The story is neither complicated nor unique. When four men witness a human sacrifice in Haiti, and steal the idol that the dancers worship, they’re cursed as criminals. Thinking they’re safe back in the United States and that they can’t be reached in “the city,” they nevertheless become victims, one-by-one. As a character in Curse of the Doll People (1961) will later say, “Voodoo revenge ignores distance.”
The means of their destruction aren’t complicated, either, but they are more unique. Zandor, the voodoo priest (Quintin Bulnes) squeezes blood from a heart onto the bodies of dolls to animate them, then sends them as gifts to not only the perpetrators of the crime, but also to their families. The dolls insert long, slender needles into their victims so that the wounds aren’t easily visible.
More often than not, the murders look like accidents. Before long, the dwindling number of survivors acknowledges that there’s no possible way to explain what is happening to the police. They consult with Karina (Elvira Quintana), daughter of a famous scientist, an expert on native cults and traditions. She ends up being the only sensible one in the group, even though she goes alone into the villain’s lair.
The animated dolls are creepy, as is Zandor, who retrieves them by playing a flute after they’ve killed someone. A silhouette of him and a doll walking down a dark street hand-in-hand is bizarre. To anyone else, they could appear as any man and his child, but to us, we know it’s a voodoo priest and his killer doll. Likewise, the way the dolls move and stealthily sneak up behind their victims is unnerving.
Overall, though, the movie is slow with very little suspense. The pattern of murder becomes repetitive. There’s no reason to be invested in what happens to the victims because they’re so brazen about what they’ve done. Never once do they consider simply returning the idol. Director Benito Alazraki squanders an opportunity to make this something special although writer Alfredo Salazar gives the script no depth.
After saying all of this, I want to cut Curse of the Doll People a break. At the beginning of the version I watched, I saw “American-International Television.” This was Munecos infernales brought to the States by K. Gordon Murray with additional English-language scenes. I’d like to see the original someday. I don’t know that I’d like it any better, but at least I could more fairly critique its intentions.
Written by Alfredo Salazar
Directed by Benito Alazraki
Starring Elvira Quintana, Ramon Gay, Roberto G. Rivera, Quintin Bulnes
Released April 13, 1961 (Mexico)
RT 81 min.
Home Video Vci Entertainment (DVD)