I first saw it on a DVD full of trailers from the heyday of grindhouse cinema:
And now that I’ve seen Sugar Hill in its entirety, “Voodoo is blue” still makes no damn sense. Nor is there ever any explanation as to why the zombies have those silver spheres over their eyes.
Other than that, it’s pretty good. Fairly standard supernatural revenge flick, done mid-Seventies blaxploitation style.
Diana – Sugar – and her boyfriend spend the first five minutes or so acting like the kind of clingy, constantly-saying-I-love-you, eye-roll-inducing couple that don’t exist outside the teen years, the first two weeks of a new relationship, or a movie like this. We need to establish right away that this couple is so deeply in love that turning to Ye Forces of Darknesse for revenge makes sense.
After those five minutes are over, Sugar’s boyfriend is murdered by some mobsters that want to buy out the boyfriend’s nightclub. Sugar responds by going to Mama Maitresse, a mambo of her acquaintance, who calls up Baron Samedi to aid them.
Now, the Hollywood Voodoo on display here isn’t particularly embarrassing, as such things go. There’s even a hint or two that they may have done a bit of research. The portrayal of Baron Samedi is particularly good. It helps that his actor is far and away the best in the movie.
Even so, that’s where we run into trouble.
Baron Samedi apparently decides that he likes Sugar, and he accompanies her personally for the rest of the film.
Do you see the problem here? Baron Samedi is a god. If he’s involved personally, all tension and danger just went out of the film.
Usually, a film like this, where the supernatural avenger is the protagonist (as opposed to something that the protagonists must escape or defeat), includes some gap in the avenger’s powers. An Achilles Heel that makes the outcome something other than a foregone conclusion. Think of The Crow, where Eric Draven’s power is dependent on the crow itself, and he spends the final battle deprived of his invulnerability as a result.
Sugar herself, of course, is still flesh and bone. Still vulnerable to bullets, despite her powerful sorcery. If it was just her against the mobsters, there would be plenty of suspense.
But Baron Samedi is a god. A god she not only has on her side, but at her side.
(My more devout Christian friends, family and readers might counter that God Himself can over course counter an entity like Baron Samedi – but the Voudun answer that would be that of course He could…but why in the world would Bon Dieu care if the Baron was punishing some lowlifes?)
The mobsters include the Boss, the Boss’s moll (who doesn’t actually do anything, but is even more over-the-top racist than the rest, so we know she deserves what happens to her), one black sell-out who used to be a friend of Sugar and her man, and a bunch of indistinguishable mooks. Each is executed in a satisfyingly gruesome way, without the slightest hope of defending themselves.
An alternative in movies like this, where the supernatural avenger is truly invincible, is to focus on the price that they pay for their invincibility. Sure, they’ve sent the villains to Hell…but the avenger will be joining them there sooner or later.
Sugar’s price for Baron Samedi’s help is to join him forever as one of his brides after she dies.
Which…isn’t a punishment. The Baron is a passionate lover, and it’s clear that spending eternity at his side is Mama Maitresse’s idea of Heaven (and it’s quite probably the one waiting for her).
I’m still going to recommend this movie. Years of Tales From The Crypt prove that watching horrible things happen to bad people is satisfying enough in its own right. Still, it’s not the movie it could have been. Part of the reason The Crow is remembered and this movie is not, I suppose. Any writers reading this, take note.
PS – anyone hoping for a bit of Seventies exploitation move T & A, you’re out of luck. Sugar does string the Boss along a little bit, but she keeps her kit on. Even the brides and the moll stay dressed. Perhaps the filmmakers saw a contradiction in making a movie about female badassery and using their actresses for nude eyecandy. Imagine that.