Tuesday, 30 June 2015

DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Spike Lee Remakes Glen & Randa

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014)
Dir. Spike Lee
Scr. Lee & Bill Gunn
Starring: Stephen Tyrone Williams, Zaraah Abrahams, Elvis Nolasco, Rami Malek

Review By Greg Klymkiw

If Spike Lee went knocking on Studio doors (maybe even a few smaller companies and/or, God Forbid, a European country or three), I can't for a second believe he'd NOT be financed for Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.

Here's the pitch:

- A contemporary remake of cult horror classic Ganja & Hess.

- A passionate supernatural love-story between two insanely attractive people who are afflicted with a blood-sucking form of vampirism rooted in an ancient African ritual sacrifice blade.

Hess (Stephen Tyrone Williams) is a suave, sexy anthropologist and multi-millionaire African art collector living on a sprawling, gorgeous estate in Martha's Vineyard. Lafayette Hightower (Elvis Nolasco), a colleague from the museum Hess presides over, pops over for a visit, but after some erudite conversation he reveals how mentally unstable he is and stabs Hess with the ages-old sacrificial blade. Hess fights back and kills Hightower, then disposes of the body in his basement freezer. Rich people do things like this.

When Hightower's gorgeous wife Ganja (Zaraah Abrahams) comes a calling in search of her husband, she and Hess hit it off and soon the smouldering turns to a drillin' and a soderin' in the master boudoir. Mmmm, they make some sweet, crazy lovin' and it's not long before they seal their union with marriage.

What Hess doesn't tell Ganja is that he's now a blood-sucking vampire, thanks to being stabbed with the grim Ashanti Blade by her estranged, dead and frozen hubbles. When she discovers the body, she goes a tad bunyip, but Hess calms her down with his mellifluously sexy voice and suggests she join him for eternal life as a vampire. That this offer provides as eternal prongin' with the schwanzen de Hessen, Ganja is prime. Lots more fornicatin', blood suckin' and killin' follows.

Eventually Hess seeks redemption for his actions, in spite of how much fun they've been. Ganja understands, but wants the party to continue. A mutually satisfactory agreement is arrived at.

- That's the long and the short of this pitch, baby. Sex, vampires, lotsa blood, more sex, more killing, more blood and to top this ice cream sundae off with a nice, juicy cherry, there's gonna be some mighty fine lezbo action - all of this shot with Spike's visual aplomb and dappled with cool, young, up-and-coming musical artists for a song score, plus the styling of a Bruce Hornsby jazz score throughout.

So seriously, who wouldn't be financing this movie? Spike could have pieced the dough together tout suite, but no, he made a big deal about not even bothering to try and instead, turned to crowd funding via Kickstarter. Hell, he could have saved up his per diems from his gun-for-hire gig on the dreadful Hollywood remake of Old Boy, but instead, he went cap in hand to his movie-loving fans and raised $1.4 million (USD) in exchange for "perks", but giving him complete ownership of the film and not having to divvy up any shares of the sales, nor, for that matter needing to recoup the cash used to make the film. (One hopes his cap in hand is a "Forty Acres and a Mule" ball cap.)

I wouldn't hold this against Lee if I didn't doubt his belief in not being able to finance the picture through the usual channels. Most of all, I'd especially not hold it against him if his remake of Bill Gunn's classic Ganja & Hess was actually worthy of fan support. Lee's film is slick, to be sure, and his cast is first rate, but given that the movie is an almost blow-by-blow remake with only the most cursory updating (so much so he had to give Gunn a co-writing credit), it's a shame Lee's picture has no discernible tone, none of the mordant wit of the original, none of the genuine creepy-crawly and most of all, bereft of Gunn's strong political, social and historical context. I'm sure Spike thinks his picture is not sans the items that made the original so great, but here's an eye-opener for you, Spike: it is.

His movie isn't bad, but it's no work of art and certainly no classic. That's what Bill Gunn achieved over forty years ago. What you owe yourself, however, is to buy both Ganja & Hess and Lee's soulless remake. Watch them both (Gunn's first, and Lee's second). It'll make for an engaging evening of movie-viewing, though the bottom half of the double bill will definitely be Spike Lee's version.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **½ Two-and-a-half-stars

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is available on a gorgeous Anchor Bay/Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada Blu-Ray transfer, sans any extras which might have offered some illumination.