Sugar Hill (1974)

Director: Paul Maslansky
Starring:Marki Bey, Robert Quarry, Don Pedro Colley, Betty Anne Rees, Richard Lawson, Zara Cully, Charles Robinson .USA. 1h 31m

For me this Blaxploitation thriller is a testament to Fulci’s zombie culture, with a strong vibe from a more authentic hoodoo background mixed with a strong black female lead this could be a damned near perfect blend of real gore horror but it just falls short but doesn’t fail to entertain.

Paul Maslansky managed to recreate the pure essence of a woman scorned, by killing Sugar’s lover in the opening scenes, this spurting her on the road to bitter revenge. Spicing the story up with a Fulci’s zombie hoard, the amalgamation almost works but if he had only added a bit more of a dangerous woman about town a la Pam Grier, gun fights and blades this would have been absolutely perfect. However despite its reputation of being a bit of a joke it’s still a wonderful film, just lacking some bite. Let me explain…

Diana “Sugar” Hill (Bey) is a prolific photographer and girlfriend of a popular nightclub owner Langston (Larry D Johnson), blessed with beauty and brains. She’s a hot catch and her heart belongs to her lover. Unfortunately Langston is taken out by a rival and prolific bad guy Morgan (Quarry) who is after the club, but Sugar isn’t the kind of girl to back down, she takes over the club which Langston left to her, then she goes and sees a influential Voodoo Queen, Mama Maitresse (Cully) to make a pact with a very sly Baron Samedi (Colley) for revenge and as this Loa is the king of the grave yard he has plenty of zombies spare for Sugar to use in her diabolical plans, but he tags along for the ride because he just love sweet murder, but there’s a price which isn’t really defined at this stage, a soul is on offer but the Loa wants something a bit more fleshy to play with..

Single handedly Sugar uses the dark forces to slowly take out each member of the gang that slayed her lover. Samedi pops up playing different characters throughout the movie, like the trickster devil his presence usually signifies death is imminent and a few laughs. Cons find themselves fed to animals, trapped in magic circles and forced into suicide, subjects of voodoo doll torture deaths and ripped apart by a hoard of moaning shackled zombies.

She’s Sweet as sugar… with a voodoo army of the undead!

The deaths don’t go unnoticed, the crime boss Morgan starts to squirm when his staff begin to vanish which prompts his to smack around his ho girlfriend, and a local cop and ex-boyfriend of Sugar Lt Valentine (Lawson) begins to do some heavy research into magic at the local university in order to crack the crime, but how can anyone believe that the dead bodies of slaves have really been resurrected to kill the mob?

It’s lacking a strong soundtrack but Zombie Connoisseurs till pick up on the distinct track used when the zombies appear which sounds much like the one used by Fulci in Zombi 2 (1979) and many of the zombie scenes seem to mimic the now cult classic, the camera actively rises up the bodies of the undead and focuses on their grotesque faces however they aren’t a guttural as the Italian classics, instead they just have painted on bones and physiques and chrome eyes like the Lectroids from Buckaroo Banzai. They aren’t scary but they are effective as Sugar Hill is more of a goofy crime film with a few creatures thrown in for good measure rather than a gory horror.

Coming from the height of Blackploiation horror era or at least around the time of Blackula (1972), and there’s some cracking one liners, in the first murder, Sugar appears from no where and starts jive talking a loud mouthed and slightly racist foreman, “I’m not accusing you, honk. I’m passing’ sentence” and after feeding a villain to a pen of pigs she jokes to Samedi “I hope they’re into white trash” but the epitome of all the race relations is the terrible girl fight between Sugar and the kingpins ho girlfriend Celeste (Betty Ann Rees) there’s some terrible choreography and tons of hair pulling and slapping and it ends in an Ice Bucket Challenge.

For all it’s faults and it’s feature on SchleFaZ , the German worst films ever series, there’s still a lot of love for Sugar Hill, it’s fun to watch and easy to get into, through a strange turn of events the Zombies, which are closer to the original folklore are actually the good guys killing terrible mobsters. Bey is absolutely stunning in her role as a woman scorned and even though it was Quarry’s last API movie, he certainly goes out with a bang. It’s not going to scare anyone, but it certainly entertains while keeping true to its roots.

TLDR

Rating: 7/10

Related: The Landlord (1970), Blacula (1972) Zombi 2 (1979)
List: A-Z of Blaxploitation, Real Zombie Flicks
Spotlight: Marki Bey, Robert Quarry, Don Pedro Colley
Article : Zombie Vs Infected Have we Forgotten the Hoodoo that you used to do so well.

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