Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Day #13 finds Sugar on the hill...

D. Paul Malansky
American International Pictures

This well loved Blaxploitation horror hybrid played the drive-in circuit for years and years before becoming a late night TV favorite well into the 80's. Being rated PG allowed it to play second bills safely and get into syndication with very little editing which made it a popular replay, plus the snappy and memorable various titles made an impact with audiences over the years. But what has stuck with people are two things: the
cobweb-covered, bug-eyed voodoo zombies, where they used cut in half ping pong balls painted silver for eyes, and, of course, the titular badass anti-hero Baron Samedi, played by Don Pedro Colli, with his wide eyes, toothy grin, and joyful menacing laugh. His image seared its way into the stoned minds of many a drive-in patron all over the country, regardless of color or creed. But he's just the pawn of the title heroine Sugar Hill, one pissed off Mama out for revenge because a syndicate of honky motherfucka's killed the man she loved so they could take over the nightclub he ran. Being that she came from a family of voodoo practicing folk, that was one bad move on their part. She goes to her old Mama, a voodoo priestess who helps Sugar to raise the Baron and his zombie slaves. Literally, the corpses of slaves brought over from the old country, who died of disease soon as they set foot on the plantations of America and were buried in the swamps of Louisiana. Together they all set out to wipe the lily white scum (and one token black brother) from the face of the earth.

Marki Bey is Sugar Hill, and she's smokin' in the roll. Hot as can be, and, as many of the black actresses of the time often did, exuding an air of absolute control and power. She just shines forth as a woman not to be fucked with in her various white and blue power jumpsuits that amazingly never look tacky or retro on her. As the movie progresses her cleavage seems to take on a life of its own, becoming more and more prominent in each outfit, until those breasts are demanding their own screen agent. It all seems rather appropriate for a character who enters every room and takes charge of everyone in it. The movie is clever in how each scene sets up Baron Samedi in some way, as well: as a bartender, a cab driver, or a gardener, allowing the bad guys to walk to their doom as he watches them take the bait and suffer their fate. Laughing the whole time at their stupidity and cries of anguish.

SUGAR HILL is ripe with a thick atmosphere of genuine Southern gothic antiquity, with lush swamps and plantations and a feel of down-home voodoo in some scenes that's eerie, to say the least. The fog-basted scenes of Baron Samedi's resurrection are particularly effective.

The movie was formerly owned by MGM as part of their deal with American International's library (formerly owned by Orion), but I don't know what's happened to it since then. I believe it's shown on MGM's HD channel once or twice, but it's still not available on DVD as of this writing. Rips from that broadcast and the old Orion VHS are floating around, and either are a perfectly acceptable way to watch this fine 70's slice of drive-in horror fare. This one has now entered the pantheon of a real favorite.

Reviews © Andy Copp

No comments:

Post a Comment