La Muerte Viviente (1971)

Also known as Isle of the Snake People, the original title of this movie translates as  Living Death. It was directed by Juan Ibanez, who also directed star Boris Karloff in The Incredible InvasionHouse of Evil and Fear Chamber.

Karloff’s box office value led to these movies being financed by Columbia Pictures, which would then distribute them. Karloff received $100,000 per film, which is about $641,000 in today’s money. He rejected the scripts for all four movies, but agreed to make them when Jack Hill — yes, the maker of Spider Baby — rewrote the stories.

Filming was to take place in Mexico City, but Karloff’s emphysema (as well as the fact that he’d already lost a lung to cancer and had pneumonia in the other) would not allow him to work in the city’s altitude. He shot his scenes — with Hill directing — at the Dored Studios in Los Angeles, with additional scenes shot in Mexico with a Karloff stand-in named Jerry Petty.

Captain Labesch has arrived at a far-flung island to stop the voodoo rites being carried out by Damballah (Karloff). He’s warned by local rich white man Carl van Molder (also Karloff) to leave well enough alone. There’s a temperance subplot too, but who cares when Kalea the snake dancer is turning women into zombies that eat policemen?

She is played by Yolanda Montes, who used the stage name Tongolele and was known as The Queen of Tahitian Dances. A vedette in the Mexican cabaret, Tongolele is a potent mix of Swedish and Spanish who was born in Spokane, Washington and continues to be a star in Mexico to this day. She even released an album at one point. I have to say, she looks like she stepped straight out of 2020, with her shaved head and fierce makeup. She’s seriously volcanic, taking over the film from the moment she appears,

Human sacrifice. Dance numbers. Near-psychedelic images. Zombies. Well, as to that latter part of this movie, Night of the Living Dead came out in the years between when this movie was made and when it was released. By that point, this seemed dated. No matter. Watching it today, I was beyond entertained by it.

You can watch this on YouTube.

5 thoughts on “La Muerte Viviente (1971)

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