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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Crypt of Dark Secrets (1976)

I love the fact that I’m still finding regional drive-in flicks that I’ve never seen before. These are low budget affairs made to fill the screens of the local mom and pop theaters, many of them hauled from engagement to engagement in the trunk of a car. It is one of my favorite eras in movie history and produced some real gems like Stanley, The Giant Spider Invasion, and Macon County Line. Is Crypt of Dark Secrets one of those? Let’s check it out and see. 

The movie kicks off with a witch, who we later find out is named Damballa, doing witchy stuff while dancing around a magic circle and levitating. Then it switches to the sheriff’s office where we get a bit of background. They are talking about a local legend of an Aztec witch, Damballa, who lives on a nearby island in the swamp. There is a fully furnished house that no one will claim because everyone gets chased off by the raven-haired girl who can turn into a snake. That is except for the current “young fella” a retired army ranger named Ted Watkins. Ted is looking for a quiet place to spend his time after his tour of Vietnam. 

Since Ted has lasted much longer than anyone else, they decide to visit him. It is here where we find out that he has been cashing his retirement checks and keeping the cash with him on the island. Some locals find out and a plan to steal his money is hatched. The most foolproof way to get away with it is to make sure there are no witnesses so sure enough they murder Ted before making off with the loot. But Damballa brings him back to life for some revenge. Well not really. She ends up doing her voodoo magic to get the payback on the thieves/murders because Ted is now alive again, but also at peace. Then there is some talk about a prophecy, and they live happily ever after. 

Okay I will freely admit that this isn’t a good movie. The story doesn’t make a lick of sense at times and the actors are clearly not professionals. Lines are stumbled over, characters look at the camera, and the dialogue is poorly written. I get the vibe from some of the scenes that they were just winging it and didn’t have marks to hit as more than once people are standing around looking a bit lost. It also felt like a letdown that they setup up the Ted character as an ex-special forces soldier and then have him do nothing after getting brought back by the dead. Instead Damballa uses a pirate treasure (I kid you not) to lure back the killers and take her vengeance. Despite all these flaws I still enjoyed the heck out of this one. Perhaps it is because of my love for all these goofy drive-in flicks or the can-do attitude of these filmmakers it comes off as earnest and fun. They are doing their best and that should count for something. 

It also helps that the filmmakers did manage to avoid the kiss of death the one thing that can kill a movie like this. It clocks in at a tight seventy-one minutes and is never boring. Sure the ending feels forced like they had run out of ideas and didn’t know how to finish the story. But up until that point we always had something interesting happening. Speaking of that I was sort of shocked by how naked our lead actress Maureen Ridley gets. As Damballa she disrobes and gyrates quite a bit onscreen. This includes full frontal nudity, which was still not common in mainstream movies (aka. not porn). This happens a couple of times and they linger quite a bit on her “assets”. I’m not trying to be creepy, but this is an example of a regional filmmaker using what they have to set themselves apart from the crowd. They really went for it and I appreciate that. 

Objectively Crypt of Dark Secrets feels like a forgettable bottom half of a double feature that served to fill up the promised time/value of getting to see a pair of movies for your entry fee. And I can’t argue with anyone that wants to take this movie to task for the flaws I’ve listed above. But damn it I like this sort of silliness and I think that it fits in quite nicely with contemporary flicks that filled this need. Hell, it is way better than many of them that meander and never get around to showing us much of anything on the screen. For that reason alone, I’m recommend my fellow drive-in nerds to track themselves down a copy of this one. I think you will dig it as much as I did. 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

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