Sugar Hill (1974)

“I give you your revenge! Put them to evil use—it’s all they know or want!”

 

[aka The Zombies Of Sugar Hill]

Director:  Paul Maslansky

Starring:  Marki Bey, Robert Quarry, Don Pedro Colley, Zara Culley, Richard Lawson, Betty Anne Rees, Larry Don Johnson, Charles P. Robinson, Rick Hagood, Ed Geldart, Albert J. Baker, Gary Chason, J. Randall Bell

Screenplay:  Tim Kelly

 

 

Synopsis:  After refusing to sell his successful business to local mob boss, Morgan (Robert Quarry), club owner Langston (Larry Don Johnson) is cornered in a darkened car park and beaten to death. Investigation of the murder is assigned to Lieutenant Valentine (Richard Lawson), whose ex-girlfriend, fashion photographer Diana “Sugar” Hill (Marki Bey), was engaged to Langston. When he questions her, Diana tells him frankly that if she knew who the murderers were, she would take steps not just to kill them, but to watch them die… Returning to her old family home in the Louisiana bayou, Diana seeks out Mama Maitresse (Zara Culley), an old voodoo priestess, and begs for her help. Mama comments wryly that, up until now, Diana always claimed to be a disbeliever. Warned that the risk is great, Diana insists that as strong as her love was, her hate is even stronger, and that she is ready to pay any price. The two women make their way deep into the surrounding swampland, to an ancient and neglected cemetery. Making Diana kneel before a voodoo altar, Mama calls upon Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley), who appears out of the surrounding mist. Diana begs Baron Samedi to grant her the power to destroy her enemies, promising him in return her soul, if he wants it. The Baron laughs uproariously, telling her that it isn’t her soul he’s interested in… As the two women look on in mingled horror and awe, the undead begin clawing their way out of the earth of the cemetery, raising their arms in a gesture of allegiance to Baron Samedi, who tells Diana that they are hers to command… Down by the docks, Tank Watson (Rick Hagood), one of Morgan’s men, takes hefty kick-backs in exchange for placing men on the work-crews. As he counts the proceeds in a warehouse, he is confronted by Diana, who tells him that he has been sentenced to death. He storms towards her angrily, but is ambushed by the zombies, one of whom holds a machete to his throat. He pleads hysterically for his life, but to no avail… When the police arrive on the scene, they find Watson’s body in one place—and his head in another. Lt Valentine searches the crime scene, and makes a strange discovery: an old metal shackle, the kind that was used on slaves… Hearing of Watson’s murder, a furious Morgan sends his remaining men out onto the streets to find out who is responsible, repulsing his girlfriend, Celeste (Betty Anne Rees), when she tries to calm him down. At the police laboratory, Valentine learns that when the shackle was examined, it yielded no solid evidence, but Tank Watson’s body did—that found upon it were traces of mould and dead skin…

Comments:  While it is true that rather too often, blaxploitation films were far more about the “—ploitation” than the “blax—”, every now and then you find one that does an admirable job of having it both ways.

   

Sugar Hill is a case in point. The film was produced by AIP, the studio having already struck pay-dirt in this area with Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream (which has a voodoo climax), and follows more or less the same formula; but whereas the fun of the earlier films lay in the transference of existing European lore into a new realm – and why should vampires all be white, anyway? – in Sugar Hill the film-makers took the riskier step of venturing into territory self-evidently black to start with. It is not difficult to imagine the various ways this could have done wrong, but instead it all went deliciously right, giving us something that, even considering the avalanche of zombie movies produced over the past decade or so, is still absurdly rare: a zombie film with a genuinely black sensibility.

In fact, in a way you have to wonder where this sensibility came from; certainly not at the level of production (Sam Arkoff and Elliot Schick) or direction. Sugar Hill was Paul Maslansky’s only directorial effort in a somewhat erratic career that encompasses the genre extremes of Castle of The Living Dead and The Blue Bird. Maslansky was also involved in Death Line and Race With The Devil, on the strength of which we may or may not forgive him for inflicting upon the world the Police Academy franchise.

Meanwhile, the screenplay of Sugar Hill was the work of the prolific playwright and sometime TV and film writer, Tim Kelly, who went from this to the far more serious – and far less successful – blaxploitation film, Bogard aka Black Fist, about a black street-fighter who goes to work for a white mob boss. This film has its moments, but takes itself too seriously. Thankfully, Kelly did not make the same mistake with Sugar Hill, which in spite of dollops of horror and violence keeps its tongue in its cheek just far enough, and never too far: it doesn’t make the fatal mistake of laughing at itself. Overall Kelly’s work here is better in outline than detail – some of the dialogue is pretty painful – but the screenplay’s shortcomings are balanced by its respectful handling of the voodoo lore.

 

Otherwise— Well, this is an AIP production, after all. But while the low budget shows at every turn, and the supporting cast is weak, the film is carried by the one-two punch of lovely Marki Bey as the eponymous Sugar, who sports a startling array of flared pant-suits and an afro to die for, and Don Pedro Colley, who – in the immediate wake of Geoffrey Holder’s interpretation in Live And Let Die – gives us a marvellous Baron Samedi. Robert Quarry as a drawling Southern mob boss, and the film’s ubiquitous, and ubiquitously appalling, 70s fashions are just the icing on the cake.

And of course, we mustn’t forget the film’s tagline. They worked a number of variations on this theme over the years in the advertising art for Sugar Hill, but my favourite version would have to be—

“The mob didn’t expect Sugar Hill and her ZOMBIE HIT MEN!”

Well, no. One imagines not.

Sugar Hill opens in the middle of a voodoo ceremony modern enough to be accompanied by a groovy soundtrack  (The Originals doing “Supernatural Voodoo Woman”, an earworm song if ever there was one: you have been warned). The sound of applause eventually alerts us to the fact that this is a nightclub floorshow—much to the relief of those of us fretting over the possible fate of the chicken and the snake taking part in the ritual (although the chicken that supposedly has had its throat cut is obviously just fine.)

Langston, the owner of Club Haiti – who, if this place is raking in the cash sufficiently to attract mob interest, should be able to afford a less tacky sign – sidles over to his fiancée, photographer Sugar Hill, and the two exchange the kind of romantic dialogue that makes you long for the violence to start.

 
I don’t think real voodoo ceremonies are this funky.

Our wish is their command, and a quartet of goons instantly put in an appearance; they are led by their only black member, a gentleman going by the name of “Fabulous”, whose suit suggests that, like Scarlett O’Hara, he whipped it together out of the curtains.

The goons inform Langston that if he knows what’s good for him, he’ll sell his club to Morgan, the local mob big-wig. Pleasantries are then exchanged. You get the feeling that the goons would have been willing to overlook Langston’s angry command, “Tell Morgan to shove it!”, but when he lays hands on The Suit…

(Under other circumstances, my immediate impulse would be to mock Langston’s own suit, a weirdly cut, plastic-spangly affair; but it just can’t compete with the sight of Fabulous in his mother’s poteers.)

Sugar is an anxious witness to all this, and pleads with Langston to be careful—to which he responds by immediately going alone into a dark car-park. Sigh. As Morgan looks on smirking, the goons lay a fatal smackdown on Langston. This act of straight violence is jarringly juxtaposed with an hilarious detail: the attackers have pantyhose-masks over their faces. Because no-one could possibly recognise THAT SUIT, right?

An odd moment follows, as we visit with Morgan and his goons at the former’s apartment. As they congratulate each other over Langston’s fate and Morgan’s imminent ownership of Club Haiti (which, as Morgan’s moll, Celeste, tactlessly points out, isn’t actually an inch closer for Langston’s death), we see Fabulous at work cleaning Morgan’s dazzling white signature shoes. The reduction of the only black gang member to the level of shoe-shine boy would seem on the surface of it to mean something – especially with Morgan chuckling, “We’ll make an honest nigra of you yet!” – but there is no pay-off to this touch.


“This is Fabulous. I keep him around to make my own taste in clothes seem classy.”

The murder reunites Sugar – Diana; Sugar was Langston’s name for her – with her former boyfriend, police lieutenant Valentine (which seems to be his surname, though she calls him by it), who is clearly still carrying a torch for her. We can only assume that Valentine was the most tongue-tied of lovers, as we learn that Langston won Diana over with such embarrassingly clunky lines as, “From now on you’re going to be called ‘Sugar’, because you look as sweet as sugar tastes.”

Sugar is perfectly frank about her feelings, telling Valentine that if she could, she would arrange for Langston’s killers to die slowly, one by one, while she watched…

Except that it’s not so much “if she could” as “when she gets it organised”.

When you get right down to it, Sugar Hill is an unabashed vigilante film: Langston is murdered, Sugar retaliates, and then the film just stops. It offers no sort of excuse or apology, let alone a moral framework. There isn’t even a suggestion that the police aren’t taking Langston’s murder seriously; on the contrary. But without even waiting for the law to take its course, Sugar is out there calling on the powers of darkness. Clearly, it isn’t justice she’s after, but revenge—yet there’s not the slightest indication that the viewer is supposed to be anything but on her side.

And, well, I guess we are, at that—which gives me a few conscientious twinges. Ordinarily I disapprove of this sort of thing, but (as I remarked once before) evidently under certain circumstances, I can be persuaded to put my moral qualms to one side. One of those circumstances is the casting of an orca in place of Charles Bronson; the other, apparently, is when the vigilante comes accessorised with ZOMBIE HIT MEN!

 
Fabulous was confident no-one would penetrate his cunning disguise.

Sugar drives out to a crumbling old mansion in the bayou. (This is supposed to be Louisiana, although Sugar Hill was filmed on location in Texas.) The house is dark and festooned in cobwebs, and strangely – since we learn it is her own family house – Sugar moves through it apprehensively, gasping and jumping at its various manifestations, which include a rat and a perfectly inexplicable (but rather gorgeous) boa constrictor. She presses on, however, calling out for someone called “Mama Maitresse”, who eventually responds with the traditional jump-moment hand on the shoulder from behind.

Mama is quick to sense the anger and grief by which Sugar is gripped. Sugar explains what has happened, and that she knows that Mama has the power to help her—if she will. Mama resists at first, insisting that she too old and tired, but finally gives in to Sugar’s pleading—and not without a satisfied chuckle at finding herself applied to by a “disbeliever”. Mama makes Sugar gaze into the flame of a black candle, as she begins to call upon “the greatest of my voodoo gods”, Baron Samedi.

The two then struggle through the tangled vegetation surrounding the old mansion (a journey enlivened by cutaways to alligators and snakes, a rattler and yet another boa, and accompanied by those same old dubbed-in all-purpose “jungle noises” that we’ve been hearing since the 1930s), until they come upon an abandoned cemetery in a clearing. After kneeling at an altar, and offering up Sugar’s necklace and ring – her engagement ring, we gather, from the way she tugs at her left hand – as gifts (“He is a greedy god!”), Mama succeeds in convincing the Baron to put in a personal appearance…

Baron Samedi is the leader of the Guede, the spirits of the dead; the guardian of cemeteries, and controller of the space between the living and the dead. Though he is known as a trickster, if appealed to correctly for assistance the Baron can be a powerful ally. He is a boisterous, unruly, cigar-chomping, foul-mouthed individual, usually depicted wearing a dark suit, sporting a top hat, and with mortician’s plugs up his nose. Sometimes his face is whitened; sometimes he has a skull instead of a face.


“I’m sorry, Valentine, but you just don’t pander enough to my taste for lame romantic clichés.”

This latter detail is lacking here, but otherwise Don Pedro Colley gives us a splendid Baron Samedi. In his first appearance he comes accompanied by two undead brides (“He is a great lover,” comments Mama), giving Sugar her first intimation of the price she might be expected to pay for the Baron’s help. Nevertheless, she forges on, telling the Baron that she wants the power to destroy her enemies. He is intrigued by the fact that she does not seem to be afraid of him. When the question of payment is raised, Sugar insists grimly that she is willing to give her soul—only for the Baron to wave away with a raucous laugh the idea that he could be interested in anything so ethereal as a soul...

But the deal is struck. The Baron cries out, “AWAKE!”, and in response (in a scene suggestively similar to the graveyard set-piece in Zombie) the occupants of the graves begin to claw their way out of the earth, rising to their feet to pay homage to their master…

The zombies themselves are one of Sugar Hill’s most interesting touches. This film is of course a throwback to the original concept of the zombie – to the pre-Romero era, if you like – with the undead serving as the tools of the living. In this context, film-makers have too often located horror in the idea of a white person suffering zombiefication, with black zombies, when they were included at all, almost always treated as literally disposable.

We get something rather different here. We learn that these particular zombies were slaves torn away from Guinea, and that those who died of disease during the journey were buried, still in their shackles, at a safe distance from the Louisiana plantations. This gives a sense of personal revenge to their disposal of Morgan’s predominantly white gang; although to the film’s credit, it never buys into a simplistic black / white divide.


I like a man who enjoys his work.

For instance, in spite of the overtones associated with Langston’s murder, it becomes increasingly evident that Morgan and his goons are equal-opportunity oppressors, and we see them strong-arming a black stevedore and a white trucker with similar verve.

A desire to muddy the racial waters a bit might also account for the presence of Fabulous in Morgan’s gang. Likewise, if you look carefully (and though we do not see him again subsequently), among those responding to Baron Samedi’s call is a white zombie, a sailor.

Furthermore, the film dissipates any potential discomfort inherent in Sugar exploiting the black undead via an unmistakable suggestion that she and the zombies have entered into a kind of partnership—and that the zombies are sufficiently conscious to get a kick out of what they’re doing. From the moment they first break through the earth, it is clear that they possess a kind of individuality. One of them immediately tries to remove the shackles in which he died; two others, a man and a woman, smile at each other. Though they do not subsequently seem capable of independent action, these zombies are by no means the usual mindless automata.

On the other hand, the zombies are visually less impressive than they could be—or than they used to be. The DVD of Sugar Hill carries a disclaimer explaining that it was produced from “the best source material available”, which prepares us for a sub-quality print. In fact, if anything the film has been cleaned up too much: the zombies’ carefully tailored “rags”, fake cobwebs, and above all their blank silvery eye-covers are too obviously just what they are, a low-budget makeup job. Seen via murky VHS, these zombies were seriously creepy; these days they’ve lost some of their power to disturb.


I mean we’re not talking Giannetto de Rossi here, but they get the job done.

Sugar wastes no time in getting to work. Down at the docks, Tank Watson is counting the proceeds from his latest kick-backs when he is confronted by a startling sight. No, not the zombies—something even MORE startling: Sugar Hill in attack mode!

This is a film full of delightful details, but none perhaps so entirely delightful as the fact that, while at other times she wears her shoulder-length hair either loose or confined by a bandanna, when she is out for blood Sugar sports an afro of astonishing dimensions; not to mention a pant-suit that (décolletage aside) looks like it came from the Evel Knieval Collection. Tank Watson understandably stops and gapes, allowing Sugar to announce, “Hey, Whitey! You and your punk friends killed my man!”

Foolishly thinking he is facing only an angry woman, Watson strides forward—straight into the arms of a machete-wielding zombie. Watson whimpers that he was only following orders – does that line ever work? – but Sugar isn’t listening…

(On the sidelines of all this we see Baron Samedi disguised as a dock-worker and chuckling to himself at the thought of the bloody mayhem to follow. I’m not sure if the Baron usually takes such a hands-on role when his assistance is requested, or whether he’s making an exception for Sugar. In his various human guises, the Baron tends to adopts an obsequious, “Yassir, massa” accent that you’d think would put people on their guards…)

The police are soon upon the scene. Captain Merill calls in Valentine, telling him that the dead man is Tank Watson. At least— “We think so,” he adds, inviting Valentine to look under the blanket. Watson’s head is located soon enough, and nearby Valentine finds an old slave shackle, which he regards with a puzzled frown.


Tremble before—The Afro Of Death!

News of Watson’s murder reaches Morgan, who assumes that some rival gang is responsible. He sends the rest of his men out to investigate “the word on the street”, while he lounges in a paisley dressing-gown, assuages his grief with oysters and champagne, and responds to the overtones of his moll, Celeste, with annoyance.

(In this scene, Betty Anne Rees wears a navel-revealing orange outfit disturbingly similar to the one sported by Jenifer Bishop in Mako: The Jaws Of Death two years later. It couldn’t possibly have been a fashion, could it!?)

Meanwhile, Valentine has taken the shackle to the lab for examination. The analyst (who has Conical Flasks, but mostly keeps his Mysterious Coloured Fluids in measuring cylinders) tells him dismissively that such shackles are not uncommon, and are often found in the swamps. He’s much more interested in the evidence found on the body: mould and dead skin. Not dead cells, he emphasises, such as anyone would shed, but dead skin, dead tissue: in other words, Tank Watson was killed by a dead man. Valentine reacts with incredulity, but the analyst sticks to his guns.

Morgan arranges to meet with Sugar, who comes across as the very picture of smiling, unsuspecting friendliness, and responds flatteringly to Morgan’s smarmy overtures; much too flatteringly for Celeste’s liking. Morgan commiserates with her over Langston’s death, and tells her that the two of them had been about to become partners. To his chagrin, he learns that Langston was organised enough to make a will, and that Sugar now owns Club Haiti. He makes an offer to buy the business, but Sugar puts him off by explaining she hasn’t yet gotten her head together following Langston’s murder.


SCIENCE!!

After she leaves, Morgan outrages Celeste by musing over Sugar’s foxiness and class, which sends her hurtling after the woman she now views as her rival.

When Celeste catches up with Sugar at Club Haiti, the two ladies exchange opinions:

Celeste: “Don’t you get uppity with me!”
Sugar
: “Uppity? With you? My dear, talking to you means I look nowhere but down.”

Cat-fight! Cat-fight!

Not, perhaps, the most effectively staged cat-fight – both Marki Bey and Betty Anne Rees seem more intent on not breaking a nail than on inflicting damage – but it has its moments, like its cutaways to Sugar’s bartender, who seems no more than mildly interested as he glances up from wiping glasses, and certainly shows no disposition to intervene—except to hand Sugar a bucket of ice-cubes with which to finish off her overheated adversary.

But it’s a verbal fight, too, which brings us to another interesting detail about Sugar Hill. The script does use the word “nigger”, but sparingly, and carefully: only certain people use that word, and those that do, generally don’t live to regret it…

And speaking of which, we cut away to a rural area where another of Morgan’s goons, O’Brien, is threatening a trucker and demanding payment, or else. He is interrupted by a taxi-driver, who tells him that he has been instructed to pick him up and convey him to Morgan. A grumbling O’Brien reluctantly gets into the car, and the broadly grinning driver carries him away.


“I know some men don’t like it, but personally I can see an up-side to having a female boss.”

The two end up in the depths of the country. Puzzled and increasingly suspicious, O’Brien nevertheless follows the obsequiously chatty driver (who goes into a chorus of “De Cam’town Ladies”—did Mel Brooks see this?) as he leads the way through a corn-field and towards a farm. At the last moment, O’Brien baulks, but when he turns to confront the taxi-driver, he has vanished. There is only a scarecrow, its rags waving in the breeze…

This is the set-up for Sugar Hill’s most fondly remembered scene—at least amongst those of us with a sick sense of humour. O’Brien, panicking too late, finds himself surrounded by zombies and led into the presence of Sugar, who looks thoughtfully down into a muddy pig-pen whose occupants, she assures O’Brien, haven’t had any garbage for nearly a week. And then she rectifies that situation:

Sugar: “I hope they’re into white trash!”

Not long afterwards, Sugar is visited during a photo-shoot by Valentine, who tells her that although he has no evidence, he does have a hunch… This is a conversation just full of mixed messages, not the least of which being the kiss that Valentine drops onto Sugar’s bare shoulder before departing.

Undeterred, Sugar locates her next victim in a pool hall. George is stupid enough to take her come-on at face value (“You chicks just can’t leave the white stuff alone, can you?”), but once in her apartment finds himself confronted by unmistakable signs of voodoo practice. He then slaps Sugar and pulls a gun, demanding to know who she’s working for—so she introduces him to Baron Samedi. The Baron laughs delightedly as George empties his gun into him.


—and then the white trash was into them!

Unarmed and surrounded, George is compelled to sit in a cane chair before a table bearing a knife and a doll surrounded by flammable material in streaks, each of which acts like a fuse. Sugar tells George that when the doll is in flames, he will pick up the knife and stab himself to death…

The next morning, Celeste finds an unexpected delivery outside Morgan’s door: an ornate urn (and note the engraving!). Shrugging, she carries it inside, where Morgan stops fondling his poodle* long enough to lift the lid—revealing all that’s left of George…

(*Not a euphemism.)

As with the graveyard scene, this moment would seem to prefigure one in a later film, Foxy Brown, although Foxy sends, um, a different portion of the anatomy to her enemies. But since Sugar Hill and Foxy Brown must have been in production at around the same time, this detail is most likely just coincidental, albeit a curious insight into the minds of white male screenwriters dabbling in female-centric blaxploitation circa 1974.

Valentine’s hunch leads him to his old friend, Dr Parkhurst of the “Voodoo Museum and Research Library”. Parkhurst identifies the shackle as mid-19th century, commenting that it would make a powerful juju. He then gives Valentine free access to the library.

This is another interesting point in this film: black and white, Valentine and Parkhurst are both educated, urbanised men, to whom voodoo is an unfamiliar subject and an interesting topic of research, respectively; certainly not a reality.


George didn’t have a brain or the nerve either.

And we can add Langston to their camp, another urbanised male operating at sufficient distance from his roots to turn voodoo ritual into a nightclub attraction.

Sugar herself has a foot in both camps, rejecting voodoo when young but later on knowing where to turn when she needs help. And perhaps she’s not the only one in this position. When Valentine later repeats some of what he has learned to Sugar, who grew up in a rural area, she shrugs that every schoolchild in the district knows what he is telling her.

Meanwhile, Morgan is berating what’s left of his gang, angry at being told that no-one on “the street” knows anything about the killings. Fabulous remarks uncomfortably that no-one wants anything to do with them, behaving like there’s a curse on everything to do with Morgan.

One of the goons, King, obeys Morgan’s order to lean on “everyone” by monstering a barroom piano-player who is known for hearing everything (and who apparently moonlights as a preacher, or vice versa). But behind the bar is Baron Samedi, while Sugar sits in the shadows. As King is seized by the zombies she emerges, taking a doll and a straight-razor from the Baron…

Later, as King’s bloodied body is removed from the scene, Valentine tries to get a straight answer out of Preacher, who finally reveals that the men he saw looked like corpses. This sends Valentine back to Parkhurst, who tells him about a powerful Voodoo Queen with the power to raise the dead—Mama Maitresse, by name. When he hears where Mama might be found, Valentine understands the significance of it…


Don’t bother making a “Can I get you a zombie, lady?” joke, because Baron Samedi beat you to it.

Having driven out to Sugar’s old family home, Valentine finds the lady of the house in residence. She smilingly deflects his questions by insisting that all old houses in the area have “a history”, but Valentine counters that most of them don’t have a resident voodoo priestess. He asks if he can meet Mama?

This conversation is interrupted by “Old Sam”, who claims to have been caretaker of the property for-ever. Both Sam and Sugar laugh at the idea of voodoo, but they agree to try and find Mama, if that’s what Valentine wants. They do find her, but she reacts angrily to being in the presence of “an unbeliever” and stomps off. Valentine tries to go after her, but Old Sam intervenes; and since he is half a head taller than the detective – Valentine’s afro notwithstanding – and carrying a machete, Valentine takes the hint. As a parting shot, however, the detective tells Sugar warningly that he is a believer: he believes in zombies, anyway…

Sugar is working on a fashion shoot when Morgan and Fabulous call on her (the latter wearing a pimp hat roughly the size of Rhode Island). We learn that Sugar has agreed to sell the club. She doesn’t like what Morgan is offering, but agrees to the sale in exchange for a ten thousand dollar payment off the books. Morgan isn’t thrilled about this condition, but is sufficiently won over by Sugar’s moxie to agree.

The last but one of Morgan’s men, Baker, is sent to her with the cash. At her apartment he finds himself confronted by one of the film’s freakier touches, a poultry-foot that can move under its own power, and which attacks him. (Turkey? It’s too big to be a chicken.) He is then captured by the zombies, and under the eager gaze of Sugar, Baron Samedi and Mama Maitresse is subjected to—


“I do love you, Diana—but I could never marry a woman whose afro was bigger than mine.”

Well, actually, that’s a matter of opinion. I’m sure Baker’s fate was supposed to send claustrophobics and ophidiophobes alike into shrieking hysterics, but all it got from me was a wistful sigh and some cooing noises.

He is, in other words, sealed into a voodoo-symbol-covered coffin with about a dozen snakes; most of them pythons, in spite of the dubbed-in rattling noises.

Baker has already tried to buy his life with Morgan’s ten thousand. As a parting gesture, Sugar crams the money back into his hand, advising him to see what it will buy him where he’s going.

The next day, Sugar confronts Morgan, claiming angrily that Baker never showed and therefore (ipso facto) must have absconded with Morgan’s cash. Morgan sends Fabulous out to find Baker, or the money, or both; but he doesn’t entirely trust Sugar, his warning to her not to mess with him coming accompanied by a sudden grip of her throat.

Undeterred, Sugar makes use of the fact that Fabulous has a relaxing massage once a week, and arranges to take the place of his usual masseuse. It is not until his back goes from being rubbed to having dry, hard, dead fingernails raked across it that Fabulous realises that something is wrong, and by then it’s way too late…

(Hilariously, the zombie masseuse-cum-hit-squad here is all-female: Fabulous may die a terrifying and gruesome death, but at least his masculinity isn’t threatened first.)


I should be so lucky.

We’ve already discovered that Valentine is a man of imagination; we now find out he’s got guts, too, as he not only carries his voodoo story to his Captain, but actually persuades him (provided he keeps quiet about it) that it’s a lead worth following up. The Captain does cling for a time to the gang-war theory – admitting that there’s a slight flaw in it, namely, they don’t have another gang – but is finally swayed by Valentine’s argument that the usual channels have turned up nothing but a lot of scared people and some very strange talk.

But alas, Valentine’s courage and persistence don’t get the reward they deserve. His investigation is starting to become something of a problem for Sugar, who finally agrees to let Baron Samedi “stop him”—but not kill him, she orders sternly.

The Baron is disappointed – “It’s easier to kill him!” he pleads – but Sugar is firm. Mama has fashioned a doll, and the Baron makes use of it. The result is a tumble down the stairs and a broken leg that puts Valentine out of commission and allows Sugar to continue with her mission.

When Sugar goes to see him at the hospital, Valentine comments wryly that although his leg is broken, he feels no pain: funny, isn’t it? He starts to tell her that he knows she’s mixed up in it all, but she, all wide-eyed innocence, insists she has no idea what he’s talking about, and slips away.

Sugar baits her final trap by informing Morgan that she’s decided not to sell the club, and signs off her phone-call by telling him to go to hell; knowing that he will come after her in a fury. It is, presumably, Morgan’s declared intention of “settling with that bitch” that persuades Celeste to tag along when he drives out to Sugar’s isolated old house. She gets the creeps once out there, though, and insists on staying in the car. Gun in hand, Morgan plunges into the shadowy mansion, angrily calling for Sugar. And as he searches, the zombies close in…


Sugar’s version of a hostile takeover.
[Not to be a nitpicker, but how did Tank get his head back??]

Morgan turns and flees, only to find himself confronted by his now-undead goons, who grin at him. As he staggers back in disbelieving horror, he is subjected to something even more terrifying: a Spring-Loaded Cat! Evidently Morgan doesn’t watch too many horror movies, as this encounter freaks him out so badly that he stumbles away and crashes through a window, falling to the lawn below. Picking himself up, he runs for cover into the woods of the surrounding bayou. This, however, proves to be a slight tactical error: there, too, the zombies are waiting for him, closing in by flickering torch-light as Morgan fires shot after unavailing shot at them.

And then Sugar appears, spelling out to him her plan for revenge. Once more Morgan turns and runs, the only way that has been left open to him; but as he tries to cross a rickety wooden bridge another zombie looms up and terrifies him, causing him to stumble and fall…into a patch of quicksand. Sugar, the Baron and Mama arrive to watch his final agonies…

And that’s that. Well—except for the little matter of payment for services rendered. The Baron is most impressed with Sugar – “You destroyed them all, nicely, neatly, superbly!” he comments admiringly, gifting her his silver-topped cane as a mark of respect – which possibly accounts for his willingness to accommodate her over the matter of the bill.

In any case, although he does intimate that he and Sugar will eventually meet again, for the moment he proves co-operative when Sugar points out that there is still one of her enemies with whom she hasn’t yet settled her account.

Yes. Well. All things considered, Celeste probably shouldn’t have called Sugar a “dirty nigger”…


“So…whaddya wanna do tomorrow night?”

Want a second opinion of Sugar Hill? Visit 1000 Misspent Hours – And Counting.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦


This review is part of the B-Masters’ tribute to the blaxploitation film: click here for more!

This entry was posted in Horror and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Sugar Hill (1974)

  1. dawn says:

    Please tell me the poodle survived!
    Always nice to see the woman be just as bloodthirsty as any man.

    Like

    • Craig McNicoll says:

      Why would Sugar off the poodle? The dog didn’t do anything to her.

      Like

      • lyzmadness says:

        She doesn’t! She doesn’t! The poodle is fine – thankfully they don’t take it with them to Sugar’s house – although presumably it ends up alone at Morgan’s apartment, so we have to hope that the cleaning-lady shows up before too long.

        ETA: Here you go—
         
        Poodle!

        Like

      • Craig McNicoll says:

        Well somebody will find the poodle when they come to the apartment, when police investigate the guy’s disappearance. Potentially the poodle could end up with a better master then Morgan.

        Like

      • lyzmadness says:

        But it will probably be the cleaning-lady who reports Morgan missing. No-one else is going to know. No-one else is LEFT to know. 😀

        Hopefully by then Sugar has ditched his car…

        Like

    • lyzmadness says:

      We have no reason to think that the poodle is anything but just fine—phew!

      Plus Mama Maitresse cackling delightedly all the way through…

      Like

  2. One imagines you beaming an impish smile the entire time you spend (and time well spent it is indeed!) writing your both hilarious and incredibly informative commentaries. Never realized that “Foxy Brown” was made the same year. Really great writing.

    Like

  3. Richard says:

    My take on the movie:
    https://pureblather.com/2022/07/15/sugar-hill/

    And I note that here in the US, at least, the movie is available on the “Vudu” streaming service…..

    Like

  4. DennisMM says:

    Jaysoos tap-dancing Keerist, a new roundtable?

    Like

  5. Aethelred the Unready says:

    The original version of this review led me to seek out Sugar Hill, and it is now my favorite Blacksploitation movie, as well as my favorite “movie with zombies in it”–there are scarier zombie movies, but here the zombies are merely the tools of the actual pro- (an-?) tagonists. And boy, Sugar and Samedi are a fantastic pair.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. RogerBW says:

    I’m not generally enthused by blaxploitation – fair enough, it wasn’t made for me – but I’m really impressed that someone who is (a) black, (b) taking power beyond that usually allowed to women, and (c) messing with black magic doesn’t come to a bad end. All this and snakes too.

    Like

  7. therevdd says:

    Ah, I love this movie. A case of better than the sum of its parts, I suppose, since the plot’s pretty perfunctory, but it’s the little things: the creepy, malevolent zombies; Sugar’s double life (and spectacular look when she’s out revenging); and the late Don Pedro Colley walking off with the movie every time he pops up. I feel bad for anyone who sees it on DVD, since as you mentioned cleaning up the picture does the zombies no favors. Seeing it on VHS the first time really helped hide their deficiencies and let them shine. Definitely one to watch if you haven’t already.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.