Director – Paul Maslansky
Cast – Marki Bey, Robert Quarry, Don Pedro Colley, Betty Anne Rees, Richard Lawson, Zara Cully, Charles Robinson, Larry D. Johnson, Rick Hagood, Ed Geldart, Albert J. Baker, Raymond E. Simpson
Release Year – 1974
Reviewed by John of the Dead
This 1974 blaxploitation film sat on my queue for a a really long time, and I constantly passed it over simply because I was never in the mood to give it a shot. Well, I finally felt like it was time to give this one a shot, and I am darn glad that I did. Revenge films have a special place in my heart due to my love for anything vengeful, and when you mix in the horror genre, namely voodoo zombies, you have a concoction that I am sure to appreciate, and I did. Sugar Hill is simple and comes with flaws, but the experience is an awesome one that delivers good horror and sweet revenge.
When her fiance is killed by a local mob for not selling them his popular nightclub, Sugar Hill seeks unrelenting revenge with the help of a local voodoo mistress who summons up a powerful demon. Sugar’s demands for the demon are simple: kill every person involved in her fiance’s death…and give her a front row view of the voodoo-induced justice.
Horror and revenge are two of my favorite elements to see in films, so mixing them together in this one had my devout interest from the get-go. It does not take long for things to get going, and the first act moves quick in setting up the conflict that would send Sugar Hill over the edge and seek the aid of the town’s voodoo mistress. From then on out we are exposed to sweet revenge as Sugar directs the demon and his slew of zombies to deliver haunting justice to those who took her love from her. Simply put, the rest of the film follows Sugar and the mob as each of the mobsters is killed off one by one in a variety of fashions, each of which was unique in their own right and consisted of good horror as well. The storyline is a simple one and if you watch Sugar Hill with that in mind the story should do just enough to guarantee you a fun watch. My one biggest beef though was how supporting character, a detective assigned to the murders of the mobsters named Det. Valentine(Richard Lawson), was used in the film. Throughout the second act we were given small glimpses of the Det. Valentine at the gruesome crime scenes, but it seemed like he was merely thrown into the film in a grind house fashion in which he was used to help sell the film visually here and there and was never a full-frontal character. This especially came to light during the film’s closing sequences, the most important in the film, in which Valentine was nowhere to be found. Thankfully, the end result was a positive one and I did not see this poor character play keeping the film from my enjoyment.
Director Paul Maslansky did a good job executing this film to be the cheezy blaxploitation film it was set out to be, and he does a great job with the horror as well. I loved the look of the zombies, and unsurprisingly they were all of African descent. The makeup FX were simple, but I found the zombies highly effective and pretty chilling, and I enjoyed that they came covered in spider webs as well. Fans of the zombie sub-genre should rejoice at the idea that the film does not rely on radiation or toxic waste as the source of the zombies, but vengeful voodoo instead, something we rarely see in the sub-genre. We get some fair live-action gore as well, and Maslansky did a great job executing the awesome kills. The real treat and star of the film though is Sugar Hill, expertly portrayed by and underrated and under-appreciated Marki Bey. Sugar Hill is fine, sassy, and classy all at the same time, so it was great to see such a woman exact sweet revenge on the thugs responsible for taking her love from her. We get fair performances from everyone else involved, notably Don Pedro Colley as Baron Samedi and Richard Lawson as Det. Valentine, which combined with the film’s good horror and positive atmosphere make for an enjoyable end result.
Overall, Sugar Hill is a fun blaxploitation zombie/revenge flick that delivers good on the horror and revenge thanks to a sweet storyline and good direction. We are given a unique take on the zombie sub-genre with the film’s voodoo elements, and good kills, great gore, and sweet execution make this a fun and enjoyable 70s horror film.