I’m beside myself with enthusiasm for the 1974 supernatural zombie blaxploitation flick SUGAR HILL. My life before viewing it now seems to be, in retrospect, a sham. One time STARSKY AND HUTCH regular MARKI BEY is both ice cool and fiery fierce as Diana “Sugar” Hill, a woman scorned and reborn as a voodoo vigilante in a killer pantsuit. When Sugar’s best beau refuses to sell his groovy nightclub “Club Haiti” to the mob he ends up beaten to death by goons in his own parking lot. Outnumbered and determined to even the score (and then some) Sugar gets by with a little help from her new friends; a geriatric voodoo virtuoso, a top hat wearing, trickster phantom and plenty of silver eyed-cobweb cloaked zombies. No difficulty knowing whom to root for here.
So I guess I thought I was going to enjoy SUGAR as an ironic hoot. I thought I’d bask in its hokiness, take in its eyeball busting fashions and smirk at the corn. Instead I found myself absolutely and fully entertained on every level. It does have a makeshift low budget air and the clothes and acting styles are of a different dimension but that doesn’t curtail the movie from being a hundred percent engaging. The plot doesn’t involve much more than following Sugar around on her EC COMICS inspired revenge spree but SUGAR has got atmosphere and attitude up the wazoo. Foggy, swampy and colorful, it also contributes a refreshingly original take on the living dead. Let’s take a closer look at why I’m all bitten and smitten…
DIANE “SUGAR” HILL
MARKI BEY may lack the overall gravitas of icon PAM GREER but in many ways she’s more down to Earth approachable too. Once Sugar gets rolling she’s an unflinching comeuppance machine and she delivers her BUFFY-esgue pre-stomping quips like a seasoned pro. When asked how strong her hate is Sugar says, “As strong as my love was, my hate is even stronger.” That’s my type of woman!
I have a real issue with actress ZARA CULLY and that issue is that I think she is the funniest person who ever lived. Yes, that’s mother Jefferson from THE JEFFERSONS and I could not be happier to see her.
Maitreese is a bit reluctant to get her voodoo on initially but as soon as she sees the results of her mojo, she’s all ear to ear smiles (as well she should be). The zombie awakening scene in SUGAR HILL is a showstopper and brings to mind both CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS and MICHAEL JACKSON’s THRILLER.
DON PEDRO CULLY’s turn as the fantastically frocked God of the dead “Samedi” is a twisted treat and a half. Samedi appears at will, in many a guise and is a master of lascivious mischievousness. Imagine Candyman and Freddy Kruegar combined under one top hat and then wonder forever why SUGAR remains without a sequel.
Just because Sugar’s main squeeze is recently departed doesn’t mean she doesn’t have time for romance. RICHARD LAWSON appears as Sugar’s old flame “Valentine” who suspects foul play but can’t possibly imagine the “fowl” play reality of an animated voodoo killer chicken claw. If LAWSON looks familiar to all you horror fans out there, you might recall him donning a striped sweater in the classic POLTERGEIST.
If you’re looking for a big baddie with some full-fledged horror cred, how can go wrong with ROBERT QUARRY? QUARRY’s resume includes COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE and THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA plus he starred in both DOCTOR PHIBES RISES AGAIN and MADHOUSE with VINCENT PRICE! Like all good revenge flicks SUGAR saves Morgan’s demise for last and squeezes as much satisfaction out of it as possible.
Oh, how I love the zombies in this movie. They’re less the decrepit rotty kind you’d find in a ROMERO movie and more the pissed off phantasmal kind like you’ll find in CARPENTER‘s THE FOG. Their eyeballs look like silver ping-pong balls sliced in half and they come covered in cobwebs and accessorized with shackles and machetes. These guys are somehow both silly and strangely scary and I will never not like that combo.
If I had my way it would be mandatory for every horror movie to have a theme song. SUGAR HILL has a doozy in THE ORIGINAL’s SUPERNATURAL VOODOO WOMAN! What a great way to instantly get in the mood!
What more encouragement do you need to visit SUGAR HILL? Although hard to track down on DVD, SUGAR is currently available on NETFLIX streaming. This is ghoulish fun that packs a punch while retaining a gleefully morbid sense of humor. It’s perfect for the Halloween season and fans of CREEPSHOW and TALES FROM THE CRYPT should be doubly pleased with just how sweet SUGAR’s vengeance can be.