Sugar Hill: Classic Blaxploitation Zombie Film

From guest blogger Brandon Engel

When you're seeking to settle in for the night with a movie and a nice glass of wine (or whatever suits your mood), it's important that the flick you pick matches the precise mood that you're in. Need a good cry? Maybe it's a three hankie weeper a la The Notebook you're looking for. For most other moods, the name of the game is comedy, or perhaps a sweet, high volume, action flick and then, for some of us, there's blaxploitation zombie films! Read on for a very interesting recommendation that very few of you were hip to β€” until now.

George Romero Has A Lot To Answer For

There wouldn't be a genre of zombie horror, in the movies or on TV, without George A. Romero. He's not the inventor of the zombie myth, but he's the guy who more or less got the modern zombie film conventions rolling. Of course, what worked wonders for Romero also proved to be a rich source of inspiration for other movie makers who followed in his wake.
As most readers will be aware, George A. Romero's immortal Night Of The Living Dead was the first (and still most legendary) zombie movie of the modern era. The film has spawned several sequels, and gone on to become a recognized classic. Of course, the film has also been picked apart to yield all sorts of allegorical and symbolic meanings. Suffice it to say that the film could probably not have arrived in any other decade but the 1960's, when cynicism and unrest among the populace began to receive serious expression in all of the arts.
Sugar Hill: One Bad Zombie Mother...Shush Yo' Mouth! 

One of the most interesting and criminally neglected films that followed in Romero's wake was the little known blaxploitation classic, Sugar Hill. We're talking about the 1974 film, not the later film by the same name from 1994. This particular Sugar Hill featured the acting talents of Marki Bey, in the title role of Diana "Sugar" Hill.
In a nutshell, "Sugar" is engaged to be married to the owner of a very hip and lucrative night spot with a heavy Haitian theme. Of course, with this being a horror flick, it all goes to hell in a handbasket for poor "Sugar" when white mobsters muscle in on her fiance and beat him to death.
Like any good horror classic worth its salt, this is hardly the end of the story. "Sugar" calls upon the services of Mama Maitresse (ably and creepily portrayed by the veteran B-movie actress, Zara Cully) who arranges a deal with Baron Samedi, the lord of the undead in the voodoo religion. It doesn't take long for a pack of African zombies to be unleashed on the evil white vice lords who ruined "Sugar's" love life. One gets fed to a pack of wild dogs, another ends up imprisoned in a coffin filled with poisonous snakes, and so on. We need hardly mention that badass Blaxploitation music sets the appropriate mood throughout.
Horror With An Afro-Centric Pedigree 

Midnight screenings of the film are still held from time to time, and it’s been showing pretty regularly on Robert Rodriguez's new El Rey network which is available through TV specials from Direct TV and DVD copies of the film are also popular. As a stand alone film, it's a dynamite view. Yes, it's low budget, clumsy at times, and certainly shows its age but it's a very interesting attempt at conveying an underlying message of justice, revenge, and self-actualization, all with an appropriately Afro-centric slant. Like its immediate predecessor Blacula, Sugar Hill was meant to serve notice that blacks were taking control of their own destinies, not only in the workplace, but also in the world of the arts.
Forty years on, Sugar Hill remains a worthy memento of that noble intent.

Episode 131 - 3rd Anniversary Show/Lucy

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Episode 130 - Caine & Keaton 1 - Pacific Heights & A Shock To The System