SUGAR HILL (1974)
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70’s Blaxsploitation flick from producer Samuel Z. Arkoff and the legendary American International Pictures isn’t one of the best of that era, but certainly isn’t among the worst. Sugar Hill tells the supernatural story of Diana Hill (Marki Bey) who is known to everyone as Sugar. Sugar’s boyfriend, Langston (Larry D. Johnson) is murdered by gangsters and the distraught woman turns to voodoo to exact revenge. Soon the men of crime boss Morgan (Robert Quarry) start to fall, as Sugar and her army of zombies hunt them down one by one and gruesomely murder them.
Flick is the one directorial effort from prolific producer and writer Paul Maslansky from a script by Tim Kelly. It’s directed a bit by-the-numbers and has a somewhat slow pace even for a 90 minute film. Sugar Hill does benefit now from it’s nostalgic charm, but that doesn’t totally get us past that some of the acting is a bit too bad to enjoy at times and the dialogue a bit too badly written to really laugh at. Don Pedro Colley’s Baron Samedi, for example, is almost comical, despite the film’s dead serious tone. There are some amusingly cheesy SPFX…especially the make-up on the zombies…and a few spooky moments, too, such as when they first rise. If that doesn’t add some entertainment to it, there are always some of gangster Morgan’s outfits to provide nostalgia and chuckles. It is also of interest to see how racist, misogynist and sexist a movie could be in that era without raising a ruckus, as in today’s politically correct times. Not to mention, as well, how much PG rated films got away with before the ratings system became more conservative in the 80s. Lastly, this story of a woman who uses voodoo to avenge her lover’s murder has it’s heroine become so gleeful at slaughtering the mobsters who beat her fiancé to death, that sometimes it’s hard to root for her. Sure the bad guys deserve it, but she is now just as bloodthirsty, or more so, than the men she stalks and kills. It’s a thin line, but sometimes it’s hard to get behind someone who’d work perfectly as the villain in another movie. Then again, Sugar Hill is not a morality play, but simple exploitation entertainment.
Overall, this is an amusing example of a distinct era of filmmaking, but not quite one of the best, though there are those that might argue that. Sugar Hill is certainly worth seeking out by those interested in Blaxsploitation cinema and does have it’s entertainment value. Also stars Richard Lawson, who appeared as “Willis” in Scream Blacula Scream, as Det. Valentine and Zara Cully as voodoo priestess Mama Maitresse.
Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) sexy, vengeful Sugars.
MONSTERZERO NJ’S 10 HORROR FLICKS FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH!
February is the month where we mark the achievements of the black community and there have been some wonderful contributions to the world of horror films by some amazing talents. Whether it be black filmmakers like William Crain and Jordan Peele, or actors such as William Marshall, Pam Grier and Duane Jones, there is much to celebrate! Here are ten films that illustrate the sometimes groundbreaking and always entertaining achievements in the horror genre that this month so proudly commemorates!
REVIEW LINKS: click to read the corresponding review!
- Scream Blacula Scream
- Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde
- Sugar Hill
- The House On Skull Mountain
- Tales from the Hood
- Night of the Living Dead
- Get Out
To all these talented men and women in front of and behind the camera…CHEERS!
TRUCK TURNER (1974)
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1974 blaxploitation flick has soul music legend Isaac Hayes playing ex-football player turned bounty hunter, Mack “Truck” Turner. Mack and his partner Jerry (Alan Weeks) are hired to track down a vicious pimp named Gator (Paul Harris) who has skipped bail. Turner is forced to kill Gator in a gunfight and now must face his vengeful girlfriend/madame Dorinda (Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols) and her new associate Blue (Yaphet Kotto). With hired killers on his tail and a target on his back, Truck Turner is taking the fight to them to protect the ones he loves!
Aside from watching the future Duke Of New York in action and getting to see Star Trek’s Uhura as a foul mouthed madame, there isn’t too much to recommend about Truck Turner other than the obvious nostalgia. The film is sloppily directed by Jonathan Kaplan from a script that took three writers to concoct it’s simple story and hilariously vulgar dialog. The action scenes are badly choreographed and shot and the film feels like it was edited with a chainsaw. Not to say there isn’t some fun to be had from it’s epic badness or the brazen machismo in which Hayes seems to be impervious to gunfire, yet hits his target almost every time. The dialog is filled with profanity and racial slurs, which can be amusing…and quite shocking for those not used to an era long before politically correctness set in. It has something to offend everyone in today’s age of oversensitivity and if the racial slurs and portrayal of women as whores doesn’t accomplish it, a certain scene with Truck’s cat will. The thing is, the movie isn’t trying to offend, it was made at a time where exploitation films ‘went there’ and where proud of it. Still, despite it’s bravado, it seems to be just a little too badly made to really be enjoyable as camp. It is a very amateurish flick, but it did make money back in the day and does have a cult classic reputation, so who am I to argue. The legendary Hayes did the soundtrack himself, so at least there is that.
The cast play things surprisingly serious and that helps. Hayes is as cool as they come and gives his bounty hunter a confident swagger and yet there is a heart under all that testosterone. Nichelle Nichols is delightfully over-the-top and vulgar and really cranks out the trashy sex appeal as vicious madame Dorinda. Actually shows she is a versatile actress when allowed to play something other than Lt. Uhura. Yaphet Kotto gives threat and menace to his pimp Blue and Weeks is a solid enough sidekick for the macho Truck. It’s in the supporting cast that we start to run into trouble and performances range from adequate to awful with the various pimps, prostitutes and hit men. Also features small roles with Dick Miller and frequent John Carpenter guy Charles Cyphers.
Not sure why I didn’t enjoy this one. Normally I love this kind of stuff and maybe just went in with the wrong expectations. I was expecting something more on a Shaft level and maybe wasn’t ready for something that was a blatant exploitation flick that took itself far less seriously and was far less well-made. Perhaps then I will revisit Truck Turner once day and be ready this time for it’s badness, crudeness and rudeness. For now, I see it as a bad flick that was a little too bad for it’s own good at times.
A generous…it is Isaac Hayes after all…2 and 1/2 bullets.
Black History Month MonsterZero NJ style! I thought I’d revisit the blaxploitation era for this week’s double feature paying tribute to not only pioneer African-American director William Crain, with two of his most famous films but, African-American acting icons William Marshall and Bernie Casey who headline these two cult classic horror flicks!
Blacula is one of the best examples of the 70’s blaxploitation films refered to in today’s politically correct times as Soul Cinema. Not only does it properly represent the era but, it is also simply a good horror flick, providing some legitimate chills and thrills, as well as, a bit of bittersweet romance too. As written by Raymond Koenig and Joan Torres and directed by William Crain, the tale of an African prince cursed to become the undead by Dracula himself and released from his ages old prison in modern day (at the time) Los Angeles, is a very entertaining movie even without the added 70s nostagia factor. There is lots to enjoy as Blacula builds his undead army and romances a woman who is the striking image of his long dead wife. A big part of the film’s success is the casting of Shakespearean actor William Marshall (know to many of today’s movie fans as The King Of Cartoons from Pee Wee’s Playhouse) in the lead role. Marshall brings a sense of power and nobility to the cursed African prince, Mamuwalde and knows exactly how and when to bring the monster to life when called upon. He even succeeds in making him sexy and sympathetic at the appropriate moments. He is supported by a good cast that brings life to what could have been two dimensional roles including Vonette McGee as Tina, a beautiful woman who resembles Blacula’s lost wife, Luva (also McGee) and veteran actor Thalmus Rasulala as a Dr. Gordon Thomas, a forensics investigator who serves as the film’s Van Helsing character and is helping the police investigate a rash of mysterious deaths. Three guesses who’s responsible for those. Sure it’s campy fun at this point and the FX are cheesy by today’s high standards but, that doesn’t negate the work of those in front of and behind the camera as Blacula delivers lots of spooky entertainment with class, style and not without a touch of humor. A classic of more than one genre.
EXTRA TRIVIA: It is said that William Marshall himself worked with the filmmakers to give the character nobility and is responsible for his origin as an African Prince which was not part of the original script.
A solid 3 and 1/2 fangs
DR. BLACK AND MR. HYDE (1976)
Blacksploitation classic tells the story of African-American Dr. Henry Pryde (Bernie Casey) who is working tirelessly to find a cure for liver disease. He develops a serum that shows potential but, he can’t perfect it without human experimentation. After a failed test on a dying woman, Henry decides to test the serum on himself. The result transforms the valiant doctor into a super strong, violent tempered… white man. Directed by Blacula’s William Crain, this 70s horror treats it’s story with respect despite how silly it is and Crain, as with Blacula, gets good performances out of his cast that also includes Rosalind Cash (The Omega Man) and Marie O’Henry as Pryde’s love interest, a local hooker named Linda. Sadly, Larry LeBron’s script from an idea by Lawrence Woolner doesn’t nearly make as much use of the classic story it’s based on as did Blacula, nor is Crain able to give this film the same gothic flavor and style he did with that film. It’s pretty much a generic monster movie with Mr. Hyde stalking and killing Linda’s fellow hookers and their pimps while the police trying to find and stop the rampaging killer. The obvious blaxploitation elements are present but, seem a bit forced here as opposed to Blacula where they were just part of the characters and their life at that point in time. Still, the film does have that 70s nostalgia and is worth a look for those interested in the blaxploitation era of filmmaking. Not to mention the movie certainly is not without it’s entertainment value and is never dull. Also noteworthy are the Mr. Hyde make-up effects on Bernie Casey which were created by the legendary Stan Winston.
2 and 1/2 stars!
WARNING: trailer features some nudity and violence.