Thursday 9 October 2014

Sugar Hill (1974)

When her boyfriend is murdered by a group of gangsters, the sexy and tough Sugar Hill (Marki Bey) intends to get her revenge. She enlists the help of Mama Maitresse (Zara Cully) and Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley), which leads to a number of problematic deaths for the gangsters. It's hard to think of Sugar as being the one responsible, but it's also harder to imagine that there might be zombies, and other voodoo practices, being used as particularly effective dispatchment methods. The deaths certainly stump a cop named Valentine (Richard Lawson), who also seems to carry a torch for Sugar, which is understandable.

Written by Tim Kelly, and directed by Paul Maslansky, Sugar Hill is a bit of a minor classic thanks to the way it successfully straddles both the horror genre and the blaxploitation boom of the '70s. Unlike some other attempts to blend the two (there have been many bad examples, and a few good ones), this gets everything just right in a way that will please fans of both movie types. There may be few actual scares, but each death is a fairly enjoyable set-piece, with viewers getting a real feel for the dread that the potential victims experience. As outlandish as the premise is, Kelly grounds the horror/supernatural elements in a standard blaxploitation environment that feels easily believable, albeit easily believable in a movie world way. Maslansky treats the script as a handy guideline, moving between the darker scenes into the bright, colourful moments that show Sugar going about her daily business.

Bey is great in the title role, touch and sexy and smart. She's someone that you root for, making the movie all the more satisfying as one death leads to another and another, until you know that there's only the head baddie (Robert Quarry) left to be dealt with. Speaking of Quarry, he's a very entertaining villain. Ruthless, cool, and always sending his men along to do work that saves him from getting his hands dirty. Betty Anne Rees makes a great impression as his partner, a woman who may now have lots of disposable income, but wouldn't ever buy a touch of class, even if it was in a half-price sale. Lawson also makes a great impression as the caring cop who just knows that something is wrong with the recent deaths he ends up investigating. Cully is suitably mystical and mysterious as Mama Maitresse, but Colley is the other big draw here, playing Baron Samedi as a powerful, sly, amused, magic man who likes to stay close enough to those who ask for his help and see how things pan out for their victims. He's a man-child, laughing at flies trapped in a spiderweb.

Cool, and also a bit kitsch nowadays, this isn't a film you necessarily want to spend too much time putting a label on. It's fun, first and foremost, and that's the main thing. If you haven't seen it yet, then be sure to bump it up the list of prioritised viewings. I'm glad that I did.



  1. SUGAR HILL for me is more of a supernatural/superhero origin story. She well could have been a character created by Marvel during their period in the 70's when Marvel had a horror boom and introduced characters like Son of Satan, Ghost Rider and Satana that straddled both worlds.

    Notice that when Sugar Hill is out knocking off mobsters, she shows up in a definite superhero mode with the white jumpsuit and gravity defying Afro.

    1. Very good point, Derrick. I like your thinking.