Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Final Girl Film Club - Sugar Hill

Time for another round of Final Girl Film Club! This month's selection is the blaxploitation zombie flick Sugar Hill. Indicentally, the neighborhood in Harlem where I live is called Sugar Hill, so I felt a connection to this movie right off the bat. Also, this is a Samuel Z. Arkoff and AIP production (that's American International Pictures, not Amazingly Idiotic Productions), and if that name means anything to you, a) you probably watch too much MST3K, and b) this movie probably just jumped up several points on your AwesomeMeter.

The film begins with what appears to be a voodoo ritual - drums, dancing, chicken blood, you probably know the drill. The natives are voodoo-ing to the particularly groovy strains of "Supernatural Voodoo Woman" by The Originals - a song that's a bit too slow for what's going on, until - wait a minute. It's not an actual voodoo ritual. The lights have come up now and what we've just been watching is the floor show at the popular Club Haiti.

We meet Diana Hill (aka "Sugar") and her man Langston, who owns the club. They are a loving pair, which is good because this is the only opportunity the movie is going to offer us to be invested in their relationship at all. Some thugs come around, talking trash, and Sugar begs Langston not to provoke them - "I just don't want anything to happen to mah man," she says. But lo, something does happen to her man, and the thugs, all white men except for the pimptastic Fabulous (yes, that is his name) beat Langston to death.

Sugar swears revenge and goes to visit Mama Maitresse (which may, in fact, just be a fancy name for "mattress") to order up some zombie-style retribution. Mama Maitresses (played by Zara Cully, aka Mother Jefferson) conjurs up this guy, Baron Samedi (played by the disturbingly cheerful Don Pedro Colley)...

...who commands a gang of zombies who, when they lived, were plantation slaves who died of fever. These dead-heads, it must be said, are fairly awesome zombies. Sugar is told "Put them to evil use; it's all they know or want." These are happy zombies, and you can tell because they SMILE. CREEPY! Perhaps even creepier - they have shiny ping-pong ball eyeballs that make them look like bugs.

So Sugar summons the zombies, who are much more like Inferi than traditional zombies in that they don't just shuffle and eat; they actually do someone's bidding. The zombies kill the guys who killed Langston, and that's pretty much the story. The script, when not dealing with the zombies, is pretty painfully bad, though the actors do what they can with it. What sets this apart are the aforementioned zombies and some rather unique kills. My favorite is when Sugar uses voodoo to make one of the guys stab himself. And once it's down to just the main bad guy, we pan around the group of zombies and his recently killed cronies are among their number! So not only has Sugar killed them, she now commands them to do her will!

There are so many things to love about this movie, but the greatest and strangest is Sugar's two separate identities, the purpose of which is never really addressed. All I know is that Sugar looks like this when she's not doing zombie things.

And like this when she's an ass-kicking zombie queen.

There may be something metaphorical there, but that's probably giving the filmmakers way too much credit.

There are definitely problems with this movie, but what works REALLY works. Sugar Hill is, in 70s parlance, DYNAMITE!

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