The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959) – A Movie Review

This movie review is only for those who revel in cheesy, almost unwatchably bad horror and sci-fi movies of yesteryear.

Before I get started, I want to give a personal anecdote about this movie.  Back when I was ten years old, I was a big fan of horror and sci-fi movies that I watched mostly on the New York City local television station channels 5, 9 and 11.  They each had some kind of weekly show like Creature Feature, Chiller Theater or Million Dollar Movie that often featured such classics as Attack of the Crab Monsters or Tarantula.  Well at some point I saw “The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake” and became fascinated with the idea that there were such things as shrunken heads.  Coincidentally a kid’s toy came out called Witch Doctor Head Shrinkers Kit by a company called Pressman that had the cheesiest commercial demonstrating how you could make the aforementioned shrunken heads.  Suffice it to say that from the time the commercial appeared until next Christmas I harangued my parents relentlessly to make this my one and only Christmas gift.  Now money was short back then and this toy was on the pricey side but sure enough it was under the tree that morning at Christmas.  I was ecstatic and wasted no time making my first shrunken head.  I added the “plastic” powder and the warm water to the with doctor’s cauldron and stirred it while reciting the mystic spell, yikes.  Then I poured the goop into the mold and let it set.  Anyway, the stuff was like a gelatinous plaster of Paris and after it set for a day, I guess it somewhat shrank but honestly it wasn’t very much for all the hype associated and within a week or so it was in the garbage pail.  A very important lesson for me in the difference between expectations and reality.  And now seeing this movie for the first time in fifty some odd years it’s a similar experience.

Don’t worry about any actors’ names.  No one has ever heard of any of these people, either then or now.  The plot is that the Drake family has a curse on them because 180 years previous their ancestor was a merchant down in the Amazon jungle and one of his men was kidnapped by a local tribe of headhunters.  During a rescue mission it was discovered that the kidnapped man had been killed and his head cut off in preparation for it being shrunk.  Ancestor Drake became so angry that he had the whole village slaughtered.  The only one who escaped was the witchdoctor who took the head of the employee killed.  After this a curse was placed on the Drakes by the witchdoctor.  All the male heirs of Drake would have their heads cut off at about age sixty and shrunken down.  The skulls were kindly returned to the family crypt but not the shrunken head.

Skip ahead four generations and Jonathan and Kenneth Drake are the last male descendants of old Drake.  Jonathan is concerned for his brother Kenneth because his sixtieth birthday is approaching.  But before Jonathan can reach him an extremely tall Amazonian Indian stabs Kenneth with a curare envenomed blade.  He’s interrupted right after the lethal stab but later on he returns to the casket containing Kenneth’s body and decapitates it and takes the head away in this nifty hat box shaped wicker basket.  Then we meet Dr. Emil Zurich (from Switzerland!) who assists the tribesman in processing the head for shrinking.  It’s all very official.  The head is boiled then the skull is very cleverly removed and the rest of the head is filled with ashes and hot stones that miraculously transforms it into the charming shrunken head that would look sporty hanging from a rear-view mirror or possibly on a keychain.

Things get complicated with Jonathan’s daughter Alison and an appreciative police detective Jeff Rowan and a medical doctor named Bradford and a police forensics guy whose name escapes everyone.  Eventually we learn that Dr. Zurich and the really tall Indian are two hundred years old and have been doing the killing all along.  Zurich is a zombie with the head of the original victim from Drake’s Amazonian adventure sewn onto an Indian’s body by the witchdoctor who is the really tall Indian.  During the fun and games.   Jeff and Dr. Bradford save Jonathan from a curare attack by the Indian and in revenge Zurich has Bradford’s head removed and stored in what looks like a food pantry.  Finally, Jeff kills both the villains and the movie ends with Jonathan cutting Zurich’s head off.  This allows him to turn to dust and the movie mercifully expires too.

This movie is nowhere near as entertaining or witty as I’ve made it sound.  It’s awful.  It takes a special individual to sit through this.  Someone fearless and intrepid.  War Pig, this one is all yours.

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War Pig
War Pig
29 days ago

“This movie review is only for those who revel in cheesy, almost unwatchably bad horror and sci-fi movies of yesteryear.” Ya had me pegged with the first sentence. Yes, I’ve seen it but it was a long time ago. It was a double feature with Invisible Aliens or Invisible Invaders, I believe. An equally bad movie, but at least it starred John Agar and John Carradine. Carradine did everything everywhere and has too many acting credits to count on IMDB, including some very, very schlocky sci-fi/horror movies and Agar was the king of bad sci-fi movies in the late 50s.… Read more »

War Pig
War Pig
29 days ago
Reply to  photog

I dunno, the acting in EEGAH! if you want to call it acting, was pretty darned bad. You’d see more and better talent in the average middle school play than there was in EEGAH!

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