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  Black Moon Voodoo Chile
Year: 1934
Director: Roy William Neill
Stars: Jack Holt, Fay Wray, Dorothy Burgess, Cora Sue Collins, Arnold Korff, Clarence Muse, Eleanor Wesselhoeft, Madame Sul-Te-Wan, Laurence Criner, Lumsden Hare, Henry Kolker
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Juanita Lane (Dorothy Burgess) has never been the same since she left the island of San Christopher and the voodoo practices of the natives there. She had been very popular with the locals even though she was part of the white ruling family who controlled the plantations, simply because she preferred to spend her time with them than her kith and kin, but now it is years later and she lives in the United States with her husband Stephen (Jack Holt), a wealthy New York industrialist, and their young daughter Nancy (Cora Sue Collins). However, she has taken to playing her native drum near-incessantly, and yearns to return to the island, so what is her husband to do?

This oppressively atmospheric, largely forgotten horror was part of a cycle where Hollywood obsessed over the mysterious rituals of black natives, whether they be in the West Indies or further afield in Africa, they exerted a strange fascination over the studios and audiences alike. With documentary footage of such peoples becoming more widely seen, imagery was included in the fiction of the day, most famously in King Kong which possibly not coincidentally also starred Fay Wray, who was the leading lady in Black Moon. This was a typical entry into the sub-genre, though owed more to the then-recent Island of Lost Souls than any giant ape movie, and needless to say was rather naive in its treatment of indigenous culture.

Well, some say naive, others say downright racist, as the fear of what a bunch of black people can get up to when they're not under the influence of white folks appeared to be that superstition ran rampant and they eventually devolved into human sacrifice, including little girls. Certainly that's what happens here, and you could see examples of this racial suspicion leading well into the further reaches of the twentieth century with such supposedly more enlightened efforts as The Serpent and the Rainbow. But wind back to the thirties and you could see the themes more prevalent; Black Moon was one of the more typical instances, which can make it appear very strange to modern eyes - it even includes a line that has become a jokey cliché, "The natives are restless".

Naturally Juanita persuades Stephen to take her back to San Christopher where the mayhem can really break out, accompanied by little Nancy and Stephen's secretary Gail Hamilton (Wray) who is secretly in love with him. You can predict the way this is going by that little nugget of information, as though this was strictly a pre-Code movie, meaning censorship was not quite as stringent on this period of Hollywood, the nuclear family had to be maintained, so if Juanita was not up to the task maybe Gail would be. But save that for the ending, as there was a lot to get through in a fast-moving sixty-eight minutes; once they arrive on the island Juanita is greeted like a returning champion, and is soon taking "walks" around the place without her husband.

Obviously the thought that this white woman was getting up to hanky panky with the black men was too much for American society to take at this point, so Juanita had to be shown to be insane to excuse her liking for hanging out with a different race to her own, a prejudice which looks pretty foolish now, although less offensive and more obliviously quaint in this horror context. There was one black character who acts as a voice of reason, however, and he was the unfortunately named Lunch, played by veteran Clarence Muse, an actor who exuded wisdom no matter how menial the role, so perhaps Black Moon was offering a measure of sense in its own small way. Mostly this would be the chance to watch some famous faces of yesteryear strut their stuff: Western actor Holt was the man who inspired Chester Gould to base his cartoons of Dick Tracy on and proves solid and reliable here, while Fay Wray again showed why she was considered one of the great beauties of her era, though even they are eclipsed by a hysteria overtaking the movie that may raise unintended laughter now.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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