GANJA & HESS

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BLU-RAY REVIEW: GANJA & HESS (1973) / DIRECTOR: BILL GUNN / SCREENPLAY: BILL GUNN / STARRING: DUANE JONES, MARLENE CLARK, BILL GUNN, SAM WAYMON / RELEASED: JANUARY 26TH

So the story goes, director Bill Gunn was asked to make a blaxploitation vampire flick in the style of Blacula (1972). He didn’t. He made Ganja & Hess instead. Blacula, this most certainly is not.

What we have is a very art house movie and it certainly isn’t for the fainthearted. Dr Hess Green (Duane Jones – yep, the fella from Night of the Living Dead in his only other starring role) has been stabbed with an ancient dagger that has left him immortal and addicted to human blood. So that’ll be a vampire then, even if the fangs, cloaks, and debilitating effects of daylight are noticeable by their absence. When his somewhat unhinged assistant (Gunn) commits suicide (Hess drinks his blood and shoves him in the freezer), the assistant’s wife Ganja (Marlene Clark – you know her from The Beast Must Die, of course you do) turns up and falls in love with Hess.He initiates her into his world of blood-fuelled immortality and, despite Ganja discovering her hubby in the freezer, it’s all a jolly vampire romp from thereon in. Except it isn’t.

Ganja & Hess is a film of pretty big aspirations, and if allegory and symbolism are not really you’re cup of tea, you’re really not going to like this one very much. It’s clearly a film about the victims of addiction, but much of the African imagery in the numerous dream-like scenes and the (rather brilliant) soundtrack would also suggest this is a film about the victims of slavery. The wealthy Hess is fully assimilated in the world of western art, culture and religion but there is an older world that would have once been his heritage had his race not have been enslaved as he is now enslaved by his addiction [Blimey. You reckon? – Ed]. Well, that’s what we think is going on. To be honest, this is a film review not a film studies essay but you get the idea; there’s a lot going on in this movie and it’s the sort of thing that rewards repeated viewings. On the other hand, it moves at a glacial-like pace (although it perks up a bit once Clark appears) and you’re probably going to find it unwatchable if you’re not prepared to work hard at investing in the experience. You have been warned.

We suspect this release is due to Spike Lee recently remaking Ganja & Hess as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014), but as it was cut like no-one’s business on its original release it’s nice to see it on Blu-ray in all its HD glory. If you like your films arty and cerebral, then Ganja & Hess might just push your buttons as long as you’re in the right mood. If it’s not, or you’re just in a no-brainer kinda’ mood, you really won’t want to watch this one.

Special Features: Commentary / Blood of the Thing documentary / Screenplay
 

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