Witchdoctor of the Living Dead (Charles Abi Enonchong, 1986)
Witchdoctor of the Living Dead is the best movie ever. I am not being sarcastic, though the meaning of “best” there involves the movie being excruciatingly awful, so much so that it achieves realms of greatness never seen before on celluloid. This is the Night of the Lepus of zombie films, the Shriek of the Mutilated of religious cinema, the Beware! The Blob of horror (oh, wait a minute), the… no, actually, this is pretty much a standard Nollywood release. Nollywood? Yes, Witchdoctor of the Living Dead is a very early Nollywood release, before the Nigerian (and associated Ghanian) film industry became the massive multi-billion dollar industry it is (Nollywood gained the nickname because it is the third-largest film industry in the world behind Hollywood and Bollywood). While the production values here are lower than they are in more recent Nollywood output, they’re not as much lower as one might expect, mostly because even the most recent Nollywood movies look like they were shot for ten bucks and a couple of roast goats. In other words, if you’re used to films coming from other parts of the world, you need to have a certain appreciation for cheesiness to really get into Nollywood product. But even those of us who love Nollywood crap like Agony of the Christ and The Python might have a hard time forcing down this mouthful of limburger.
The plot is lifted in about equal parts from Fulci’s Zombi 2 and Hooper’s ‘Salem’s Lot, of course with the standard Nollywood overlay contrasting the “old” bush religions of the region and “new” Christianity. A bush witchdoctor has taken to raising zombies. Maybe he’s been doing it all along because he needs cheap labor, we don’t know, but some of them get loose and start wandering around. Snakes are involved somehow (maybe they’re spirit animals?), and in true Nollywood tradition, most of the movie’s special effects budget was spent on toy plastic snakes. The witchdoctor possesses a local and tries to turn him into a zombie, leading to a battle of wills between the witchdoctor and the local priest. Once that battle is decided, the zombies descend on the town and the locals start leaving in droves, and the movie becomes the zombie version of ‘Salem’s Lot, but of course with no one whose acting ability is even in the same zip code as James Mason’s.
All of the hallmarks of a great-awful Nollywood movie are here. The hilarious attempts at English (Nigeria is a country with thousands of local languages and dialects; Nollywood standardized on English for the language of their movies to get around that, but have never thought about bringing in any native English speakers to proofread their scripts or do dialect coaching, at least not that I have ever been able to discern), the tacked-on religious messages, the laughable special effects, the awful acting. But the mid-eightes was well before Nollywood had standardized any of its conventions. The wild-west style of filmmaking, before any borders go up, often leads to some of a genre’s most interesting experiments (porn, for example, made before the mid-eighties is far more worthwhile than today’s offerings), but here, it just gives us a movie that lacks any sort of focus and where no aspect of moviemaking has had much consideration put to it. It reminds me of some of America’s worst no-budget attempts at “indie” film, but at least there is a great deal of added hilarity, however unintentional it may be. This is a movie you really do have to see, if only to be able to use it as the gold standard for bad film in your personal canon. Trust me—you will likely see worse movies in your life, at least if you seek out the sort of DTV silliness I do, but I doubt any of them will be as memorable as this. ½
The first five minutes of the film.