Sunday, December 19, 2010

Film Club + Reader Recommendation x Jumpsuits = The Sweetest Hill of All

See, in Canada we don't get Netflix. And because of that, I don't have access to all these movies. And I'd LOVE to be able to finally see it. The radio ad for it is one of my favourites. "Roses are red. Voodoo is blue. Sugar is sweet. Revenge is sweeter".I mean, foxy mamas, voodoo and zombies? Come ON! So you have to watch it for me. Do it for me. Do it for the Canadian who can't watch it.”--Ghoul Friday

1974’s Sugar Hill has been on my radar for several years now yet somehow, I never felt quite hip enough to watch it. Putting aside my pasty whiteness and general nerditude, the film’s cult status genuinely intimidated me. But as a fortune cookie once told me, fear is just excitement in need of an attitude adjustment and when Stacie Ponder announced Sugar Hill as December’s Final Girl Film Club pic, my fate was sealed.
I would walk the funk.
Quick Plot: Diana “Sugar” Hill is enjoying a glittering night at her fella Langston’s nightclub, partially because her beau is wearing a suit that actually glitters. Note that he’s the most sedately dressed man in the room.

The evening gets a whole lot less starry when evil real estate tycoon Morgan and his racist crew (plus a Fabulous henchman named Fabulous) beat Langston to death. It’s a bummer, but Sugar has the luck of having a voodoo priestess in the family who knows a thing or two about summoning a vengeance smart demon. With a few pieces of jewelry and an IOU soul, Sugar has the gloriously tophatted Baron Samedi and his pinball eyed minions hunting down each of Langston’s murderers with innovative homicide on their zombie minds.
The story, you see, is quite simple. Sugar wants revenge. Sugar gets revenge.

The beauty of Sugar Hill, however, is that how she gets it is simply a joy to behold. A rundown:
-bait ‘n switch at Le Whores Massage Parlor
-eaten alive by fasting hogs
-knocked down by a hopping disembodied chicken leg
Dig it?
Sugar Hill is a fairly infamous gem of the blaxsploitation era and having FINALLY watched it, it’s easy to see why. While the racist dialogue that rings out of every white character’s mouth is squirm-inducing, the film itself never feels racist or uncomfortable to watch. We WANT these bigoted jerks to lose, and an audience of any color can appreciate a smokin’ hot, well dressed and groomed chick directing scenes of carnage like Tyra Banks at an ANTM photo shoot.
This being horror, I suppose it’s worth asking and answering whether Sugar Hill is actually a scary film. At times, sure. Though Samedi is closer to Sweet the dancing demon from Once More With Feeling than anything terrifying, actor Don Pedro Colley brings an interesting (and, am I strange, sexy) creepiness that we can’t be sure will spare our spunky heroine. With their spider web wrapped bodies, his zombies have a memorable strangeness that works despite (or perhaps, because of) the film’s overall lack of gore. Some pretty rough violence is suggested, and even though we’re pretty much all for it due to the sliminess of the villain/victims, director Paul Maslansky (who sadly directed nothing else) is wise to not beat us over the afros with blood and guts.

High Notes
In her early scenes, Marki Bey feels way too classy and sweet to possibly turn into the hell-breathing vengeance madam she becomes. After a surprisingly disturbing suicide induction, however, Bey makes a subtle but perfect transformation into a woman in full control of all her tools, from her bargaining business abilities to the easy chemistry she sparks up with virtually every one of her male costars. It's not necessarily as fun a performance as you'd expect from this era, but it's still enigmatic enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen.

Lessons Learned
Always be sure to wear a nude nylon stocking over your face when planning on killing a high profile businessman. Sure, your flashy one of a kind zoot suit might be a giveaway, but it never hurts to add a tad of discretion
White people suck
If there’s one sad fact I’ll humbly accept from this movie, it’s this: in no way do I possess a mere pinkyful of the coolness it would have taken to flourish in the 1970s. Sigh. Perhaps I should be thankful that I grew up in an age where role models were ET and Jem.
I must use dynamite as a synonym for great way more often than I do now
For whatever crime of mankind, Sugar Hill isn’t officially available on DVD in the US, though you can enjoy it through the wonders of Instant Watch and Midnite Movies. It’s certainly a treat worth tracking down and/or calling upon your favorite sharply dressed voodoo  demon for a wide release. In the meantime, bulk up your sugarcation with a trip to Final Girl for a roundup of other reviews.


  1. I quite like this film, and it's definitely one of the better blaxploitation horror hybrids (although it doesn't quite top Blacula). Quite often it feels like the older hipper cousin to I Ear Your Skin, and although the political and social allegory is hardly subtle, it's easy enough to enjoy.

    Such a shame it's so hard to get of now though.

  2. I know! Someone needs to pick it up for a proper release. The film has a whole lot of cult love and would do fine on DVD.

    Oooh, and I really need to see Blacula eh?

  3. Emily.... Blacula may just change your life. And I do not say that lightly.

  4. Great write-up, Emily. I forgot about the chicken leg and dashed off to add mention of it to my own review. I only steal from the best.

    I thought this movie was sweet. I've been interested in voodoo for many years and though Sugar Hill won't win any awards at the local Hounfour, it's more respectful than most voodoo-oriented horror movies.

    Blacula's pretty good, but Scream Blacula Scream has Pam Grier.

    The best blaxploitation horror movie I've seen might be Ganja and Hess, though it's very arty and quite hard to understand (for example you need to really listen hard to the gospel song over the opening credits to even have a hope of figuring out what's going on). It stars Duane Jones from Night of the Living Dead.

  5. Liam: Change for the better, I hope?

    Pearce: I watched and reviewed Ganja and Hess a few months ago and was really fascinated by it. i can't really say I enjoyed it, but rewatching it after learning more from the featurette and listening to the commentary really made me appreciate it so much more. Duane Jones is fantastic! Why wasn't he a bigger player in horror?

    And I suppose a Blacula + Scream Blacula Scream marathon is inevitable now!

  6. Hooray! I eagerly anticipate your musings on Blacula and Scream Blacula Scream :D Excitement

  7. You're on a roll with this great review, and your planned Blacula double-dip. Somewhere out there, AA loyal listener Black Belt Jones is nodding in approval.

    But back to Sugar Hill; the highly positive review of it from OTC was never far from my mind, and when I happened upon a "copy" at a convention, I just couldn't pass it up. I have to give Sugar Hill much credit; when it wants to be creepy, it can deliver the goods. When it wants to be clever and humorous, it hits all the right notes. And most of all... Dear, sweet Marki Bey is ABSOLUTELY not hard on the eyes. I remember, when I was watching it with a friend, I made the comment Ms. Bey resembled an African-American version of Lynda Carter. And hey, Wonder Woman was one of my first ever media-related crushes. Put two and two together...

  8. I can totally see the Lynda Carter connection! She truly is an absolutely gorgeous woman. Thanks for the kind words (on behalf of me and Marki).

  9. Finally saw this myself.

    "We WANT these bigoted jerks to lose, and an audience of any color can appreciate a smokin’ hot, well dressed and groomed chick directing scenes of carnage like Tyra Banks at an ANTM photo shoot."

    Ha! In a nutshell.

    The premise followed many a blaxsploitation formula with a supernatural twist.

    I enjoyed it and your review. That, and it made me miss my own afro... *pats head*

  10. Aw, RIP afro. This movie totally makes me want one. But it also makes me hate white people, so it's all very conflicting!