Ganja & 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 Night (1985)
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.
The House on Skull Mountain (1974)
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.