Autopsy of a Ghost
Autopsia de un Fantasma is a Mexican comedy-horror film that was not shown in the USA except in a few Spanish-language theatres. The film has an all-Mexican cast except for three English speakers: Basil Rathbone, John Carradine, and Cameron Mitchell. Rathbone and Carradine spoke their lines in English, and were later dubbed in Spanish. Cameron Mitchell, however, was fluent in Spanish, so he spoke his lines in Spanish.
Rathbone plays Canuto Perez, the ghost of a man who committed suicide in the sixteenth century. He has been living in the dungeon of a castle for 400 years, and he can separate himself from his skeleton, which walks and talks as if it's a separate person. Perez was not a good man; he had spent his life taking advantage of innocent young women. He choose to commit suicide instead of accepting punishment for his crimes. Because Perez repented at the last moment before he died, God has granted him four chances to save his soul. He has four days to win the love of a woman—and not only must she fall in love with him, she must also be willing to sacrifice her life for him! As if that wasn't challenging enough, he must accomplish this feat without leaving the castle. Not to worry! The Devil, played by John Carradine, contrives to bring women to the castle so that Perez can try his luck.
The first woman lured to the castle is a knock-out beauty, who has no clothes to wear except a bikini and a fur wrap for her shoulders. She arrives with her family: her crazy inventor father (Professor Moleculo Pulido), a little boy (her son Electron), an overprotective robot nanny, and a housekeeper (Susana). Perez dons a fake nose and gives his best impersonation of Cyrano de Bergerac in order to woo the beautiful woman. But she rejects him.
Having struck out with the young beauty, Perez tries his luck with a tall, skinny woman (Vitola) who has come to the castle looking for a hidden cache of stolen money from a bank robbery. Perez dresses up as a rock and roll singer. She is not impressed with him, but she falls in love with the skeleton.
Perez next attempts to seduce the housekeeper. His costume this time is that of a French Apache dancer. She, too, rejects him.
At this point Perez is getting concerned. He has only one more chance to make a woman fall in love with him. And the only woman left to woo is an ugly old woman. While he's thinking about how to approach her, Perez has a run-in with the "fembot," the female robot nanny. She is used to being able to overpower humans, but she's never seen a ghost before. The fact that she can't defeat him or hurt him in any way somehow impresses her.
A crisis occurs when the humans realize that there is a ghost in the castle. Professor Pulido invents a machine to track the disembodied skeleton, and explains that if they destroy the skeleton, the ghost will vanish. When the fembot overhears the plan, she warns Perez to leave the castle, saying, "I don't want anything bad to happen to you."
In due course the skeleton is found and Professor Pulido turns on a machine to disintegrate the bones. To save the skeleton and Perez, the fembot throws herself into the machine, causing an explosion that blows her to bits. It appears that the fembot's love and self sacrifice means that Perez can go to heaven, but Perez chooses to spend eternity with the fembot (or what's left of her).
The film can be summed up in one word: Bizarre. It's not a horror film, or scary in any way. It's supposedly a comedy.
Comments I've read about Autopsy of a Ghost run the gamut from "Worst movie ever made" to "It's a hoot and a great party tape." Personally, I'm leaning towards the "worst movie" end of the spectrum. Although, if the folks at the party are stoned, this film could be entertaining. It uses old-fashioned slapstick and camp for laughs. Men with improbably high voices are also meant to be amusing. The absurdity of it all appeals to some folks, but I found it too silly to be entertaining.
Those who like the film have compared the wackiness of Autopsy to a Monty Python-style farce. Rathbone does appear to be having fun in this film. He liked doing comedy, and probably thought that it would be a funny film. John Carradine reportedly enjoyed making the film.
John Carradine also believed that Basil's death was caused by filming at high altitude a few months earlier. Rathbone was supposedly in good health. Carradine said, “He was hopping and jumping and leaping around like a man of 30. But at the end of the day he was tired – because of the altitude, a mile high there [in Mexico City]. At dinner one night he said ‘John, I’ll never do this again.’ And I said ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘Work at this altitude.’ That’s what killed him. He was dead three months later.”1
You may read in some places (such as IMDb , the Internet Movie Database) that Autopsy of a Ghost was Rathbone's final film, but was it? There is conflicting evidence. Tom Weaver, author of John Carradine: The Films, wrote that his research revealed that Rathbone and Carradine worked on Hillbillys in a Haunted House in late 1966.2 They traveled to Mexico City to make Autopsy of a Ghost in early 1967. But John Carradine himself said that Hillbillys in a Haunted House came after Autopsy of a Ghost.3 Several other sources support the claim that Hillbillys was Rathbone's final film.4 It appears that Autopsy of a Ghost was released after Hillbillys in a Haunted House, so that could be the cause of the confusion.
Watch the film here:
1 Tom Weaver, John Carradine: The Films (McFarland,
2008), page 274.