Doctor Death: Seeker of Souls (1973)

R | 87 or 93 mins | Horror | November 1973

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HISTORY

The working title of the film was Dr. Death . The opening credits bear a 1973 copyright statement for D. D. Productions but the film was not registered for copyright. The credits also include a statement that the film was shot at Aldrich Studios in Hollywood. The flashback depicting the doctor's original life as a wizard appears in sepia tone. "Fred" and "Sandy's" courtship is shown as a film montage. One sequence shows "the doctor" killing a young woman who had been watching a black-and-white horror film on television. As the doctor kills the woman, a similar action occurs in the movie playing on the television set. "Laura's" dialogue is heard in voice-over, and it is unclear whether Fred's visions of her are a hallucination or a ghost. According to a 14 Jul 1972 HR article, the depiction of the soul infusions was accomplished using unspecified "new optics and techniques" that were developed for the film.
       A 20 Sep 1971 DV news item reported that Sal Ponti's screenplay was acquired by Freedom Arts Pictures Corp. A 7 Jun 1972 HR news item, however, reported that the film was to be the first of a series of horror pictures to be produced by D. D. Productions. In the 14 Jul 1972 HR article, producer-director Eddie Saeta stated that the film was being made without a distribution deal. In that article, Saeta discussed his plans for sequels and his hope that the name, "Dr. Death," would become "a household word," similar to Dracula and Frankenstein. According to the article, Saeta's merchandising plans included the release of a game based on ... More Less

The working title of the film was Dr. Death . The opening credits bear a 1973 copyright statement for D. D. Productions but the film was not registered for copyright. The credits also include a statement that the film was shot at Aldrich Studios in Hollywood. The flashback depicting the doctor's original life as a wizard appears in sepia tone. "Fred" and "Sandy's" courtship is shown as a film montage. One sequence shows "the doctor" killing a young woman who had been watching a black-and-white horror film on television. As the doctor kills the woman, a similar action occurs in the movie playing on the television set. "Laura's" dialogue is heard in voice-over, and it is unclear whether Fred's visions of her are a hallucination or a ghost. According to a 14 Jul 1972 HR article, the depiction of the soul infusions was accomplished using unspecified "new optics and techniques" that were developed for the film.
       A 20 Sep 1971 DV news item reported that Sal Ponti's screenplay was acquired by Freedom Arts Pictures Corp. A 7 Jun 1972 HR news item, however, reported that the film was to be the first of a series of horror pictures to be produced by D. D. Productions. In the 14 Jul 1972 HR article, producer-director Eddie Saeta stated that the film was being made without a distribution deal. In that article, Saeta discussed his plans for sequels and his hope that the name, "Dr. Death," would become "a household word," similar to Dracula and Frankenstein. According to the article, Saeta's merchandising plans included the release of a game based on the Dr. Death concept and a soundtrack album containing horror sound effects on the flip side.
       Saeta also reported that he discussed with the National Safety Council the idea of using John Considine, who portrayed the doctor, on television public service safety announcements that would be aired over the Labor Day weekend. Although Saeta stated in the article that he hoped the film would receive a G rating, he acknowledged that the film depicts "'an awful lot of blood.'" The film ultimately received an R rating, but Saeta described the film as "a good, clean, wholesome, blood-thisty movie."
       A 26 Sep 1972 DV news item reported that Gil Askey and Billy Byers would compose and arrange the score, and a 25 Oct 1972 DV reported that William Tasker was signed to score the film. However, none of these men are listed in the onscreen credits or elsewhere, and it is unlikely that they contributed to the final film. Although the onscreen credits of the viewed print listed the actor who portrayed the "old wizard" as Robert Ball, reviews and other contemporary sources listed his name as Robert E. Ball. Larry Vincent, who portrayed “the strangler” on the television set of one of the story’s victims, was credited onscreen as Larry “Seymour” Vincent. Vincent appeared on the early 1970s television horror show Fright Night as “Seymour,” the host who was introduced as “the master of the macabre, the eppy-tome of evil.” Doctor Death: Seeker of Souls marked the final film of Moe Howard (1897--1975), who began working as an errand boy at Vitagraph Studios in Brooklyn in 1909 and became famous as one of The Three Stooges. He appears briefly early in the film as the audience member who confirms that the beautiful girl is dead. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
3 Jul 1972.
---
Box Office
19 Nov 1973
p. 4641.
Daily Variety
20 Sep 1971.
---
Daily Variety
14 Jun 1972.
---
Daily Variety
31 Jul 1972.
---
Daily Variety
26 Sep 1972.
---
Daily Variety
25 Oct 1972.
---
Daily Variety
30 Oct 1973.
---
Films and Filming
Dec 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jun 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Jun 1972
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jun 1972
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Jul 1972
p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Oct 1973
p. 3, 14.
Los Angeles Times
26 Oct 1972.
---
Los Angeles Times
3 Nov 1973.
---
Variety
14 Nov 1973
p. 16.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
Still cam
Cable man
Gaffer
Best boy
Generator op
Key grip
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
2d prop man
COSTUMES
Cost
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
VISUAL EFFECTS
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Prod secy
Prod auditor
Craft serviceman
Transportation capt
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Dr. Death
Release Date:
November 1973
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 24 October 1973
Production Date:
June 1972 at Aldrich Studios, Hollywood
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Movielab
Duration(in mins):
87 or 93
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

Fred Saunders grieves for his dead wife Laura and when he hears her voice promising to come back to him, he orders Franz, the cemetery’s caretaker, to keep her vault unlocked, so that he can enter and gaze at her in her casket at will. His friend Greg Vaughn, a physician, advises him that his behavior is unhealthy, but Fred, who feels he caused Laura’s death in a car accident, continues to refuse social invitations. He attends a séance, but discovers that the medium is a fraud. He then visits a man who claims his wife was returned to him by the chanting, monk-robed Society of the Dead, but is horrified when the man introduces him to the bones and ashes of a corpse. Greg urges Fred to move on with his life, and his secretary Sandy, who is secretly attracted to him, tries to make Fred laugh by showing him funny ads in a newspaper. In that paper, Fred sees an advertisement, “Control Your Reincarnation,” to which he responds and meets Tana, who claims to know a man who can bring back life. The next evening, Tana takes Fred to the mansion of a doctor, who provides a demonstration of his abilities in a room set up like a theater. Having a flair for the dramatic, the doctor appears before a group of people on a stage with the corpse of a beautiful, recently deceased woman and asks a volunteer from the audience to confirm that she is really dead. Lying on another table is a living, but horribly disfigured woman who was injured in a chemical factory explosion. The doctor claims that he will use ... +


Fred Saunders grieves for his dead wife Laura and when he hears her voice promising to come back to him, he orders Franz, the cemetery’s caretaker, to keep her vault unlocked, so that he can enter and gaze at her in her casket at will. His friend Greg Vaughn, a physician, advises him that his behavior is unhealthy, but Fred, who feels he caused Laura’s death in a car accident, continues to refuse social invitations. He attends a séance, but discovers that the medium is a fraud. He then visits a man who claims his wife was returned to him by the chanting, monk-robed Society of the Dead, but is horrified when the man introduces him to the bones and ashes of a corpse. Greg urges Fred to move on with his life, and his secretary Sandy, who is secretly attracted to him, tries to make Fred laugh by showing him funny ads in a newspaper. In that paper, Fred sees an advertisement, “Control Your Reincarnation,” to which he responds and meets Tana, who claims to know a man who can bring back life. The next evening, Tana takes Fred to the mansion of a doctor, who provides a demonstration of his abilities in a room set up like a theater. Having a flair for the dramatic, the doctor appears before a group of people on a stage with the corpse of a beautiful, recently deceased woman and asks a volunteer from the audience to confirm that she is really dead. Lying on another table is a living, but horribly disfigured woman who was injured in a chemical factory explosion. The doctor claims that he will use “selected reincarnation” to move the soul of the living woman into the healthy corpse. However, he explains, she must first die, and with the help of his single-mindedly loyal servant Thor, the doctor performs a guresome variation on the “old magician’s trick” of sawing the living woman in half. After she dies, he summons her soul using the fumes from a potion bottle that he wears around his neck. The spirit of the woman gets up and moves to the corpse, which awakens and rises. The doctor, who craves beautiful women, names the reanimated woman “Venus.” After the demonstration, Tana introduces Fred to the doctor, but Fred, who was repulsed by the murder despite its willing victim, says that he does not want his services. Later that night, Fred sees the ghost of Laura, who beckons him to visit her in the vault. The next day, Fred agrees to go out with Sandy, but then hears Laura calling him and immediately reneges. He instead arranges to visit the doctor again. The doctor explains to Fred that he cannot return Laura’s soul, but can infuse a different soul into Laura’s body, which retains some of her traits due to physical habits acquired through many years of living. When Fred asks for more information, the doctor explains that he discovered his formula one thousand years ago when he was a wizard: After experimenting for decades, the old wizard finds the correct formula to keep his soul on earth. When his body grows ill, he poisons his young apprentice and enters his body. When that body ages, his only choice is the young nurse who attends his sick bed. Over the years his body varies in gender, race and–when he takes a child’s body–age. In the present, the doctor tells Fred to bring him $50,000 in cash and he will begin the preparations. After Fred leaves, the doctor hopes to have a sexual encounter with Venus, but is shocked to find she was killed by the jealous Tana, who is angry that the doctor cast her aside. When Fred returns to the doctor with money, he is led to the theater room, where Tana is tied up. Threatening to kill Fred if he interferes, the doctor has Thor throw a knife into Tana’s heart then takes her body to the vault. There, after admiring Laura’s corpse, the doctor uses the fumes of his formula to pull Tana’s soul out of her body, but it refuses to enter Laura and dissipates. Foiled, the doctor explains that Laura’s body rejected Tana’s soul. Disapproving, Fred tells the doctor to keep the money, but wants to cancel the agreement. However, the doctor becomes obsessed with reviving Laura’s body for himself, and, without Fred’s knowledge, he and Thor kill several women in succession for their souls. Each is rejected, and the doctor develops a serious infection from a stab wound rendered by a boyfriend of one of the victims. Although he knows his current body is dying, the doctor vows not to stop until he succeeds in reviving Laura. Fred has a nightmare in which Laura begs for peace and afterward has the vault locked. Encouraged by Greg, Fred courts Sandy and soon falls in love with her. When the doctor brings another body to the vault, Franz, who was reincarnated into a new body by the doctor years ago, unlocks it for him, but Laura’s body rejects that soul as well. Confounded, the doctor studies his old books to determine why he is failing. After he sends Fred the head of a victim with a note vowing to find a soul for Laura, Fred arranges to have her body buried in a grave. Eventually, the doctor concludes that he needs a soul that is as strong as Laura’s and whose body must be killed gently without violence. Using magic, he calls out, asking to be shown the right person and sees the face of Sandy. He then ponders on the proper way to take her soul and eventually decides upon bleeding her to death. Meanwhile, Greg and Fred discuss what to do about the doctor. Although Fred has professional relationships with many policemen and attorneys, he realizes that even if they believe him, they can do nothing without evidence. Meanwhile, the doctor kidnaps Sandy, ties her to a table and slits her wrist. When Fred and Greg discover she is missing, they alert the police and, with them, proceed to the mansion. As Sandy’s life drains out with her blood, they enter the mansion, shoot Thor and rescue Sandy in time to save her. However, the doctor escapes and hitchhikes to the cemetery, where Franz directs him to Laura’s grave. Later, with her casket open, the weakened doctor dies while inhaling the fumes of his formula. His spirit enters Laura’s body, which rises and walks away, saying, “Fred, I’ve come back, darling.” +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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