Sunday, February 25, 2007

Macumba Love

That Old Black Magic Has Me In Its Spell

My new obsession is finding the neglected and out-of-print exploitation classic Macumba Love (1960), which has been called "an early 60s voodoo flick that runs pretty much like a filmed version of the cartoons found in men's magazines of the time". It starred big tit Brit actress June Wilkinson (pictured right), an erstwhile topless teen fan dancer who was putting the swing in Swingin' London when she was discovered by Hugh Hefner; Hef promptly dubbed her "The Bosom" and thrust her into worldwide fame when he featured her in the September 1958 ish of Playboy. Despite her pneumatic prowess, her attempts at parlaying a film career fell "flat". She appeared as an uncredited topless "Torso" in Russ Meyer's 1959 nudie cutie The Immoral Mr. Teas (Wilkinson claims she was uncredited and her face unseen because she was under contract to another studio at the time, and that it was a moot point anyway because "...Breasts are like two are alike. Everyone knew they were my breasts immediately") and failed to bust out of her top-heavy typecast roles with stereotypical fare like The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960), The Continental Twist (1961) and Macumba Love. June Wilksinson later appeared as villainess Nora Clavicle (Barbara Rush)'s henchwoman Evilina on an 1966 episode ("Nora Clavicle and the Ladies' Crime Club") of the ABC-TV series Batman.

The awesome trailer for Macumba Love can be seen at VCI's Trailer Park; click here to see it.

The Macumba Love trailer is also included on Something Weird Video's double feature DVD The Naked Witch/Crypt of Secrets.

And here's a nice review by Keith at Teleport City.

1960, United States. Starring June Wilkinson, Walter Reed, Ziva Rodann, Ruth de Souza, Cléa Simões, Pedro Paulo Hatheyer.

It's no secret that we here at Teleport City feel the seventies were a golden age of American filmmaking. That's hardly going out on a limb, as most cinema students consider the seventies the high water mark of American cinema. However, while most people throw out titles like Taxi Driver, The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, they seem to forget landmark films like Dolemite, White Lightning and The Warriors.

The seventies were the beginning of the end of the exploitation flick. Although like-minded films would soldier on for another decade or so, the advent of VCRs and cable TV helped put an end to the good old fashioned first run exploitation film. No longer would advertisements taunt ticket buyers with the line, "Not for sissies!" Conmen and hustlers could no longer retitle the same movie two or three times (well, except for Xenon's kungfu videos). The drive-in, once a heaven of good ol' boys blowing up outhouses, bikers terrorizing towns, and red paint soaked butcher scraps substituting for human viscera would transform into flea markets and parking lots.

But while the seventies might have been the apex of exploitation movies, the art form had a long history. I would hazard to guess that soon after it was established that audiences would pay to see moving pictures, someone was probably putting up handbills advertising gore, boobs and horse-cart chases for viewing inside the nickelodeon. Just about every "Oldde Townne" type of tourist trap has one of those hand-cranked machines where you can drop a quarter in and watch some old movie footage of a hanging.

So every once in a while it's nice to go beyond the seventies, to see what sort of trash manipulated dad or granddad into shelling his hard-earned cash (and for the most part, these films were targeted towards males). One such example is Macumba Love, an early 60s voodoo flick that runs pretty much like a filmed version of the cartoons found in men's magazines of the time.

Man of science J. Peter Weils (Reed) is living in Brazil and is annoyed that the natives still practice voodoo. He decides to write a book that will blow the lid off this whole voodoo scam once and for all. Now I'm all for people using the scientific method to eradicate superstition and fear, but you don't have to be a prick about it. Weils is prone to making statements like "These native people don't have any education. Their mind is like a child." Grammar aside, it's not wise to say things like that around the household help who believe in voodoo and also prepare your food.

Weils' crusade against voodoo begins when he finds a corpse with a hatpin stuck in his eye. Instead of ignoring it and going about his business romancing local rich playgirl Venus Devisio, he decides to visit high voodoo priestess Mama Rata-loi and inform her he's putting her out of business. Me, I would have just hung out on the beach with Venus. I mean, yeah, I consider myself fairly skeptical, but when I heard the voodoo drums beating, I'd shut my damn mouth. It's good manners, and I wouldn't run the risk of offending someone important and ending up a zombie slaving away on some plantation on the off chance there is something to all that voodoo stuff.

Just as Weils is getting started on his research, his shapely daughter Sarah (Wilkinson) shows up with her dopey husband Warren on their honeymoon. Because of dad's poking around, the newlyweds can't go out at night, which is probably just as well. There's trouble in paradise, however, as Warren gets the seven year itch about seven years too early and finds himself attracted to Venus, who may or not be Don Bella, the Spirit of Serpents who appears every decade to destroy a nonbeliever.

It's always refreshing when a film is able to transcend genre or budget limitations, and writer Norman Graham and director Douglas Fowley were able to craft a fairly suspenseful, ambitious little exploitation flick in Macumba Love. The viewer is constantly off guard, unsure if voodoo priestess Mama Rataloi actually has the power to change shape or if she's just messing with the locals. Do Venus' blackouts and nightmares mean she really is the reincarnation of the snake goddess? Did June Wilkinson really lose her bikini top in that beach scene? About the only thing the audience is certain of is that Weils is a smug condescending asshole who deserves all the voodoo he gets.

If you were a heterosexual young man in 1960, this movie would have just about everything you'd ever want to see. Macumba Love was the embodiment of men's magazines of the period, featuring exotic lands, a little danger, skulls, voodoo rites, and oh yeah, buxom Brit June Wilkinson. Why the hell Warren, her sap of a husband, would even consider cheating on her during the first week of marriage is a mystery. Must be that voodoo magic. Wilkinson is likeable in her first speaking role, projecting an innocence and playfulness in her role as Sarah.

But that probably didn't matter to most of the audience. Nicknamed "the Bosom" by Hugh Hefner (who knew a thing or two about bosoms), Wilkinson's 43 inch breasts are used like a Chinese yo-yo in a 3D movie. The highlight is the previously mentioned beach scene when she 'accidentally' loses her top for a brief second.

No matter what movie admission was in 1960, Macumba Love was a bargain. Rather than taking a straightforward approach to the story, the writer and director took chances and made it more than a formula exercise. The film's ambiguity is fairly respectful to voodoo, and the cinematography makes the jungles and beaches look exotic and magical, like a place where anything is possible, even a woman transforming into a snake. Today's 'straight to video or Sci-Fi channel' filmmakers could pick up a few pointers on how to shoot an interesting exploitation movie from Macumba Love. Oh yeah, and having June Wilkinson losing her top didn't hurt, either.
- Posted by Keith

Related Links:
Teleport City Review
Macumba Love (
Macumba Love (
June Wilkinson Bio (
June Wilkinson Bio(
Geocities Pix of June Wilkinson
June Wilkinson as Evilina


Blogger O POVO QUER said...

Didi you ever finda a copy. I am in desperate need to find one to offer as a gift to Mis Ruth de Souza, 86, who plays th voodoo sorcere in the movie. Any tips?

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's August 27, 2008. There's a VHS of Macumba Love available on eBay right now. I think the auction ends on Sunday or Monday.


10:04 PM  
Anonymous Daniel said...


6:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trash palace dot com has it.Look for it in the Horror Part 2 section..

1:34 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

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12:55 PM  

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