The “race films” of the twenties and thirties prefigure the blaxploitation craze of the seventies in many ways, except they’re more likely to actually be made by black filmmakers. And they have their supernatural side too — for instance, Spencer Williams’ religious allegory GO DOWN, DEATH! interpolated stock footage of hell from Francesco Bertolini’s silent Italian production of DANTE’S INFERNO in order to illustrate the afterlife. OUANGA (aka THE LOVE WANGA, 1936) has full-on voodoo curses and reanimated zombies.
And then there’s SON OF INGAGI.
“Well, his neck was broke, two ribs caved in, his back twisted… I was thinking’ that maybe he committed suicide until I found out both arms was busted, and then I couldn’t figure it out.” Actual Comedy Dialogue from film.
INGAGI was a fake African documentary that cause outrage circa 1930 — it’s now apparently lost. SON OF INGAGI has nothing to do with the earlier film, but does concern an old woman returned from the Dark Continent with a sack of gold and an ape-man, whom she keeps behind a hidden panel in the basement, summoning him forth by Chinese gong as required. The lady is at work on some wonder drug for the benefit or mankind, which is off, since she hates mankind. Unfortunately the ape-man drinks her newly-perfected serum and rather than being noticeably improved by it, he just gets dyspeptic and furious, murdering his mistress in a fit of indigestion.
Then a nice couple move in, and find their lives tormented by the strange secret occupant of the house, who emerges from his cellar every night to murder people or steal sandwiches.
SON OF INGAGI is not a good film… its attitude to Africa seems no more enlightened than pulp fiction in white cinema, despite being scripted by the aforementioned Spencer Williams, who had a long career in “race films” as well as playing one half of Amos ‘n Andy on TV — asides from Oscar Micheaux, he’s probably the genre’s most significant filmmaker. But the movie is not really worse than PRC nonsense like VOODOO MAN — the performances are variable, but we get a musical number as a bonus, some knowing comedy, and N’Gina the ape man has a terrifically funny make-up, a sort of giant full-face beard cut into a ski mask.
On the plus side, this allows the actor to “emote” freely. On the minus side, well, I hardly know where to begin. But most movie ape man designs feel the need to completely conceal the actor’s true face to make him look simian. Somebody evidently decided that poor Zack Williams could more or less pass the way he was.
Director Richard Kahn had directed several “race westerns” like HARLEM RIDES THE RANGE and THE BRONZE BUCKAROO. He also helmed something called THE THIRD SEX, apparently an adaptation of notorious lesbian classic The Well of Loneliness — now presumed lost.