Sugar Hill (1974) / Action-Horror
aka The Zombies of Sugar Hill
MPAA rated: PG for violence, some sexuality and language (definitely PG-13 today)
Running time: 91 min.
Cast: Marki Bey, Robert Quarry, Richard Lawson, Don Pedro Colley, Betty Anne Rees, Zara Cully, Charles P. Robinson
Director: Paul Maslansky
Screenplay: Tim Kelly
Somewhat unique in the blaxploitation genre in that it infuses elements of horror within the framework of a standard revenge plot, though Blacula definitely can claim to be the king of them. Fans of the mostly black-cast films of the 1970s will likely find more of interest than horror fans, as the movie cares more about its bad-ass mamas getting revenge in sassy ways than in scaring audiences. The zombies themselves do have a creep factor, wielding giant machetes with their metallic bug-eyed stares, emaciated look, and covered with cobwebs. It is only PG-rated, so most of the violence and gore is kept off screen.
Diana 'Sugar' Hill is played by Marki Bey (The Landlord, Gabriella Gabriella) in her only starring vehicle, cast mostly for her good looks than any semblance of acting ability, as any effort to emote in a serious fashion comes off as stiff and phony, but at least she tries, which is more than can usually be said for a film this knowingly schlocky. I would gather most men deeming to watch the film will be forgiving of her acting chops, as she often sports some very low cut shirts and dresses throughout. She also has the ability to go from afro to straight hair from scene to scene at will. Perhaps the best acting in the film comes from Robert Quarry (Rollercoaster, Dr. Phibes Rises Again) as the heavy, a playboy gangster who tries to get what he wants alternating between seduction and coercion.
The basic plot is that Sugar's fiancée is killed after refusing to sell his bustling night club to the unscrupulous white mobster, Morgan (Quarry). Sugar vows revenge, going to her mother, Mama Maitresse (Cully, Brother John) who is an expert in voodoo, and they make an appeal that revenge be sought on the murder. Baron Samedi (Colley, THX 1138) appears, and opts to help her out (for a price), joining her with a gang of zombies who were former slaves to dispatch each of the mobster clan one by one in some very colorful ways, usually involving some more voodoo.
Don Pedro Colley plays the leader of the zombies, Baron Samedi, who is a spirit of Haitian Voodoo in charge of the dead, and like he usually appears in films, he has a top hat, dress jacket, cane and cigar. I suppose, if anyone remembers a performance of the film, it will be his, looking crazy-eyed and ever-smiling, more caricature than character. As Sugar is nearly invincible once she gets the undead on her side, the plot gives her one complication in the form of a cop named Valentine (Lawson, Poltergeist), Sugar's former main squeeze, investigating the case of the deaths of he gangsters, trying to figure out why they appear to be killed by someone or something already dead.
It's not particularly good, but so odd that viewers who enjoy curiously conceived genre films may find it somewhat interesting in what kinds of things are thrown in the mix, especially in the way the revenge flick/zombie flick subgenres merge into one bizarre story from the 'Twilight Zone'. It's definitely different, but poorly slapped together, only of interest of so-bad-they're-good movie aficionados.
©2012 Vince Leo