A zombie fiction double feature today! Ouanga (1936) and The Devil's Daughter (1939) feature our first villainous leading ladies. Fredi Washington's Clelie turns to dark magic to get back at a man, and Nina Mae McKinney's Isabella turns to dark magic to get back at her sister.
First, Ouanga. Quite an obscure one, (Something Weird Videos is the only reliable stockist online I've found), it has the unenviable prestige of being poorly-recieved in 1936 and poorly recieved today, culminating in being almost forgotten by history. Production quality-wise it's actually ok, and the acting is a significant step up from the lamentable turns we've seen so far in White Zombie and Revolt of the Zombies. Fredi Washington in particular does a great line in shade-throwing, side-eye, and outright sneering menace. Cinematically it's quite switched on, and it's reasonably well choreographed.
So what's the problem? Well, Clelie is a black plantation owner in Jamaica who is in love with the white man next door. 1936 audiences weren't prepared to accept a storyline that involved race mixing. It's rejected by modern audiences because the story is intended to highlight the dangerous dangers of interracial love. Sort of a "if you indulge in miscegenation then it's all fun and games until somebody gets turned into a zombie" kind of thing. No, I don't really understand either.
There's really not that much that can be said about the story. Like the previous two movies, this is a tiresome love triangle between people you don't care about. Actually a love quadrangle - Clelie is in love with Adam, who is in love with his fiancee Eve (would you Adam and Eve it), there's also some douchey white guy in blackface, LeStrange, who is in love with Clelie. The men, being men in 1936, both tell Clelie that she should quit her carry on, do as she's told, and stick to her own kind. Clelie doesn't give a toot what these guys think about that and tells them so (yes!). But what I wanted, more than anything, was for her to tell both these dudes to shove it and just go on and do her own thing like the badass she clearly really was. But the film didn't allow her that much dignity. There's two (2!) wince-inducing scenes where she begs Adam to take her back, on her knees no less, offers to be his slave, you name it. There's a couple of scenes where Clelie denies her own race (in one in particular, LeStrange points out that "you're black! You belong to me!". Did I mention this dude is a white guy in blackface?), and a whole lot of racial self-hatred. Oh, girl, you deserve better than any of this.
But where are the zombies! I hear you cry. There really are, finally, some zombies! Actual undead ones, made of corpses! After failing to persuade the hateful Adam to leave the insipid Eve behind and be with Lilith, -no wait, that was something else- Clelie does a bit of voodoo magic, raises two corpses from their graves, and sends them off to kidnap Eve. Eve, being useless, lets this happen. She's taken deep into a swamp where she is prepared for human sacrifice!!!! Luckily at the last moment LeStrange turns up to ruin everything.
There's a rather strange and unpleasant sequence near the end where LeStrange chokes Clelie to death, but the scene cuts away abruptly to the movie's comic relief characters, with Susie throwing a handful of voodoo love powder direct in her lover's face after noticing his eyes beginning to wander... before abruptly cutting the scene back to the murder by strangulation. Not quite lifting the tension there.
Incidentally, the movie was supposed to be filmed in Haiti, rather than Jamaica. George Terwilliger and his crew were run out of Haiti by angry locals who weren't so impressed at the idea of yet another film crew using them and their country as exploitative entertainment.
Ouanga is difficult to find. There's a version at Something Weird Videos under the unfortunate title "The Love Wanga". There are no subtitles available that I know of.
I give this racialist nightmare 2 reanimated corpses out of a possible 5!
Moving on to our second feature, The Devil's Daughter. This is not horror and nor is it a zombie movie, and doesn't really belong in the pre-Romero zombie movie list. I've included it here because after the box office failure of Ouanga, George Terwilliger decided to rewrite it as a loose remake, using an all-black cast instead, and this is the result. This does make a refreshing change from the other films we've seen this month in that there's nobody doing blackface or yellowface, and the main storyline is mercifully free of abominable love trianlges (though it can't quite stay away from the subject entirely). Unfortunately it manages to be worse than the previous iteration. In this version, Sylvia and Isabella's father dies and leaves Sylvia his plantation in his will, cutting out Isabella who was the one who actually worked there. Sylvia travels to Haiti from her home in Harlem to inspect the premises, but Isabella has mysteriously disappeared...
Actually, she's not disappeared, she's just sulking. She has a plan to scare the tits off her sister so she'll leave Haiti and never come back (instead of, you know, coming to an amicable agreement with her), so she drugs her sister and ropes all the plantation workers into performing a fake obeah ceremony. Also there are drums, constant drums. Endless spooky obeah drums. Sylvia finds them frightening, because she is an easily-spooked city fool. Nina Mae McKinney, like most of our other villains so far, is actually pretty good in this, although ultimately the film is neutered somewhat by being upfront about there being no actual obeah practice happening at any point. That said, the final scene, where Isabella has her sister drugged and laid out on the sacrifical slab, has some pretty goddamn spooky shit going down.
Ultimately, the film is interesting for the story behind it, but not so much on its own merits. Poor sound and visuals, a poor storyline, (mostly) poor acting, and boring characters don't help. One saving grace is that even the seven-and-a-half minute opening sequence of "ethnic behaviours" like dancing and cock fighting (lol) isn't enough to pad the film out beyond 50 minutes.
The film is public domain, and there are several versions on Youtube. I watched this version. There are no subtitles available, except for Youtube auto captions.
I give this lacklustre remake 1 fake obeah ritual out of a possible 5!