Directed by Edward L. Cahn [Other horror films: Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), The She-Creature (1956), Voodoo Woman (1957), Zombies of Mora Tau (1957), Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), Curse of the Faceless Man (1958), It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), Invisible Invaders (1959), Beauty and the Beast (1962)]
While perhaps a little hokey, The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake is actually somewhat progressive as far as horror flicks from the late 1950’s go. I noticed this when I first saw it in October of 2017, and reaffirmed it just now, which certainly helps it stand out among a crowded field of peers at the time.
When watching horror films from the 1950’s, it’s easy to forget that not too long after the end of the decade, H.G. Lewis came onto the scene and significantly altered what directors dared to show, all in dazzling color. Here, while still in crisp black-and-white, we happen upon some rather grisly scenes for the time (after-effects of decapitation, sandals made out of human skin, the process of making shrunken heads shown in more detail than anticipated), as though expecting a more violent turn in just four years’ time.
It’s certainly a movie that feels ahead of it’s time, and the unique story (a curse by headhunters on the Drake family due to their actions centuries past), combined with the early gore, really create a pretty fun, if not sometimes hokey, experience.
Most of the cast, at least to me (and I admit I have limited experience with non-horror flicks prior to 1970) are unknowns, but most do a reasonable job. Both protagonists, played by Grant Richards and Valerie French, felt a bit stale at times, but generally were good on screen. Eduard Franz was better, though admittedly, his character didn’t do that much over the course of the film. The antagonists, though, were both enjoyable – Henry Daniell had sort of a cheap, knock-off Lugosi feel to him, but he was always a good presence, and his henchman, played by Paul Wexler, certainly looked good, and the effect of his lips being sewn together was pretty creepy.
Edward L. Cahn is a director I’ve spoken about before (a few of his movies, such as the woeful Curse of the Faceless Man and fantasy-filled Beauty and the Beast are both on the site), and of the movies I’ve seen directed by him, this is one of the best. It! The Terror from Beyond Space and Zombies of Mora Tau may both exceed this one insofar as personal enjoyment is concerned, but this film is still a lot of fun even after multiple viewings.
The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake may not appeal to many horror fans of the more modern tastes, but if you’ve a liking to some of the classics from the 1930’s through mid-1960’s, I’d consider giving this one a go. I think this movie will come as a pleasant surprise.