Sugar Hill (1974)

I have a personal rule: don’t fuck with voodoo. This movie is a perfect example of why.

Sugar Hill’s boyfriend owns a successful club, but the local Houston mob want it, so they murder him. Since Sugar desires revenge, she reaches out to Mama Maitresse, a voodoo priestess who manages to summon up Baron Samedi. Sugar makes a deal with Samedi for the chance to get revenge on her boyfriend’s killers. To do this, he grants her control over an army of zombies armed with cobwebs and machetes. Sugar then hunts down each of the men involved in the mob and has them murdered through zombie attack or voodoo ritual. Meanwhile, an old flame who is now a detective, Valentine, investigates and comes to realize that voodoo must be the key to what’s going on.

You might be surprised to find out that this isn’t your typical revenge-through-dark-forces storyline. While Baron Samedi is clearly enjoying himself as he helps Sugar, the movie doesn’t end with her have to make a final sacrifice; her pain comes at the beginning when her boyfriend is murdered, and that’s in the first ten minutes. And while Baron Samedi hints that he wants Sugar Hill for himself, he seems open to the idea of waiting once she pays with the mob boss’ racist girlfriend, who Samedi carries off with his army of zombies into the night. This is probably the biggest break from how these sorts of tales are typically told, but then again Samedi seems happy to have been summoned up to kill a bunch of racist pricks, so giving him the chance to show just how strong an oppressed people can be is payment enough. Well, that and a woman… It makes sense, but it’s rough knowing she’s a prize and probably about to have something terrible done to her, even if the woman in question is one of the most openly racist in the film and definitely not a good person.

You know who is a good person? Lt. Valentine, the cop who is on the case and trying to struggle with a combination of his suspicions, his realism, his love for Sugar, and his dogged desire to uncover the truth no matter how strange. He’s tough, intelligent, and the kind of guy you know you respect from the first meeting. I loved his character, and I was routing for him throughout even when I didn’t think he could make it. He makes a realistic figure in contrast to the massive, wide-eyed, scarred and laughing Baron Samedi as the other main male lead. Now Baron Samedi comes across as an ally and a potential antagonist at times, but Don Pedro Colley played the part beautifully; this is an entity that knows he’s gonna win, so why not have a laugh and enjoy yourself?

Baron Samedi’s army of the dead is also frighteningly effective; the zombies are all completely covered in cobwebs and a paint that implies rot. Sand pours out of their wounds, and they come armed with worn machetes. Some kind of reflective piece was used to cover their eyes, but it bulges out in a way that becomes grotesque, and they shamble slowly in a way that is convincingly dead. To add to it, they’re often filmed in shadow and darkness. Oh man, I love it. The look evokes Carrefour from I Walked with a Zombie, and the cinematography backs it up beautifully. The highlight is seeing them surrounding en masse or shattering car windows up close.

Sugar Hill is a creepy but fun revenge tale, and I loved every minute of it. It moves briskly and never veers from its relentless goal. The actors are all wonderful, and lead Marki Bey has the most piercing eyes and a smirk that conveys such strength, she is an absolute marvel. This is a movie I would happily recommend to fellow horror fans. Seek it out now, and hope Baron Samedi doesn’t dig your grave this day.

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