Son of Ingagi (1940)

Genres - Horror, Science Fiction  |   Sub-Genres - Creature Film, Early Black Cinema  |   Run Time - 70 min.  |   Countries - USA  |  
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One of the more interesting low-budget films of the early '40s, Son of Ingagi is both the first science fiction film and the first horror film to feature an all-black cast. The title is a reference to the 1930 exploitation film Ingagi. Claiming to be a documentary filmed in Africa, Ingagi's most publicized moments were of an ape-man having young native women ritualistically sacrificed to him. Relying largely on stock footage, the film's original scenes were later discovered to have been shot in California using performers who had appeared in Hollywood films. While almost forgotten today, Ingagi was a huge box-office success. Jokes about Ingagi became popular cultural references, appearing in such places as the short films of the Three Stooges. The title for Son of Ingagi appears to be that sort of reference. There does not seem to be any direct connection between the two films, other than that the creature in Son of Ingagi is an ape-man. Despite what its low-budget origin and lurid subject matter might indicate, Son of Ingagi is both well-written and well-acted. It's no undiscovered classic, but it's also not the bottom-of-the-barrel trash that some references sources claim that it is. You'll find some sources referring to Son of Ingagi as a "horror-musical." Early in the film, there are two songs performed at the wedding party, but by even the most loose definition, Son of Ingagi cannot credibly be called a musical. Most likely, sources referring to Son of Ingagi as a "horror-musical" were written by people who haven't seen the film. Much of what's good about Son of Ingagi comes from writer/actor Spencer Williams. His one-step-behind police officer performance gives the film its comic relief, but does so without descending into buffoonery. All of the characters in the film have a good bit of real-life credibility. The scenes of the young black couple at home with their friends are the sort of thing almost never seen in Hollywood films of that era. Likewise, you'll find few films with female "mad scientists" and even fewer where the female lead is in late middle age and heavy set. The film's weakness is its monster, which is obviously not an ape man, but just an actor wearing a crude facemask. Writer Williams wisely keeps the creature offscreen for the first (and best) half of the film. The transition scenes after the doctor is killed are awkward. There are signs that one or more sequences in this part of the film may have become missing or truncated. Laura Bowman's performance as the doctor is both understated and sympathetic. She's one of the film's highlights, as are the two musical numbers by the Toppers. Though he's on screen for only a small portion of the film, Williams steals every scene that he's in. His performance is both comedic and controlled. Overall, Son of Ingagi is an appealing film which makes good use of its meager budget. Persons attracted to early black cinema or unusual horror films will likely find it of interest.