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The Devilís Daughter (Arthur H. Legend, 1939)
Perhaps only able to be parsed by modern viewers who are willing to make
allowances for its historical context, Arthur H. Legendís
The Devilís Daughter nonetheless is
noteworthy for its status as a horror movie with an all-black cast. Set on a
Throughout The Devilís Daughter, actual locations are used to great effect. Between the overgrown jungle backdrops, the awareness of the plantationís social structure, and the constant drone of the voodoo drum beat, the movie develops an atmosphere that belies its niche roots. As wicked Hatian half-sister Miss Isabel, played with relish by Nina Mae McKinney, schemes to keep her plantation, she draws viewers into a world of voodoo magic rarely shown on screen.
There are elements here that warrant
attention regardless of the narrative. The movie opens with two elaborately
staged African American folk songs, performed by the cast. These have a
documentary quality that makes them worthwhile even when divorced from the plot.
Just as interesting, though, are the social divisions that exist among the cast
of characters. City folk are pitted against island folk. The educated face off
against the farmers. These tensions bubble under throughout the movie. We find
out that rightful heir Sylvia had moved to
Such political nuance enhances The Devilís Daughterís threadbare narrative. Still, the movieís most remarkable sequence functions as sociological spectacle. The extended voodoo ritual that sets the scene for climax feels genuine. It is so energetic that one suspects that its songs and dances were borrowed from actual rituals, and not dreamed up by screenwriters. Thereís no doubt that much of this material would soon be appropriated and more artfully shaped by Val Lewton for his classic I Walked With a Zombie, but in its best moments The Devilís Daughter achieves an authenticity that cannot be denied.