Through history, some of our strongest cultures are based on the taking of heads.
Professor Jonathan Drake (Eduard Franz) is a university professor that specializes in the occult. He is called to the home of his brother Kenneth (Paul Cavanagh) when a family curse threatens Kenneth’s life. By the time he gets there, with his daughter Alison (Valerie French), his brother is already dead. The doctor called it heart failure. Later he was decapitated before he was buried.
Lt Rowan (Grant Richards) is assigned to investigate Kenneth’s death. He talks to Dr. Emil Zurich (Henry Daniell) about a shrunken head found hanging in the window. Dr. Zurich is a neighbor and an expert in the Jivaro Indians of Ecuador. They are experts on shrinking heads.
Jonathan takes his daughter to the family vault and explains the curse to her. All Drake family members are buried here except Capt. Wilfred Drake, who died in 1873. The curse began with Wilfred. He had a trading station on the upper Amazon. The Jivaro Indians kidnapped his Swiss agent. Wilfred led an expedition into the jungle to rescue him. They found the agent, but his head was missing. In retaliation, Captain Drake and his men massacred every Jivaro man and male child, except one, the Witch Doctor. He escaped into the jungle. The Witch Doctor placed the curse on the Drake family.
After Wilfred came Jonathan's grandfather Gilbert, his father David Wilson and now his brother Kenneth. All buried without their heads. Jonathan opens a cabinet and shows Alison two skulls. He explains they were returned to the vault by someone or something. The someone is Dr. Zurich. The something is the Witch Doctor who is now a zombie complete with sewed up mouth. Since Wilfred is not buried in the family vault the skulls would represent Jonathan’s grandfather, his father, his brother and lastly his.
"The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake" was released in 1959 and was directed by Edward L. Cahn. We know who the killer is. At least the audience knows. The lieutenant investigating the crimes doesn’t and he is the one who needs to figure it all out.
It’s part psychological thriller, part horror. It’s an interesting unfolding of a story. Full of voodoo ritual. The explanation of how to shrink a head is actually interesting and not totally uncreepy. Not a bad movie. I enjoyed it. If you are into voodoo movies or if you want to know how to shrink a head, you might be interested in it.
And if you want to know why Dr. Zurich is so intent on killing Jonathan Drake, you’ll have to watch it to the end.