Thursday, March 15, 2012

SUGAR HILL

"The mob took Sugar's man away, and now she's gonna make them pay!"

The steady unearthing of long-unavailable cult titles and genre film treasures from dusty studio vaults and subsequent offering of said titles as manufactured-on-demand DVDs continues apace with the Blaxploitation horror film, SUGAR HILL (1974) now available from the MGM Limited Edition Collection.

When the criminal gang running the local protection racket (led by COUNT YORGA himself, Robert Quarry) murders her boyfriend, a vengeance-driven Diana "Sugar" Hill (the attractive Marki Bey, THE ROOMMATES) turns to an aged voodoo priestess named Mama Maitresse (Zara Cully, THE JEFFERSONS) for supernatural assistance. The old woman conjures up the spirit of the dread Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley), the voodoo Lord of the Dead, who, in exchange for Sugar's soul, raises up a silver-eyed zombie army of dead slaves which the pretty photographer uses to exact her terrible revenge.

Directed for American-International Pictures by one-time director/prolific producer Paul Maslansky, (he would go on to produce a ton of stuff, including the POLICE ACADEMY films), SUGAR HILL is a relatively entertaining genre mash-up, with an amusing blend of standard low budget urban action and EC Comics-styled horror tropes. The machete-wielding zombies, with their pasty faces, cobweb-coated clothing and silver, metallic eyeballs are pretty effective in a comic book way, although the film's PG rating prohibits much in the way of gore or graphic violence.

The cast is good; the pretty and charismatic Ms Bey should have been a bigger star - at least in the genre. Robert Quarry is his usual urbane, slyly sinister self, and Mama Jefferson herself, Zara Cully, is a convincing swamp-dwelling voodoo queen. Best of all, though, is Don Pedro Colley's campy Baron Samedi, in all his eye-rolling, toothy grinning, show-stealing menace.

The DVD-R from the MGM Limited Edition Collection sports a beautiful, anamorphic, clearly remastered transfer, presented in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Picture quality is remarkably good, with bright colors, sharp details, and just the right amount of film grain. The mono audio is clear, unmuffled, and free of distracting hiss. Overall, it's a dramatic improvement over the soft, dark, fuzzy, pan & scan VHS version released in the 80s. The only extra - though it's a good one - is the terrific AIP theatrical trailer.

SUGAR HILL is a PG-rated Blaxploitation/horror Seventies hybrid that's completely predictable, practically bloodless, and a hell of a lot of fun. It's not a great movie, nor is it a genre classic, but it's a cool 70s artifact, and well worth checking out. Recommended.

BUY: Sugar Hill