BAMF Blaxploitation Archive – SUGAR HILL

BAMF’s Blaxploitation Archive is a collection of reviews originally written in the 1990s that appeared in the pages of BadAzz MoFo. This review and many others have been reprinted and collected in BadAzz MoFo’s Book of Blaxploitation, Volume One, which is now available for purchase.

SUGAR HILL 1974 (a.k.a The Voodoo Girl; Zombies of Sugar Hill); director Paul Maslansky; starring: Markie Bey, Robert Quarry, Don Pedro Cooley, Richard Lawson, Zara Cully, Charles Robinson

Not to be confused with the other films with the same title, this is the one and only Sugar Hill, starring Markie Bey as the fine momma Diana “Sugar” Hill. When her old man gets dead at the hands of some mobsters trying to muscle in on his nightclub, our heroine decides to out do Foxy Brown and Coffy. Sugar takes her fine self to see Mama Maitresse (Zara Cully, The Jeffersons’ Mother Jefferson), a local voodoo woman. Mother Jefferson raises the spirit of her other son — George’s evil brother, Baron Samedi, the lord of the undead. Quicker than you can say, “We’re movin’ on up”, the good Baron is offing the honky mobsters, in all sorts of manners both unusual and fun (one jive sucker is eaten by pigs). No one is safe from Sugar and Baron Samedi’s army of buggy-eyed zombies.

Of all the blaxploitation horror films, Sugar Hill is among the most likely to make you sleep with the lights on. I know that’s not saying much, since most of those films weren’t that scary (unless you consider crap like Blackenstein scary simply because it’s so bad). But for the most part, Sugar Hill is far creepier on the whole than many of the other films of that era.

Marki Bey gives a passable performance as Sugar, but she’s no Pam Grier. Any of the other actresses of that era could have given a performance at least as good as Bey (except for maybe Johnnie Hill, star of Velvet Smooth). The problem with Bey is she seems too nice to be killing people, calling white folks “honk” (I guess that’s short for honky), and dealing with voodoo motherfuckers like Baron Samedi.

Speaking of Baron Samedi, Don Pedro Cooley (the black mutant from Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and one of the co-stars of Legend of Nigger Charley) is totally badass as the good Baron, a role also played by Geoffrey Holder in Live and Let Die. Like Holder in the James Bond franchise’s blaxploitation film, Cooley breathes life into this film, as the lord of the undead. His menacing, yet witty performance predates the king of horror one liners, Freddy Krueger, by a decade.

Director Paul Maslansky is best known for his work as the producer of the Police Academy series (now that’s something you want on your tombstone). The screenplay is by Tim Kelly, who was responsible for the forgotten blaxploitation classic Bogard, which is actually remembered under its other title, Black Fist, and even remembered by some under its other title, The Black Street Fighter. And no review would be complete with out me mentioning that Charles Robinson appears as the Uncle Tom flunky of the honky mobsters. Robinson is best known as Mack, on television’s Night Court, but he also appeared in The Black Gestapo. If you look very closely, you’ll notice that one of Robinson’s outfits is the same one worn by Dick Anthony Williams in Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off.

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