Doctor Death: Seeker Of Souls (1973)

DECEMBER 21, 2011


If he was played by an African American, Doctor Death: Seeker Of Souls would be the coolest "blacksploitation" character ever outside of Blacula/Mamuwalde, with his theatrical demeanor AND lovably garish 70s wardrobe, mixed with a fairly unique plot instead of just recycling common stories (i.e. Blacula for Dracula). But he's just some Vincent Price/Robert Quarry wannabe guy named Robert Considine, who does have a certain charm to his presence, but pales in the necessary departments to his more horror-centric counterparts - I spent many scenes wondering if I'd be more into the movie if the villain was played by one of the icons (Christopher Lee would be another good choice).

Or, again, if he was some badass African American guy. The movie FEELS like a blacksploitation flick from AIP's glory era, with the 70s fashion and music. There's even a random encounter with street punks that reminds me of the scene in Blacula (or was it Scream, Blacula, Scream) - but with a bunch of bland white dudes instead. The hero in particular is as forgettable as they come; even though the plot more or less revolves around Doctor Death trying to revive this guy's wife (more for his ego than an actual desire to help him), I had zero connection to him at all - the loss of his wife meant nothing to me (it happened in the first scene) and the actor was too dull for me to root for him over the more interesting Considine (his career didn't last long, either - while Considine still works occasionally, this guy's last movie was Jaws 2, though he also played Mr. Goodwrench for the commercials in the 80s). Even if the movies themselves weren't always great, the actors in the blacksploitation movies tended to really go all out and make memorable heroes/villains (Sugar Hill being a good example), but too many of these folks are just kind of phoning it in.

But otherwise, it's a decent enough flick. The soul transference plot was pretty interesting, and there's something kind of wonderfully perverse about a movie where the villain seems to care more about the hero's loved one than the hero himself. Again, the story was kind of novel - it was the lack of urgency that brought it down. The husband didn't really care if his wife was returned to him after the halfway point or so (he started shacking up with his secretary anyway), and without a real police element or any sort of threat to Doctor Death, it lacks excitement throughout. There are some surprisingly graphic murders (there's a great ax kill), but it's never scary or even that suspenseful - it's just "kind of cool".

I'll give it this much though - they really thought out the backstory for Doctor Death. When he explains his origins, they go above and beyond to make him more 3-dimensional, including an aside about how he has taken the bodies of women, other races, etc, in order to see life through the eyes of, say, an Asian woman. As he is hundreds of years old and basically immortal, it makes sense that he'd want to mix it up a bit, and I like that they humanized him instead of just giving him a standard "I was an asshole and got power hungry" type back story. Again, Doctor Death is the more interesting and almost more sympathetic of the two leads, which makes the movie feel a bit tone deaf and somewhat jarring when it comes time for him to enter full blown villain mode at the end.

Moe Howard also pops in the movie, sans his brothers or any eye pokes. It's a throwaway role, but must have been a delight back in the day, and I think it was his final performance (he died 2 years later). He also flubs his line, but I'll let it slide - he's pretty much the last person I ever expected to see in a 70s horror movie. Even if *I* showed up I'd be less "Wait, WHAT?"

The disc has some decent extras, including an interview with Considine and another with the director's son (Eddie Saeta passed away in 2005; he had an extensive career but this was his only directorial credit on a feature). They're pretty good, but both seem more interested in the non-Doctor Death parts of their career; Saeta goes on and on about his father's connection to Moe, and Considine discusses his other films in as much detail (they also edit out the context, so all of a sudden he's just talking about a different movie with only the poster to show us what he's talking about). Then there's a TV spot (no trailer) and a stupid bit with Scott Spiegel where Considine "resurrects" him.

Spiegel also joins him for the commentary, which includes Walter Olsen, who I guess is a higher up at Scorpion (the distributor of the DVD). It's a pretty worthless track in my opinion; Considine's memories aren't that great (it's kind of funny, he talks non-stop about his career until his character first appears in the movie, at which point he trails off), Spiegel is annoying and never explains what he's doing there in the first place, and Olsen.... well, I don't wish to be mean, but he sounds exactly like Elmer Fudd, which isn't the ideal voice for a DVD commentary moderator. But he did his research and keeps Considine talking, even if most of the time it has nothing to do with the movie (there's a great Klaus Kinski anecdote though!). Definitely can be skipped unless you absolutely loved the movie and/or one of the participants.

If Hollywood wants a license to print money, they'd cast William Fichtner or Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in a remake right now, beef up the stakes and add a third party (i.e. a cop after one or both of them, preferably played by an old horror vet like Robert Englund or Jeffrey Combs). And retain the ridiculous title; trick some folks into thinking it's about Kevorkian.

What say you?


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