Saturday, 20 June 2015

SUGAR HILL - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Blaxploitation Like You've Never Seen Before!

Sugar Hill (1974)
Dir. Paul Maslansky
Scr. Tim Hill
Cin. Robert C. Jessup
Starring: Marki Bey, Robert Quarry, Zara Culley, Don Pedro Colley,
Charles F. Robinson, Richard Lawson, Larry Don Johnson, Betty Ann Rees

Review By Greg Klymkiw

This fella's seen more than his fair share of Blaxploitation in his life, perhaps too much. Nah, what am I saying? One can never get too much super soul action from the 70s. I've gotta tell you though, nothing rocked my world quite like Paul Maslansky's Sugar Hill from 1974. I thought I'd seen every cinematic African-American permutation of genre pictures, but this one's a true original; a bloody vigilante movie with zombies, raised from their graves by the power of voodoo.

It doesn't get sweeter than that. Well, actually it does when the lady needing vengeance is the sweeter-than-sweet Marki Bey in the title role of Sugar Hill. And man, Sugar is sweet, luscious and totally badass!

The movie opens over a stunning opening title credit sequence with a sumptuous voodoo ritual replete with snakes, chickens and furious dancing and conjuring. All of this is set to the unforgettable Dino Fekaris/Nick Zesses song "Supernatural Voodoo Woman" as sung ever-so smoothly by The Moderns. It then comes as a special treat when we discover why this all feels like a super-soul-styled musical number; it's none other than a very cool nightclub act in Houston's "Club Haiti".

Its proprietor, Sugar's loving fiancé, is threatened by some mean-ass gangsters representing local mob boss Morgan (Robert Quarry of Count Yorga fame). The scum bucket wants to buy this super successful dining, dancing and drinking emporium for a mere song. He refuses, of course and is summarily beaten to death.

Sugar goes ballistic! Travelling deep into the bush, she looks up her old pal, voodoo woman Mama Maitresse (Zara Culley, Mother Olivia Jefferson from, you guessed it, The Jeffersons). The good Mama introduces her to the mighty devil man himself, the ultra-stylish, mega-flamboyant Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley) who agrees to take Sugar's soul (when the time comes naturally, of course) in exchange for his services to raise the living dead to do her bidding.

The good Baron and his zombies are especially looking forward to whuppin' some Whitey and Oreo Cookie ass since they're long-dead slaves from the deep pre-Civil War South and they live as the living dead to get some payback too. Sugar and the Baron work as a team to rustle up each and every one of Morgan's henchman and we're the beneficiaries of some magnificent vengeance involving a variety of death instruments: machetes, snakes, spears - all manner of gruesome butchery.

Tim Hill's lively screenplay injects a fair bit of juicy satirical elements as the film goes about its supremely entertaining business. It gives the wonderful actor Don Pedro Colley quite a few hilarious bits where he dupes Whitey with any number of Sambo routines that give Steppin Fetchit a run for his money. One of Colley's best scenes has the Baron happily singing "De Camptown Races" replete with "Doo-Dahs" as he chauffeurs an unwitting gangster to his horrific demise.

And what a demise it is. Sugar wryly quips, "I hope they don't mind white trash," as the gangster is dumped alive into a pit full of starving pigs.

Oink. Oink.

The movie is spiritedly directed by Paul Maslansky making his feature length debut. Good thing it's so spirited, too. Sugar Hill was the only movie Maslansky ever directed. He did, however, have a hugely successful career as the producer of such acclaimed cult genre films as Castle of the Living Dead, Raw Meat, Race With the Devil, Damnation Alley and many others before settling in to produce every single Police Academy movie ever made (including its upcoming reboot). There are a few rough around the edges moments in Sugar Hill (which Maslansky immodestly notes in the ample supplements on the Blu-Ray), but he was wise (using his producer noggin) to surround himself with a great creative team including the wonderful underrated cinematographer Robert C. Jessup.

Okay, this is no masterpiece, but it sure is fun seeing Whitey get His. And even though the main creative team are anything but African-American, they go out of their way to deliver entertainment which more than appealed to its target audience. Then again, even Whitey is going to have fun with this. I sure did - especially when Robert Quarry's blonde whore tells Sugar not to get "uppity" with her and our heroine quips back with:

"Uppity? My dear, talking to you means I look nowhere but down!"

Yup, this is some mighty Hot Voodoo!

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** (Film) & **** (Blu-Ray)

Sugar Hill is available on Blu-Ray from Kino-Lorber. It's a gorgeously produced package with a ton of fantastic extra features including a wonderful Maslansky commentary, generous interviews with the actors and a great transfer from nice source material which allows for all that glorious 70s grain and punchy colours courtesy of cinematographer Jessup.

While you order your own copy of Sugar Hill by clicking HERE (Canada), HERE (USA) and HERE (UK), why not check out the opening scene of Sugar Hill below, complete with "Supernatural Voodoo Woman".