Saturday, October 22, 2011

Black Moon (1934)

If you read any reviews of Black Moon you will most likely read that it falls between White Zombie and I Walked With a Zombie. At the time of this writing I have yet to see White Zombie but I have seen I Walked With a Zombie and certainly is a later take of Black Moon. This film has a very interesting concept and idea but it falls short in many areas and the pacing is a little too fast.
            Juanita Perez Lane (Dorothy Burgess) witnessed her parents being killed as a sacrifice on the island of San Christopher when she was very young. She was taken away from the island to the United States for her own protection. Several years later she is married to a man named Stephan (Jack Holt) and has a young daughter Nancy. Although Juanita left the island a long time ago that life is still in her, she still thinks about it and constantly beats on an old island drum in her room. Juanita is cold and distant towards her husband and daughter so Stephan sends her to a psychiatrist. The doctor tells him she has a neurosis that stems back to her childhood.
            Juanita wants to visit her childhood home where her uncle still lives. Stephan is not thrilled but he sends along his secretary Gail (Fay Wray) to keep an eye his wife and daughter since he will not be going. He and Gail are having some sort of an affair. She wants to work at another place but he will not let her go (this is one step in some major foreshadowing).
            As soon as Juanita, Nancy, Gail, and the nanny arrive on the island the natives are excited and give Juanita a huge homecoming. But now the danger has really set in. Native drums can be heard all day and all night, they wait day and night in a large crowd by the gates, and the nanny is killed for having crossed Juanita’s old nanny who was a native. Juanita’s uncle tells her she must leave the island immediately but she refuses she tells him she does not see any danger in staying. Gail becomes frightened and worried for Nancy sake more than anything else. She and Nancy have become attached since Juanita is so distant and the nanny died. Stephan comes right away but still his wife refuses.
            Juanita begins to sneak out at night and come back in the early morning hours. One night she sneaks a poison into Stephan’s drink for him to take as the first step towards making a zombie but not knowing what she did he gives the drink to his daughter. Luckily she is alright but now Stephan is angry and searches for his wife.
            Everything is too late for now Juanita has joined the natives in their voodoo ritual. She and the natives over take the house and look for Nancy to sacrifice.
            The story had a lot of potential to be really good but fell flat in a lot of places. This is one time where I wish an old film was a little longer and the story explained a lot better. I do not mind a quick paced story as long as it is good but here the quick pacing takes away from the story as well as the characters.
            Fay Wray may be second billed but she is barely given anything to do except be the other woman and a play date for the little kid. Also since she is second billed and has had a fling with Stephan you know somehow they have to wind up together. I knew that from their first scene together. I am on a quest to prove to many people I know that Wray was a very good actress that she is not always screaming and over acting in her films and this is one where when she is in a scene she is excellent.

            I have never seen Dorothy Burgess in a film or ever heard of her before this. I thought she was pretty good but I would have liked to have seen more of her and her character.
              Jack Holt is really nothing to write about. He seemed so much older than Wray and Burgess that his relationships with them were odd. He was really out shined in every way by Wray and Burgess. 
            The direction is not bad at all there were several excellently filmed scenes especially towards the end and there are sense with mounting tension. Several of the scenes were greatly enhanced by the cinematography which was so awesome most noticeably where Stephan, Gail, Nancy, and the uncle are hiding out in a tower from the natives.

            Black Moon is not a bad early zombie film. It does have its weak points but give it some slack since it was made in the 1930s. It may be labeled as a zombie film but there are no zombies like in I Walked With a Zombie. I am guessing because it has to do with voodoo that it is labeled as being one. With constant drumming and danger Black Moon is a very good and entertaining film to sit through

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