Quick Takes: Ganja & Hess, Fright Night, The House on Skull Mountain

ganjaandhessposterGanja & Hess (1973)
AKA
Blood Couple, Double Possession, Black Evil, Blackout: The Moment of Terror, Vampires of Harlem, Black Vampire

Starring Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn, Sam Waymon, Leonard Jackson, Candece Tarpley, Richard Harrow, John Hoffmeister
Directed by Bill Gunn

Tasked with creating a Blacula-type blaxploitation vampire movie, director Bill Gunn instead made an allegorical arthouse film that’s about as far from blaxploitation as possible; a bold move you just have to respect (although one look at those alternate titles above will show that the distributors definitely did not). But while I respect the balls that a move like that took, I can’t say that I liked Ganja & Hess much. It’s got an interesting vibe, and there are some real standout scenes (the ones featuring Bill Gunn himself in a supporting role, for instance), but for the most part I was bored. To be fair, though, I generally have this kind of reaction to arthouse movies, so I think it’s more my fault than Gunn’s. This is why I can’t bring myself to rate Ganja & Hess. Even though I didn’t really like it at all, it’s an incredible achievement of black cinema for the time. I simultaneously felt both impressed and bored. In this circumstance it would be wrong to assign a rating based on either of these feelings, and some arbitrary concoction of the two would only further obfuscate matters. So it’s just the kind of movie you’ll have to see on your own and decide for yourself. Just make sure you like arthouse-style movies. Oh, for those who care: Spike Lee’s Kickstarter film, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, is a remake of this.

fright_nightFright Night (1985)
fourstar

Starring Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys, Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding, Art Evans
Directed by Tom Holland

Four stars, you say? Yeah, maybe I’m overrating it but — aw hell, no I’m not! Fright Night is the type of ’80s horror blast to the brain you crave if you’re one of those people, like myself, who’s lamented the painful death of the horror movie over the last 25 years. Hell, it’s such a great example of an ’80s horror movie that modern directors should examine it and learn the great and simple truths contained within. It’s rare that a film can effectively convey multiple tones, but Fright Night manages to be a truly funny comedy that builds from the ’50s paranoia genre format (while also parodying them), that then morphs as the film progresses into one hell of a gory and tense thrill ride. The FX work is exceptional, with Richard Edlund, fresh off of Ghostbusters, bringing out all the stops. Fright Night is an intensely fun vampire movie. I haven’t seen it since I was about seven or eight years old, and a movie this great really should be seen more than once every 25 years or so. Highly recommended.

houseonskullmountainThe House on Skull Mountain (1974)
threestar

Starring Victor French, Janee Michelle, Jean Durand, Mike Evans, Xernona Clayton, Lloyd Nelson, Ella Woods, Mary J. Todd McKenzie
Directed by Ron Honthaner

I sought out The House on Skull Mountain after I saw it on a blaxploitation horror list, but it’s not really a blaxploitation movie at all. Unless a predominant black cast and a production year in the ’70s is all that defines a blaxploitation movie. This movie actually had black characters from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, and the jive talkin’ guy is clearly the butt of the joke, not the ass-kickin’ hero. Anyway, The House on Skull Mountain is a fun “people going to an old house for the reading of a will” movie mixed with a lot of voodoo and dope African drums. Since I’m such a fan of black magic films, I suppose it stands to reason that I’d also greatly enjoy a good voodoo movie! It will definitely be too dated for some, but I was suitably unsettled by many of its tricks and treats. Unfortunately, the intriguing mystery it sets up never pays off in any satisfying way, but it’s far too enjoyable a film for even something like this to diminish the fun.

Uncle Jasper reviews: Scream Blacula Scream (1973)

Scream Blacula Scream (1973)
AKA Blacula II, Blacula Is Beautiful, Blacula Lives Again!, The Name Is Blacula

Starring William Marshall, Don Mitchell, Pam Grier, Michael Conrad, Richard Lawson, Lynne Moody, Janee Michelle

Directed By Bob Kelljan


I have to admit I was pretty nervous about gearing down to review Scream Blacula Scream, 1973’s follow up to the surprise horror-blaxploitation hit, Blacula. I was almost certain I’d have to go through the motions and crank out the typical “Shoddy, uninspired sequel to surprisingly good b-movie” review.  Luckily that isn’t the case here. William Marshall turns in a performance that is every bit as classic as the original. And well, this time we have Pam Grier along for the ride… and she does voodoo! And Blacula kicks the shit out of pimps! But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here.

This time around, the elder of a cult of voodoo practitioners lies dying and passes her own son up by naming Lisa (Pam Grier) her successor. The son (played here by Richard Lawson), understandably pissed off to no end, swears revenge on that “skinny, jive-ass bitch”. Now, in most circles revenge would entail taking sharp keys to your enemies’ car, or throwing eggs at his house. But in the world of voodoo, revenge consists of buying the bones of Blacula from some old man with a necklace made out of tiger teeth and resurrecting him by sacrificing a dove and drinking its blood… Yeah, you don’t want to mess with those voodoo guys. Thinking that the ritual didn’t work, the son pops open a Coors and sulks in his living room, only to have Blacula pop out of nowhere and feast on some of that sweet, red nectar.

Continue reading Uncle Jasper reviews: Scream Blacula Scream (1973) →

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