Sugar Hill (1974)

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.

Suger Hill (1974)

Suger Hill (1974)

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.

17 thoughts on “Sugar Hill (1974)

  1. Ooh…I wanna see this. I have read about it a lot over the years but have never come across a copy. It sounds like it would make an ideal double feature with ABBY (which I really get a kick out of). Thanks for this great review…I will have to track this down.

  2. I finally found an unmentionable of this… I remember seeing about half of this late one night roughly 20-25 years ago, and have been wanting a copy of it since then. If you get an opportunity to see this, TAKE IT!!

    The only thing that would’ve made this better than it is would’ve been Pam Grier as Sugar Hill – Marki does a fine job, but I have the impression that it was written with Pam in mind.

    Don’t forget that Manslansky also was involved with RETURN TO OZ.

  3. This was such a cool blog. I’ve always wanted to see this film, but never gotten the chance. I love blaxploitation and horror, so to see the two together is a real treat. I’ve seen Marki Bey in some other stuff. She’s both beautiful and talented. It’s a shame that she hasn’t really done anything over the years. I’ll have to try to see if I can see this one now.

  4. I haven’t seen this but I can imagine Marki Bey as well as Pam Grier or Rosalind Cash doing a fine job. I like the late sixties to early seventies roles for black actresses. From Claudine to blaxploitation flicks to Bustin’ Loose black actresses were given the opportunity to be in command of a film much more than they are today oddly enough.

    Ron – What did she do in Return to Oz? Just curious because I don’t recall. I’m probably one of the few people that likes that movie and thinks Fairuza Balk was a damn good child actress. She may be a damn good adult actress too but since no one gives her good roles anymore how would you know?

  5. Great selection – I loved watching this on the small screen, and for an AIP, it was much more imaginative than usual, altho the script was pretty weak. I actually passed on watching it the first time I saw it listed in TV Guide – I thought it was a cutie romance by the title. Then I was watching something after switching channels, and only realized it was “Sugar hill” at a commercial break. Duh. I liked Marki Bey, but the rest of the cast was forgettable – at this level of flick that’s a given. Cheesy stuff and a lot of enthusiasm from Ms. Bey actually made a pretty good combo.

    I’m one of the few who like “Return to Oz”, too – I think it was one of the best fantasy films ever made. Find the right green thing, and you’re home. Poor Walter Murch has never directed another picture, tho. Bummer.

  6. Thanks for all the feedback! It’s nice to know others enjoyed the movie as much as I did. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can pick up the video for about $8 and DVDs are on ebay a lot.

    I thought Bey was terrific and perfectly over the top at times for the role. I love Pam as well as countless other beautiful black actresses from the ’70s (Tamara Dobson, Gloria Hendry, Trina Parks, etc.), but I think Pam would have been a little too serious & hard ass as Sugar. Bey makes the film work. At least in my opinion anyway.

    It was interesting reading the comments on Return to Oz. I saw it when it was first released, but I can’t remember the movie so I don’t think it made much of an impression on me.

  7. I saw this movie when I was a kid on some Saturday afternoon horror movie show I used to watch and remember thinking it was pretty neat, especially the look of the zombies.

    I still remember the scene in the massage parlor as being particularly freakish!

  8. Thanks for the feedback Jeff!I noticed that TCM had played Sugar Hill over the summer and I even recorded it in the hopes that the print was better than the DVD I own but I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet.

    p.s. I changed the Movie Morlocks link too!

  9. Sugar Hill was on this morning. I grew up watching 70s Blaxplotation movies, and had completely forgotten about this one. Today, however, I am more curious about Marki Bey. Very little is available about her. I would really like to know what she is doing today.

  10. I reviewed SUGAR HILL a while back on my blog as well; I thought Bey was a little wooden and overshadowed by Don Pedro Colley (great in this!) and Zara Cully, and the fight scenes were unconvincing, but it’s a lot of fun overall and the daytime visit to the graveyard is especially creepy. Rosalind Cash would have been my ideal choice for Sugar Hill; I could also see Marlene Clark doing a good job.

  11. I use to go to the drive in alot and see this movie as a little girl and I always thought it was Pam Grier in it. I liked it then and I still like it. I’m trying to find it on DVD I had it on VHS back in the day but it came up missing when my family found out I had it.

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