Voodoo Heartbeat (1973) Review
Once thought to be a lost film, Voodoo Heartbeat, also known as The Sex Serum of Dr. Blake, is like Double Agent 73, among the more bizarre examples of 1970s grindhouse fare. But since it was directed by Charles Nizet who also gave us The Ravager and Help Me… I’m Possessed, that’s probably to be expected.
The script, co-written by Nizet and Vernon Broadrick, opens with a group of scientists meeting to discuss a potential breakthrough that Dr. Grant (Ern Dugo) made while living with a native tribe in Africa. He talks about the hardships and risks he faced, such as being given a fourteen-year-old girl as his wife by the chief. The others nod in respect for his sacrifice to obtain the serum that may hold the key to banishing pain, giving people super strength and even eternal youth.
His story eventually turns into a flashback to an orgy, excuse me, ritual. This involves plastic Halloween skulls, several naked women, including Dr. Grant’s wife, all of whom look to be much closer to forty than fourteen, and some guy getting his heart cut out.
The doctors plan on testing this serum on a death row inmate, but before they can, they’re attacked with the lamest karate chops ever put on film by Chinese agents who want the serum to give Chairman Mao (Philip Ahn, Portrait of a Hitman, Jonathan Livingston Seagull) eternal youth. The serum ends up in the possession of Dr. Blake (Ray Molina) who, in order to stop it falling into the wrong hands, injects himself with it.
Nizet, who was killed in an alleged mob hit in 2003, was active in the Las Vegas adult film scene and that’s where Voodoo Heartbeat had its origins. It played Vegas area theatres as early as 1970 under the title The Sex Serum of Dr. Blake and sporting a self applied “X” rating. It would be re-released under that title with an “R” rating and the same running time later in the 70s, seeming to disprove rumours that there was a hardcore version.
There is plenty of bare skin and simulated sex from the days when breasts were real and eyelashes were fake, though. The scenes are anything but erotic, however, with mechanical movements and dubbed in moaning that never changes even when the character’s mouths are otherwise occupied. One of the male performers, Will Long who plays Dr. Larsen, appeared in several of Ray Dennis Steckler’s films as well. Yes, the man who made The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? also had a sideline doing skin flicks.
That’s still better than the film’s horror elements, however. The serum has the side effect of giving Blake a need to drink human blood, which leads to some ineptly staged attacks and blood drinking scenes. Voodoo Heartbeat also stays true to form by having him control his uncontrollable bloodlust long enough to watch a long three-way before shooting the participants and drinking their blood. There’s little in the way of effects, and they’re anything but special. The severed arm found in a freezer is about as good as it gets.
It was disappointing to finally see Voodoo Heartbeat after all these years, only for it to be so ineptly made. But with its ludicrous script and worse acting, the film does have a WTF did I just watch quality that keeps it entertaining. And if you have a taste for that kind of film, you’ll want to check this out.
Long thought lost, Vinegar Syndrome managed to get their hands on a print which they restored and released last year as part of a ten film box set Vinegar Syndrome’s Lost Picture Show. Even after restoration, the print looks pretty beat up, but at least it’s available. I certainly wouldn’t suggest buying the set just to see Voodoo Heartbeat, and hopefully the titles will eventually be available individually.