Monday, March 26, 2012

Sugar Hill (1974)

Holy shit! This is the 100th review on Rufus's House of Horrors!

Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way, Sugar Hill is a highly memorable soul cinema take on the zombie genre with a pretty unbeatable premise: the mob killed her man, so she sent zombie hitmen after them! I'd been waiting to see this one for years, having owned the poster for over a decade. Finally, I got my dirty little hands on a bootleg edition (I know, I know, but I've yet to come across an official DVD release) and it did not disappoint, much.

The film begins with a fairly authentic-looking voodoo ceremony scored to a decent soul number entitled "Supernatural Voodoo Woman" with the haunting refrain, "She do voodoo on you!" The dance is being performed at a bar down somewhere in the Bayou. It's not exactly the Copacabana, but for some reason a bigwig named Mr. Morgan wants to buy it and has sent his goons in fairly outrageous suits to rough up the owner Langston. We can tell that Langston is a tough customer, in spite of his glitter tuxedo, and we can also tell he's in love with his woman Diana "Sugar" Hill (Marki Bey), who is pretty much from the Pam Grier school of Blacksploitation foxy mamas.

Sadly, she's not great at conveying sorrow as we soon discover when Langston runs afoul of the goons. Proving that their violence extends past the color schemes of their suits, they jump Langston in the parking lot and beat him to death. Sugar finds her man and emotes terribly. But, she's got more than bad emoting in mind- she wants revenge, which she gives away through foreshadowing dialogue to her ex-lover and current detective Valentine stating her desire to "watch them each die one by one, slowly."

What sort of revenge? you ask. Shit, you should have listened to the theme song! Sugar goes to the old voodoo woman Mama Maitresse, who conveniently lives in her family's run down mansion and calls for some voodoo helping. Mama asks Sugar the pertinent question, "How strong is your hate?" to which she replies, "As strong as my love was, my hate is stronger" and we're ready to go. Before you can say, "she do voodoo on you," Mama's conjured up the voodoo god (yeah, I don't know) Baron Samedi (which sounds an awful lot like... oh, crap!) and his zombie army, who all have grey skin and cool silver eyes and look like badass robots. Naturally, Sugar promises her soul in exchange for the zombies killing her enemies.

The Baron is played by Don Pedro Colley in top hat and tails and with a scenery-chewing sense of delight. The silver zombies are a cool bit of design, although they seem to be constantly covered in cobwebs, which is a bit distracting. Bey does a fairly good job in the title role; she's better at playing angry and badass than howling in despair. As is the norm in these movies, she sets about administering vengeance to the honkey jive ass crackers.

Morgan, the head cracker, drinks liquor and calls his underlings horrible things like "pigeon head". His racist trophy wife Celeste (Betty Ann Rees) hates Sugar and takes part in a hot girl fight with her that seems to have no bearing on the rest of the plot. I've never entirely understood why karate was so central to the blacksploitation genre, but, hey, who's complaining? The storyline is pretty much summed up by the poster- the mob took her man and now she's getting revenge with her zombie hitmen. Trust me- you know what you're getting with this one and Paul Maslansky's direction is fairly unobtrusive. There's little gore and no nudity, which is a pisser. It's one of the few 70s PG movies where the rating doesn't seem too far off.

But, you know, that's not much of a gripe. It's really hard to really dislike a movie with soul music, at least three actors taking part in a scenery-chewing competition, and a scene in which a mobster is menaced by a floating severed chicken foot. I'll keep the poster.

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