Ganja & Hess
The arthouse Blacula
Release Date: 26 January
1973 | 18 | Dual- format Blu- ray & DVD Director: Bill Gunn Cast: Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn, Sam Waymon
Thanks to its
African- American cast and crew and use of vampirism, Ganja & Hess is often bracketed with blaxploitation horrors. But writer/ director Bill Gunn’s cult curio has none of the camp appeal of Blacula. This is an avowedly avant- garde effort, with all the attendant idiosyncrasies and frustrations that implies.
Night Of The Living Dead’s Duane Jones is Dr Hess Green, a dapper, moneyed anthropologist who’s cursed with a taste for blood when his new assistant stabs him with an ancient ceremonial dagger. After said assistant commits suicide, his widow Ganja comes looking – and very soon hooks up with Hess.
Languid pacing, opaque editing strategies, a weirdly diffident central performance, and Gunn’s total lack of interest in the genre thrills he was hired to provide test your patience. At times it’s hard to tell whether it’s the work of a total incompetent or a Godardian provocateur. Possibly both.
But there are moments that reward your effort: a striking image here; a poetic monologue there. And the score, which takes African chanting and treats it with echo to lend it a shimmering psychedelic resonance, is a triumph.
Commentary by Marlene Clark ( Ganja), the cinematographer, the composer and a producer; 29 minutes of talking heads; the screenplay; a booklet. Be warned: the film’s been pieced together from various prints, and often looks pretty ropey. Ian Berriman Spike Lee’s latest film, Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus, is a remake of Ganja & Hess. It’s due for release on 13 February.
“Game of Pictionary?”