Scary Movie Marathon: Ganja & Hess (1973)

Title: Ganja & Hess
Release Date: April 20, 1973
Director: Bill Gunn
Production Company: Kelly-Jordan Enterprises

As a film made in the 1970s by a Black filmmaker with a Black cast, I’ve seen Ganja & Hess filed under the Blaxploitation label.  I think this is a mistake as this movie is an experimental, art house film in the horror genre. In Ganja & Hess, the craving for blood serves as a metaphor for substance abuse. It also deals with issues of religion, Black assimilation, and relationships.  Pretty heavy stuff.

Dr. Hess Green (Duane Jones, Night of the Living Dead) is a wealthy anthropologist who lives in a mansion in the Hudson River Valley.  He hires a live-in assistant, George Meda (Bill Gunn) who suffers from mental illness, and in an altercation stabs Dr. Green with an ancient artifact. The infection on the blade grants him powers over death and an insatiable craving for human blood.  Later, Meda’s wife Ganja (Marlene Clark) comes looking for her husband, but instead develops a romance with Hess and eventually is also turned into a vampire.

It sounds like a simple plot, but it’s hard to describe what’s so different about this movie.  The cinematography, the lighting, themusic, and the acting all create an atmosphere of the ordinary world turned akilter.  It’s definitely worth checking out, even as I can’t say I totally “get” it.

Rating: ****

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