Who doesn’t love a movie about revenge? Mix revenge with elements of blaxploitation and zombies, and you get Sugar Hill (1974).
Diana “Sugar” Hill, played by Marki Bey, is the fiancé of Langston (Larry D. Johnson), the owner of ‘Club Haiti‘. Morgan, the mob boss,sends his goons to place an offer on Club Haiti. After Langston refuses, he is later found getting beaten to death by said goons. Sugar is so overcome by grief and vengeance that she consults vodou priestess, Mama Maitresse. She helps Sugar call upon Baron Samedi, the loa of the dead, who then summons his army of zombies to help Sugar do her bidding. Sugar, the zombies, and Baron Samedi go on a full-out killing spree, taking the life of everyone involved in Langston’s death.
It is a popular opinion, that the part of Sugar Hill should’ve been played by Pam Grier. However, I believe that Marki Bey was better suited for the role. Bey brought a very innocent face to revenge. In her first scene, she was perceived as a pure and loving character. The contrast of her nature after Langston’s death is one that I think Marki Bey better portrayed than what Pam Grier could have attempted. Sugar’s fierceness is amplified by her awesome cat suits and her command over a zombie army.
The bug-eyed vodou zombies were creepy. They upheld the slow-moving, lurching corpses that George Romero’s zombies represented. The difference with Sugar Hill’s zombies is that vodou zombies must have a purpose. This goes back to the origin of vodou and the Haitian ‘zonbi’. Romero zombies are cannibals with free will, while ‘vodou zonbis’ are summoned undead that are used to carry out the task of the summoner.
Some may say that the movie is slow, cheesy, and lacks action and gore. I would like to disagree.
First of all, revenge takes time. To carry out a plan to kill a whole gang of mobsters is no easy task. Sugar Hill, the zombies, and Baron Samedi all played a part in the reckoning of Morgan and his men. The movie seems slow because the storyline focuses on one death at a time (Modern day filmography has the power to play multiple storyline events seamlessly; the 70’s didn’t quite have that capability).
I would say that each death scene is unique and, while not exactly gory, the elements of gore are enough to appease cult classic enthusiasts.
I mean, someone got decapitated in a blaxploitation horror film! And who can forget the cat fight between Sugar Hill and the mob boss’ wife, Celeste? Yeah, yeah! The lines may have been cheesy, but I think that’s part of the super-hero aspect of the film. Sugar Hill wouldn’t have been the same without the cheesy lines and the funky 70’s lingo.
Sugar Hill is a staple in blaxploitation horror. The movie stars is a strong black female who seeks revenge by employing the ritualistic powers of vodou to lead an army of zombies against a white mob boss and his gang, while rocking an afro, a cat suit, and some sass.
Oh, and she is ultimately a business owner, as she is the beneficiary of Club Haiti. Sugar Hill is a true promotion of black and women’s empowerment while acknowledging the Haitian rituals that laid the foundation for today’s zombies.