When it comes to blaxploitation horror films, the genre doesn’t get much better than Sugar Hill (1974) and I’m happy that I finally got the opportunity to see this low-budget gem a few weeks ago. The plot is rather simple and involves a beautiful but tough fashion photographer who goes by the same of Diana ‘Sugar’ Hill (Marki Bey). Sugar wants revenge on a group of ruthless mob members who killed her man in an effort to take over a popular nightclub he owned. Unfortunately for the criminals Sugar’s man left the nightclub to her in his will and in order to take control of the club the mob is going to have to take Sugar down first but that won’t be easy.
Sugar has decided to enlist the help of a local voodoo priestess named Mama Celesete (Zara Cully) and the god of the dead who calls himself Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley). Together they raise a small army of zombie hit men to help Sugar take revenge on her man’s murderers. But these aren’t just any zombies. Sugar’s undead army is made up of the corpses of angry ex-slaves and they have their own axe to grind with the gang of criminals run by a wealthy white land owner named Morgan (Robert Quarry).
Sugar Hill doesn’t contain a lot of scary moments but it has a nice creepy atmosphere at times even if it’s occasionaly marred by its low-budget. And there are a couple of effective zombie scenes in the movie. What the film does have is a hell of a lot of attitude, a great voodoo inspired score and a terrific premise. It’s also creatively shot by director Paul Maslansky and cinematographer Robert C. Jessup.
As entertaining as the movie is, the real reason to watch Sugar Hill is to see Marki Bey’s truly terrific turn as Sugar. Bey delivers a powerful performance in the film that’s impossible to forget. She also gets to wear some really stunning 70s fashions that would make Diana Ross envious. I had seen Marki Bey in a few other roles such as Lanie in Hal Ashby’s film The Landlord (1970) and as Officer Minnie Kaplan in numerous episodes of the television series Starsky & Hutch (1977-79), but it was wonderful to watch her carry a whole film by herself. Bey really holds the movie together and she makes Sugar a sympathetic character that you want to believe in, even if she is a little bloodthirsty.
Unfortunately, Sugar Hill was one of the last films that Marki Bey ever appeared in. She seems to have stopped acting in 1979 after her recurring role in Starsky & Hutch ended and I haven’t been able to come across any substantial information about the actress.
Sugar Hill was produced by the infamous Samuel Z. Arkoff and released by American International Pictures (AIP). It was the only film directed by Paul Maslansky, who’s much better known for the movies he produced in the seventies such as the atmospheric horror films Castle of the Living Dead (1964) and The She-Beast (1966), as well as drive-in favorites like Race with the Devil (1975), Hard Times (1975), Damnation Alley (1977) and Circle of Iron (1978). He’s also responsible for producing all the Police Academy movies. It’s a shame that he didn’t make more films because he clearly shows that he has some directing skills in Sugar Hill, even if the movie is a little fractured and slow moving at times.
A rather shabby looking print of Sugar Hill was released in the UK on Region 0 PAL DVD from ILC Prime but it’s currently out of print. You can find bootleg copies of the film on eBay from time to time but I really wish someone would restore the movie and release it in widescreen if possible. You can also still find copies of Sugar Hill on video at Amazon. It definetly deserves to be seen by a wider audience who enjoy other entertaining blaxploitation horror films like Blackula (1972) and Abby (1974).
Visit my Sugar Hill Flickr Gallery to see more images from the film.