Reviews

Witchdoctor of the Livingdead (1985)

Somewhere in sun-baked Nigeria, a cabbie picks up a passenger alongside an empty dirt road. Watch out, it’s a zombie! And it’s wearing a giant floppy straw hat! Zombies need sun protection too.

Suddenly more zombies amble toward the car. They’ve got blood-stained mouths, white face paint, and lifeless eyes. They’re wearing dapper suits and collared shirts and are easily the most professional and stylish zombies you have ever seen.

Soon there’s a showdown inside the car with a rubber snake that slithers out of a dried fish head. 

By the time the opening credits roll, you’ve experienced enough DIY joy to fuel you through a thousand lifetimes. You promptly look up plane tickets to Lagos and then promptly close the browser because it’s much more than your rent, and you live in New York City.

Written and directed by Charles Abi Enonchong, Witchdoctor of the Livingdead is an exercise in ambition, creativity, and fun on the tiniest of budgets. The premise is simple: a shirtless witchdoctor terrorizes a village and destroys crops. He demands meat, commands rubber cobras into latrines, and blows chalk into villagers’ faces to curse them. Hordes of zombies swing sticks and hoes and strangle villagers in slow-motion. The only person who can stop the witchdoctor and his minions is a priest. 

The acting is wooden and all lines are yelled at the top of all lungs; it’s clear that the actors are saying—or rather yelling—their lines for the very first time. But it’s also clear that the actors are truly enjoying themselves. Who wouldn’t love to be in a movie? Gunshot sound effects are stolen from Westerns and from Star Wars. Low-fi soundtracks are stolen from Rambo and other Hollywood epics and the music changes rapid fire and cuts abruptly from scene to scene. Even the blood-curdling screams are stolen from other movies and are repeated over and over again. The collage of a score is an auditory assault; that’s a compliment. Some sequences stretch seemingly forever—we spend much time witnessing people walking, but we also spend four minutes watching a zombie yell directly into the camera. It’s exhilarating. But then there’s a particularly graphic onscreen killing of a goat, and that bums you out. No worries, though, you’ll forget about it when you eat a hamburger later.

Witchdoctor of the Livingdead may not live up to Uganda’s Who Killed Captain Alex and Bad Black, but to be fair, few things do. While Wakaliwood’s finest director Nabwana I.G.G has the added advantage of CGI helicopters exploding into thin air, Enonchong manages to produce a joyful ride with just some face paint, a rubber cobra, and a skull with sparkling eyes. Sometimes you don’t need anything else.

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