My Netflix Queue is Outrageous Ch. 3: Sugar Hill

With another semester comes another film class, and random film consumption must inevitably give way to required viewing.  The ongoing war of attrition against my out-of-control Netflix instant queue hasn’t been forgotten though, and last night I ran across a surprising little gem in 1974’s Sugar Hill.  The only directorial effort of Police Academy series producer Paul Maslansky, Sugar Hill falls into an extremely tiny subgenre: blaxploitation zombie revenge.  If that string of words gets you as excited as it did for me, by all means read on–you’re in for a treat!

The film kicks off at Club Haiti, an extremely successful Voodoo themed nightclub run by Sugar Hill’s boyfriend Langston.  Local crime boss Mr. Morgan wants to buy the club, and Langston refuses to sell out.  Normally this would be the beginning of a pretty generic plot, but Langston is beaten to death by Morgan’s thugs within the first few minutes, leaving Sugar in charge of the nightclub.  The cops are called in but are of course powerless, because like any good 70’s crime boss, Morgan is bigger than the law.  I mean, he has like six guys working for him!  Rather than cave in and sell the club, Sugar immediately sets out for revenge, and that’s where things get awesome.  Rather than grabbing a gun and going on a Pam Grier-style vengeance bender, Sugar seeks out the help of Mama Maitresse, a century-plus old Voodoo priestess who lives in a spiderweb-coated mansion out in the swamp.

Maitresse sympathizes with Sugar’s plight, but says she’s become too old and too weak to help.  When Sugar persists, Maitresse says that if she’s entirely committed to getting revenge, she can put her in touch with someone that may be able to help.  They venture out into the swamp together, find a hidden altar, and make an offering of jewelry to summon Baron Samedi, the Haitian lord of the dead.  Samedi summons an army of the dead to aid Sugar in her quest, raising the corpses of dead slaves out of the surrounding marshlands, still wearing their shackles.  Zombies of course have their roots in Voodoo legend, but surprisingly few films maintain those ties, and it’s always cool to see one that does.  The zombies themselves look great: covered in cobwebs and skeletal white paint, with bulging silver eyes, definitely a unique take on an overused monster.  As an interesting side note, one of Baron Samedi’s roles in actual Voodoo lore was to prevent zombies from happening by ensuring that corpses rotted away, but that would have made him pretty unhelpful on the revenge front.

With a crew of zombies at her disposal, Sugar gets down to business, killing off Morgan’s goons one by one.  The first is a straightforward zombie attack, but after that the kills take on a more interesting voodoo theme, which keeps things fresh.  Sugar also takes the time to restyle her hair into an afro and rock a white jumpsuit for each kill, which is odd, but an interesting touch.  In a cool turn of events, Baron Samedi himself is present at each killing, usually in a disguise of some sort.  Not to take anything away from Marki Bey as Sugar, because she’s actually really good, but Don Pedro Colley’s performance as Samedi is absolutely the best thing about the movie.  It’s a shame that the character was confined to one mostly-forgotten 70’s film.  He maintains an excellent balance of charisma and intimidation, and could have easily carried his own horror franchise.  I was actually sad when I thought his role would be confined to simply summoning the zombies, so it was great to see him keep showing up.

As a huge fan of horror, blaxploitation, and really just 70’s films in general, I have to say that Sugar Hill absolutely nails it on all relevant fronts.  It’s a pretty unique crossover concept, coupled with interesting characters and some surprisingly solid performances.  The bad guys are par for the genre and the plot is basic, but Sugar and Samedi are a likeable duo.  The death scenes might be a little tame for horror aficionados, but I’m sure the budget on this thing was next to nothing, and the Voodoo flair is enough to keep it interesting.  I find myself wanting to watch it again already as I write this, and the theme song “Supernatural Voodoo Woman” has been stuck in my head since last night.  The DVD is readily available on Amazon, which I didn’t expect when I went looking for it, and if you want to try before you buy it’s available on Netflix instant, along with a surprising treasure trove of 70’s exploitation gold.

Advertisements

About Ryan Searles

I like watching movies, and then talking about those movies. Sometimes I write things about them, which you should read. Other interests include boxed wine, video games, the works of Harlan Ellison and HG Wells, and being a general curmudgeon.

Posted on September 8, 2012, in Movies, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Ohhh man, when I saw the poster at the top of the post I was so sure for a second that this was a Pam Grier flick. Sounds interesting though, I’ll give it a look.

    If I may be so bold, do you think you could offer a fellow movie blogger some other good ’70s flicks? Exploitative or not, I’m good either way. Thanks!

  2. It’s a big list without knowing what you’re looking for, but I’ll try. I mean, the 70’s brought about pretty much the greatest films ever made. A Clockwork Orange, Godfather I/II, Close Encounters, Jaws, The Sting, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Harold and Maude, Dirty Harry, Enter the Dragon, Marathon Man, Rocky, Taxi Driver, Dawn of the Dead…the list is about ten miles long.

    It was a great time for road movies too…White Line Fever, Vanishing Point, Mad Max, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Smokey and the Bandit…all awesome.

    As far as more exploitation films, anything with Jack HIll’s name on it is worth looking into…Coffy, Foxy Brown, The Big Bird Cage, etc…he directed a lot of great stuff with Pam Grier. Anything starring Rudy Ray Moore is golden: either of the Dolemite films, Petey Wheatstraw, The Monkey Hustle, etc. Check out Superfly, TNT Jackson, Willie Dynamite, anything Fred Williamson acted in in the 70’s, Truck Turner with Isaac Hayes….all good.

    Like I said, it’s tough with such a broad request, but that should be a wide enough spread to include some things you might not have seen. Hope that helps!

    • Wow, thanks! Yeah, sorry bout that, in retrospect it probably would’ve helped for me to tell you what sorta stuff I’ve seen. 😛

      That list includes Star Wars (of course), Logan’s Run, Soylent Green, Friends (a British/French flick), Melody, Two-Lane Blacktop, Scarecrow, Jeremy, Pink Flamingos (scarred for life), Rocky Horror Picture Show, Coffy, Foxy Brown, Apocalypse Now, Summer of ’42, Annie Hall, and The Warriors.

  3. I read about half of your review before realizing, shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit, I gotta watch this myself.

    I was born in the 80s, but as a former student of movies, I must say the 70s were probably the biggest and best era of moviemaking, overall. Look at IMDB or generic websites for your normal movies.

    Blaxploitation – Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is truly essential, just don’t mind the poor quality; it’s not like they had any money to make something so baadassss. I’m kind of lacking in my blaxploitation, so Ryan will need to pick up my slack,

    Bruceploitation – Enter the Dragon is culturally just as important as Sweet Sweetback, in my opinion, and Bruce Lee was truly a wonderful human being. If you liked Enter the Dragon, check out the rest of his movies, before checking out any Bruceploitation movies – an entire genre of movies based around people pretending to be one person and people paid real money for this stuff. Think about that for a minute.

    Midnight Movies: El Topo created this genre of movie of the weird, the strange. Alejandro Jodorowsky used blood and violence to show life. The Beatles loved it, especially John Lennon, and helped finance the Holy Mountain. George Harrison of the Beatles would have been the main character, the Thief, in the Holy Mountain, were it not for one scene that Jodorowsky refused to change. For that, the Holy Mountain was almost lost forever, but it is uncompromising and haut art of the highest caliber.

    Zombie Movies: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, of course. Land of the Dead and on were fine enough. Ryan and I talked in his last review about highbrow and lowbrow zombie movies, so start there.

    Biker Movies: The Wild One and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outlaw_biker_film, Hunter S Thompson’s book Hells Angels is accurate for the life of the 1%ers and Sons of Anarchy is as accurate as Hollywood can legally be in portraying bikers. Except Season 1 didn’t really show all the charity for kids, anti-discrimination on the road for the doctors and lawyers that ride bikes twice a year, and other positive happenings that bikers do as well.

    Carsploitation: Vanishing Point for the Dodge Challenger. Two-Lane Blacktop for the ’55 Chev. Electra Glide in Blue for the bagger bike [not listed under biker movies because, well, you know]. Death Race 2000 for the ratrods. Death Proof is great, too.

    Jidaigeki: There’s a very fine line here, because gee-dai-geh-key [the inspiration for Star War’s word Jedi] should refer to samurai drama rather than samurai action movies. The Seven Samurai is the father of all action movies, and any Film 101 class that doesn’t at least mention the Seven Samurai is a joke and the teacher should go back to watching Step Up movies. Kurosawa typically made overblown Jidaigeki, but hey, that’s cool. I’ll also put Harakiri here, because it is 90% drama, and 10% the best sword fighting ever put to film. They used real swords, damn it! Nakadai Tatsuya [Nakadai is the family name, and in Japanese culture should be written first, because the given name is less important] is my favorite Japanese actor. Newer Jidaigeki like Yamada’s samurai trilogy the Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade and Love and Honor are great and show a more accurate take on samurai movies.

    Chambara: Chanbara [cha-n-bah-rah] are fun action movies. Zatoichi is classic. Start out with the first one to get a good idea of what this character is like, then just jump into any of the other 20 some movies. Ichi takes his blindness in stride and Katsu Shintaro is an excellent actor, Yojimbo and Sanjuro are good choices. The Criterion Collection has some great chambara including the hilarious Kill! and the Sword of Doom, which is as heavy as the Beatles’ song “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”.

    Samurai War Movies: Movies like Kagemusha, Ran, and Samurai Banners are like Western war movies. Funny how people die the same way in the west and east. (I might also throw this out there: The Last Samurai is great, even with Tom Cruise. Sure, it’s not a historical textbook, but as far as I know, it’s more accurate than not concerning the Meiji Restoration era in Japan. Just think, Japan went from feudal samurai to Nintendo Wii in less than 150 years.)

    General Exploitation: You watched all of those movies? Really? Go find <A href="http://rateyourmusic.com/film/%EC%98%A4%EB%B0%9C%ED%83%84/"Obaltan, then.

  4. Forgot: Pink Flamingos, Bullitt, Christine, Assault on Precinct 13, and the Thing. I also want to include The Wizard as videogamesploitation and TRON as CGIsploitation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: