors took vengeance on a tribe of headhunters for killing an employee. He killed all the males of the tribe, except for the witchdoctor who got away. It was he who set into motion the plans that have killed the Drakes for over one hundred years. They never explain why sixty is the magic number, but that isn’t important. The only thing that matters is the creepy Indian sneaking around and the man pulling his strings.

Creepy, isn't it?
One of the other things that has always stood out for me with this one is how twisted that it is. Remember we are almost twenty years before the in your face gore so when you see severed heads, skulls galore, headless bodies, and the rubbery boneless flesh of a face being filled with hot sand and rocks to make a shrunken head that is pretty out there. The shrunken heads themselves are creepy looking and have always freaked me out. This movie pushes the envelope on what they could get away with and I’m sure was a hit with the teenagers who were going to see these movies. Let me warn you though, as I have many times when covering old movies, that you can’t go into a movie like The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake and judge it by the standards of today’s effects work. They couldn’t be as explicit, nor did they have the technology to make it that realistic.

This is another of the movies that I don’t hear enough fans talking about. Not only is it unusual for the decade in which it was made the movie still holds up pretty well. Really how many good shrunken head movies are there? I highly recommend The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake.


© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer

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