Thursday, September 09, 2010

Doll Enflamed: SUGAR HILL (AIP, 1974)

FINAL GIRL FILM CLUB SELECTION December 2010! Another film available only on Netflix streaming, this AIP gem from 1974 is a wry, clever blaxploitation zombie urban revenge film. Hell, you sold us, here's $40,000., now show us what you can do with silver ping pong ball eyes, a chicken foot, and a rack of foxy outfits. She's a sweet sexy fashion photographer with a voodoo-nightclub-owning boyfriend who won't sell out to a bunch of syndicate thugs. They beat him to to death in the parking lot and the credits have barely stopped rolling. Bey decides to return to her ancestral homestead and see about getting some old-school voodoo revenge. Thankfully, her grandmother is a high voodoo priestess, and a zombie army is standing by on her orders.

If you know my blog, you know I love any movie where a hot, take-charge African American woman with a big 'fro goes old testament on cringing bad guys, especially if she's smart and badass enough that I don't have to worry about her getting beat up, sexually assaulted, imprisoned, outsmarted, etc. as so often happened to Pam Grier in FOXY BROWN. Sugar Hill (an area of Harlem, but also this chick's name, dig?) is so cool and composed she skips all that racket, stands up for herself without effort, manipulates a voodoo priest, her voodoo priestess grandmother, Valentine the cop, and the gangster villain who killed her man, everybody better watch out! Played by Marki Bey, a regular on STARSKY AND HUTCH, Sugar Hill is amazing! It's great to be rooting for a murderous voodoo priestess and not have to worry she's going to develop a conscience or let love weaken her resolve... for deadly reprisal-making!

You know the deal, you know what I mean, you're hip. Someone like Jodie Foster in THE BRAVE ONE, by contrast, is a one-woman vengeance machine and yet some dopey cop wants to stop her because, um, it's wrong... it's not the law? Then the law is wrong! And then it ends in a big showdown when she's about to shoot the bad guy in cold blood like he deserves and the lame ass cop is all "Listen to me, Sugar! It's not worth it! Let justice take it's course!" So she puts her gun down and turns her back and has to wait until the bad guy suddenly stops cringing and whips a pistol out of his ankle holster... like the kind of moral straining censors require to not 'send a pro-vigilante message to today's impressionable youth.'

Then there's the element of some revenge films I think of as 'inequal distribution', wherein a woman is traumatically assaulted and the assailants spend the movie doing more evil, and finally they just get shot at the end, Bang, the End. So what? That's an imbalance of pain to pleasure for me the viewer because seeing someone get shot doesn't carry the same cathartic charge as seeing them beaten up for ten minutes and then shot, or eaten by starving pigs, or thrown into a tub of snakes or hacked up by zombies, or Michael Caine. I much prefer the reverse: Let the syndicate crime boss kill your man real fast in the beginning, and then spend the whole rest of the movie kicking the crap out of him, EC comics style.

SUGAR HILL falls into none of the above traps to deliver instead a series of comic book style death traps involving zombie massages ("Treat me easy, easy," the unwitting massage recipient asks), attack of the severed chicken foot (a peak AIP moment), burning voodoo dolls ("When the doll is enflamed you will pick up the knife and use it on yourself!"), grinning old bloodthirsty Mama Maitresse (Zara Cully, Grandmother Jefferson on THE JEFFERSONS!), laughing Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley) as a Geoffrey Holder-style hoodoo man (who shows up in different disguises during the elaborate juju sting operations), voodoo doll leg cramps, silver ping pong ball eyes and cobwebs for the all the zombies, machetes, snakes, feeding gangsters to hungry pigs ("Hope they like white trash!"); a stable of foxy, foxy outfits; slave shackles covered in dust at the crime scene, and so forth! When the 'good' guys are the zombies, the bad guys don't have a chance in hell... and I'm in psychotronic heaven.

How lucky are we that Netflx just dumped all these great, restored color AIP films onto their streaming site? Pretty lucky (if you have Netflix, also check out CULT OF THE DAMNED).  I hope Halle Berry does, because after the mousy way she ruined Storm and Catwoman, she should be forced to watch the ballsy brilliance of Marki Bey in this film at least ten times. Bey's no taller than Berry and has an even smaller nose, but can order around whole rooms full of zombies, gangsters or cops and make it work without ever being anything but super cool, super sexy and the smartest person in the picture. In fact she works it so well it took me awhile to even notice it! Not that it should be, or is now, or will be. Zamboona never fails.... Coffy may be the color, but Sugar Hill's got the soul, and the silver... painted... ping... pong... balls


  1. Man, I've been wanting to see this since it reared its head on 42nd Street Forever Volume 2. It's definitely going to be featured in this year's 31 Days of Horror.

    But I must admit an ultier motive for posting, as someone who's written about Leo's need to lighten up, what make you of Strutting Leo?

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