Cheech & Chong – Up in Smoke: Worthy Classic, or Lowbrow Idiocy?

Drug-humor duo Cheech and Chong made their first foray into the movies with this late 70’s flick. Being as the movie seems to have been in permanent rotation on cable and video almost since its release, and is a cult classic, I thought I should check it out. I’ve seen bits and pieces of “Up in Smoke” over the years, but never sat down to watch the whole film.

A bit of disclosure, old Skintaster here doesn’t smoke weed, nor indulge in illegal drugs. My few experiences with various party favors never seemed to be much fun, so a lot of the drug culture that Cheech and Chong base their act on might be better received by someone that rolls with 420 several times a day. Still, one does not necessarily have to be a pirate to enjoy pirate movies, and I like drug based underground comics, so maybe I could find something to love about this film.

“Up in Smoke” concerns the adventures of drug-addled screw ups Pedro De Paca (Cheech), and Anthony “Man” Stoner (Chong). Stoner’s rich parents (who only look ten or fifteen years older than their “son”) threaten Anthony with military school if he doesn’t get a job by the end of the day. His Volkswagen Bug breaks down, and Pedro stops after confusing Anthony for a hitchhiking big-breasted woman, because he’s wearing unconvincing drag to get a ride.

They quickly discover a common bond in their pot habits, and so a friendship is born. I guess this film sort of serves as the pair’s origin story.

The plot ambles on from there. They almost go to jail, continually try to score weed during a citywide pot shortage, are pursued by Norbert the Narc stand-in Sargent Stedenko (Stacy Keach), and enter a battle of the bands at the end. Somewhere in there they encounter several weird druggie women, and are oblivious to the fact that they’re driving a van actually made out of marijuana.

The story is really just a framework for various set pieces to happen. There’s no serious plot development in “Up in Smoke,” It’s really just a set up for Cheech and Chong to do their thing.

So is it funny? It has its moments. I can see why this would probably be a lot more fun if one was in an “enhanced” state of mind though. Pretty much every humorous situation involves lowbrow drug or sex humor, about the kind of thing someone would expect to hear in Junior High. Nothing wrong with that necessarily, but it’s not sophisticated humor at all. There’s also occasional lapses into racial stereotyping that I have a feeling many people might not see the humor in. At one point an Asian news woman introduces herself as “Sayonara Sushi” or something equally dumb… I can’t remember… Just for a cheap joke. Now, I’m not super sensitive about that kind of thing, but it wasn’t very funny, and I think some more sensitive viewers might question who thought it was… Of course, sensitive viewers are probably not this film’s target audience anyway.

The movie most reminded me of “The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers” comix by Gilbert Shelton, although those are more funny. In fact, seeing this film, I was trying to figure out who comes out looking worse – The drug addled protagonists, or the uptight reactionary cops trying to bust them? It’s certainly a good reflection of why I can’t stand to be around burn out stoners for too long.

Curiously, this film had a few sexual situations, but never showed actual nudity, a strange bit of unexpected restraint for a late 70’s film about drugs and counter culture dropouts.

The battle of the bands scenes at the end were interesting. They were shot at “The Rainbow”, and look like the bands were real local punk and new wave acts from the time period. One of the more interesting things about “Up in Smoke” is all of the footage of late 1970’s Los Angeles; the film captures the look of that time and place well.

So does the film deserve its status as a cult classic? I guess it’s not a terrible way to spend an hour and a half. Cheech and Chong have a certain goofy charm that makes the dull parts, and there are quite a few, go by quick enough. I think it still gets a lot of its cred from the notoriety of those two guys more than anything that’s actually great about this film. There are definitely better drug and sex fables from the same time period.

All in all, I’d rate “Up in Smoke” at 6 giant joints out of 10. You could probably bump that number up a little if you’re a chronic pot smoker.


“Rape Squad” – Feminist Exploitation Film, or Proof the 1970’s Were a Special Time?

Rape Squad (1975)

I caught this 70’s rarity on Netflix under the alternate title “Act of Vengeance,” about as generic a title an exploitation film could have. I had seen “Rape Squad” mentioned in reference books about grindhouse and exploitation movies, but had never run across it before. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but this film was much weirder than I was prepared for.

The plot is a fairly simple one. Independent young Linda (Jo Ann Harris) seems to have a good life. She owns a successful food truck, and has a studly casual boyfriend. Everything goes to Hell when she’s raped by a guy wearing a hockey mask that forces her to sing “Jingle Bells” while he assaults her.

When Linda goes to report the rape, she finds that the cops are dismissive and don’t take it seriously, basically claiming that there’s almost no chance they will solve the crime. There’s a whole lot of “You were probably asking for it” kind of dialogue, and Linda’s dickhead boyfriend also shares that opinion.

Worse still, the Jingle Bells rapist has been quite busy, and Linda meets a bunch of his other victims at the police station. Since they realize that the cops are not going to do much other than tell them that they should probably “get over” being raped by the Jingle Bells bastard, and move on with their lives, the women decide to form their own vigilante group to seek vengeance.

They enlist the help of a female karate expert to teach them how to beat the shit out of guys (mostly involving kicking them in the balls), and the newly formed Rape Squad is ready for action.

That’s the plot in a nutshell, and after punishing a series of abusive guys, including a nightclub owner with a reputation for cornering unwilling women at his sleazy 70’s make out pad, and a pimp that’s abusing one of his streetwalkers, the group finally has a nighttime showdown with Jingle Bells in a park.

A lot of the proceedings are formulaic, which is to be expected in a 1970’s exploitation/revenge flick, but the general tone of the movie is pretty yucky. Not because of the fact that rape is one of the central themes, but because of how the material is treated.

It took me awhile to figure out what was so wrong-feeling about this movie, and then I realized what it was. “Rape Squad” has a story with a strong feminist message (unsurprisingly it turns out it was written by a woman), but the material is presented in the same way that any standard exploitation drive in movie of the time would’ve been handled, with lots of gratuitous nudity and objectification going on. It was directed by a man, and any feminist message is buried under a ton of standard exploitation film making, aimed at a primarily male audience.

For instance, the scene where the victims of Jingle Bells form their squad takes place in a sauna, where they’re all chit chatting in the nude. There are a lot of scenes like that.

The film kind of reminds me of Jack Hill’s movies. “Rape Squad” looks a lot like “Switchblade Sisters,” but is not nearly as fun or stylish. Nothing is portrayed in a very realistic manner, and that does provide a slight cushion between the sexist handling of sensitive material.

Pretty much every male in the movie is either patronizing and dismissive, or a total potential rapist sleaze bag. It’s easy to cheer on the vigilante women as they best those guys. But the film suffers from that weird contrast. It wants to have a message, but it also wants to objectify these women in a way that’s not congruent with that message. I’m not offended by women being shown naked in exploitation or horror films, but there’s something creepy about having that nudity presented in a rape scene, and then having the actual rapes treated less seriously than is usual. We’re still meant to ogle the various naked female parts on display, and that’s a major contrast to the way an exploitation film like “Make Them Die Slowly” handled the ugliness of rape.

In any case, the whole film has that disjointed “What were they trying to do here?” feel, and it’s hard to take seriously. It would be like trying to make a family film out of “Hostel.” Some elements just don’t work when combined.

The film also suffers from a lot of the “stupid mistakes” that women always seem to make in these types of movies, like being captured or attacked because their shoe heel breaks, or going off alone when they know the enemy is about. Again, that works against a film that’s supposedly about empowering these women.

On the other hand, “Rape Squad” is certainly not the most offensive 70’s exploitation film I’ve ever watched, and it moves along at a brisk pace. There are enough fun scenes with the vigilantes kicking some 70’s scumbag ass, and I would probably recommend the movie to anyone that likes the revenge formula, and who isn’t REALLY uncomfortable with the subject matter. I won’t apologize for “Rape Squad,” but I won’t champion it either. It’s another to put in the “1970’s were a pretty twisted decade” file – entertaining on a trashy level, but definitely not the empowering story its author might have wanted it to be.

If I gave out ratings, I’d give this one 4 leering bastards out of 10.




Caligula – A Cautionary Tale Involving A List Actors, Historical Drama, And a Whole Lotta Fellatio.

Caligula (1979)

I’m going to admit straight away that I love the famous train wreck that is the movie “Caligula.”

You might be asking yourself “How is that possible? that film is a piece of shit. No one could love it.”

And that opinion would be hard to argue with, but I’m going to try to anyway. It’s true, “Caligula” is a total mess, but it’s a fun mess to behold if you’re in the right mood.

I’m sure on paper, “Caligula” sounded like it was destined to be a great cinematic classic. The cast is chock full of A List talent, a few of which were, and are, considered some of the best thespians in the world. With Malcolm McDowell in the title role, and a supporting cast including Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, and John Gielgud, I’m sure this movie seemed like a sure thing. Then came the pornographers. Wait, what? (more on that shortly.)

“Caligula” also had the benefit of being scripted by famous writer Gore Vidal, who developed the story from an unproduced TV mini series by Roberto Rossellini. When Vidal and Rossellini were unable to find anyone to fund the movie, Vidal made the ultimately terrible decision to approach Penthouse Magazine kingpin Bob Guccione.

What had been originally intended as a modest and realistic historical piece was transformed into a lurid spectacle by Guccione, who eagerly agreed to produce the film if is tone became more over the top, and if a lot more sex and nudity was added. Vidal and Rossellini jumped at the opportunity, perhaps out of desperation, or believing that the increased bankroll might benefit the final production.

After attempts to lure established mainstream directors like John Huston into the project, Guccione brought in Tinto Brass, a relatively new director best known at the time for his controversial Nazi Sexploitation film “Salon Kitty.” Production for “Caligula” began in Rome in 1976, and experienced trouble from the get-go. Vidal and Brass apparently hated one another, and original lead Maria Schneider dropped out after being troubled with the level of sexual content and nudity. The were also problems completing the film’s elaborate sets, which were designed by art director Danilo Danati. So basically, almost no one involved with the film was getting along very well. The original script was frequently altered or improvised on, and it shows in the final cut.

Add to the already messy production about six minutes of hardcore porn shot by Guccione, and edited into the film (it’s telling that during the graphic and real sex scenes, none of the principal actors are ever in the shot) and you have an almost unwatchable and offensive “epic.”

The plot? Well, it’s supposed to cover the rise to power and downfall of Rome’s famously eccentric Emperor Caligula, and it covers a lot of the stories I’ve heard in the past. He was romantically involved with his sister, maybe his horse, forced the wives and daughters of high ranking officials to be prostitutes, and so on and so on. In the end, he’s killed of course, no real spoiler there.

Some of the acting is great, with some of these A-listers putting in good performances. Malcolm McDowell attacks his role of the mad emperor with gusto, and while it’s not his greatest role, often stepping into some serious overacting territory, it works for a character like Caligula. Most of the supporting cast with speaking parts is adequate, and there are throngs of extras, whose job seems to mostly be to stand around naked. They do that well enough. Most of the sets look like sets, and are infused with a sheen of slimy artifice. They look like they were created for an ambitious fantasy film more than anything approaching realism. Basically, “Caligula” works as a series of really horrific set pieces, more than as a cohesive narrative. The film slows down in numerous places just to roll out some atrocity for us to stare at – beheadings, forced sodomy, rapes, very little time goes by without something horrible happening to someone on screen. For what it’s worth, these scenes do possess a certain amount of style, and Malcolm McDowell grants a certain manic silliness to all of it. It’s easy to be offended, but hard to take very seriously, a strange balance indeed.

Then there’s the porn. “Caligula” has almost constant nudity throughout, and a lot of simulated and unsimulated sex and perversion on display. Every once in a while, an ordinary scene will turn a corner, and the viewer will get a brief glimpse of someone sucking cock. It’s jarring and weird.

There are also a few set pieces that are essentially showcases for pornographic sex acts. Weirdly enough, Guccione seems to have had no problem showing lots of cunnilingus and fellatio, but very little graphic intercourse. I mention this because it’s a strange juxtaposition, watching a five minute scene with multiple people giving or receiving oral sex, but in the same shot there are people that are supposed to be fucking, and it looks like it’s faked. There are two or three brief shots that look like real intercourse is happening, but I always wonder why Guccione didn’t show more of that. I mean, he already took the film into X-Rated territory, why not go the distance?

As noted before, none of the major actors are shown in these porno scenes, for the obvious reasons. The dirty stuff was filmed later, then edited in. Again, I wonder why? Was Guccione trying to make sure “Caligula” would receive a limited release? It took three years to complete, did he even care anymore at that point? Was cocaine just way better back then? So many questions, so few answers.

Despite a large budget, and high end legitimate actors, “Caligula” often looks and feels cheap. It has the same qualities that a lot of Italian exploitation films from the late 70’s had – a certain cheapness that is compensated for (or attempted to be) by being transgressive, showing more sex and violence than Hollywood ever would have.

I’ve seen interviews with Malcolm McDowell, and he HATES “Caligula.” Really, who can blame him? I’m sure a lot of the better actors in that film weren’t pleased to have their performances bookended by scenes of guys ejaculating on women’s boobs, or a dwarf getting his cock sucked. In the case of Malcolm McDowell, “Caligula” seems to have been a turning point, where afterwards the good roles just weren’t coming along as often.

Now, me? I find all of it pretty fascinating to watch. Not much is handled very well. The sets are ambitious, but still look fake, all of the naked people are kind of boring after a few minutes, and the only thing propelling the movie along is the steady stream of sex and violence. The movie also runs far too long. I’ve always thought that a pretty good 90-minute exploitation film could be culled from the uncut version. But I find it all interesting, like a cautionary tale of how a movie could just go so terribly wrong, how so many high level actors could find themselves in such a turd, and how one should never ever let a guy like Bob Guccione have any creative control over their movie unless they want scenes of dwarves getting blown spliced into their historical epic.

So obviously, “Caligula” is a terrible movie by any objective criteria. But while a bit long and boring, it can still manage to shock and entertain someone that’s expecting it to be bad. I don’t give out ratings, but if I did, I’d give “Caligula” five fellated dwarves out of ten.



Why Fear Gay People or Equal Rights?

There is no reason for modern people to hate, fear, or persecute gay people.

That’s my thesis statement for this little rant post.

For years, I have heard arguments (almost invariably really weak arguments) that homosexuality is a blight on our society, and that by allowing gays the same rights as heterosexuals, and by fighting against continuing discrimination, somehow civilization will crumble, and there will be people fucking in the streets.

Those arguments often hinge on religious beliefs, so let’s get that one out of the way first.

Here’s the deal. Religious people (and that covers a lot of ground, but since the majority of religious people in America still self-identify as Christians, I’ll address them, although this can apply to many faiths): Quite simply, if you believe in any God and a hierarchy of holy beings, and you guide your opinions and life choices based on that belief, then you must accept that, to anyone that doesn’t believe the same things as you, some, maybe all, of the things you believe sound like fairy tales.

I am not an atheist, and I do not particularly like the completely close-minded, smart assed atheists that seem to often dominate conversations about the value of objective fact verses faith. It should be noted, that while those people often drown out the more reasonable, or at least less abrasive voices among atheists, they are not representative of all of them.

Still, even to a person who is open to the concept of religious belief as a guide for moral decision making, not all religions believe the same things. If I decided that I believed in a giant magic rabbit that granted wishes as long as I listened to Led Zeppelin albums day in and day out, most people might not believe that. If after a great deal of time, my Magic Bunny Zeppelin religion gained millions of followers, many people might do like most of us in this country. We’d show quiet respect for the weird belief systems of others, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else.

And that’s important, because “quiet respect” is vastly different than “actually believing” what someone else does. Respect also works as a two way street. It’s impossible to respect a person with a belief system you find odd or unbelievable if they don’t extend that same respect in return.

So most of us are content to live in a modern society where it’s understood that not everyone shares the same religious beliefs, or any belief at all, but where we are respectful enough to allow people to worship as they please as long as no one is getting hurt. There’s a balance at work.

But that respect quickly erodes when someone expects the rest of us to conduct our lives in accordance with their religious tradition. I’m sure most Christians would be displeased if say, the local Wiccans expected everyone to go “skyclad” on Tuesday because their religion demanded it.

My point here is not to beat up on Christians or other religious people, and it’s not my intention to ridicule anyone. It’s to point out that what might make total sense to a religious person within the bounds of their own belief system may be completely weird or unbelievable to other folks. It’s not fair or acceptable to expect others to live their lives by someone else’s belief system. Our society has managed to bang out various laws and traditions that seem acceptable, or at least tolerable to most of us. Sure, friction arises often enough, but there aren’t violent wars on America’s streets over religious disagreements for the most part.

So, the “Gays are bad because the Bible or Koran (or whatever) says they are,” doesn’t hold a lot of water. It certainly isn’t a good argument for discrimination against gays, unless we also want to enforce other religious laws that have become inconvenient to most modern civilizations.

Besides, in the case of Jesus, he said absolutely nothing damning gays. That stuff all belongs to the Old Testament along with other things most of us have decided isn’t a good fit for a civilized society. I like to think that the Jesus of the New Testament taught a lesson of inclusiveness and forgiveness, not exclusion and hate. Just my interpretation, but I don’t know how so many of Jesus’s followers get the opposite message.

So, if we set aside religious opposition to gays based on ancient rule books, what’s left?

Well, there’s the argument that gays being allowed to marry (a way of society acknowledging their relationships as valid) will somehow undermine the structure of our civilization and open the floodgates to all sorts of truly deviant behavior. I don’t understand how this slippery slope argument is supposed to be compelling. At one time it was socially unacceptable for women to wear pants, and the fact that it’s now normal for women to wear pants didn’t snowball into some indecent trend where people go naked from the waist down on casual Friday.

I’ve heard arguments that if gays can marry, then what will stop people from marrying their dogs? Well, first of all, very few sane people want to marry animals. Secondly, since the animal can’t agree to get married, that argument doesn’t really work on a logical level. The fact that society has loosened its grip on certain things over the years does not mean that a significant number of people are going to push the envelope of acceptable behavior into ridiculous extremes if homosexuals are allowed the same basic rights and freedoms as heterosexuals.

Another angle of this argument that’s used often is to point out the more extreme elements of Pride Parades – men walking around almost naked, as if that proves that allowing gay marriage would compel nearly-naked leather men to hang out everywhere in public, dongs-a-flopping. I can say with great resolve that this is unlikely to happen. For one thing, a Pride Parade is not indicative of the average behavior most gays are going to engage in normally. It’s a Pride Parade – a celebratory moment, that sometimes trends towards the extreme. The guys walking down the street during the parade wearing a banana hammock? Probably work straight (see what I did there?) jobs and have more or less normal-looking lives most of the time.

Then there’s the simple “It’s not natural” responses, intended to cast homosexuality as an abnormal condition or sexual perversion, and in doing so, trying to paint it negatively in the way that we might Peeping Toms. Basically no reliable sources back that view up anymore. Homosexuality might not always have had this status, but it is certainly a normal part of the human condition, and one that has been with us since the very beginning. Often, the people that push the “It’s not normal” opinion, claim that homosexuality is a choice. I find that line of reasoning to be ludicrous, and for a simple reason. What heterosexual has ever made the choice to be straight? Because I don’t ever remember being presented with a “choice.” I suddenly started noticing girls, and realizing that they stirred certain feelings in me. There was never some moment where I chose them over guys. And to the heterosexuals that believe in this “choice” concept, I have to ask. Did you ever consider sucking cocks or touching other dudes? Ever consider man-on-man sex as a viable option? Because if they didn’t, how can they say that gay people chose to be gay? Sexual orientation seems to be something most people are born with, one way or the other. For that matter, if sexual orientation is a choice, why would anyone choose a lifestyle that’s likely to cause them great discrimination and possible danger from those that will hate them? The answer to this is simple. There is no choice involved.

This same lame argument also frames equality for gays as somehow being detrimental to children – that somehow having society regard homosexuality as a normal lifestyle will turn straight kids gay. How this transformation is supposed to take place I have no idea, and I reject it for the same reasons that I reject that “choosing to be gay” scenario. Straight people are going to be straight, and gay people are going to be gay. There may be some shades of grey in there somewhere, but eventually a person generally settles into one camp or the other. Being taught that it’s OK to be gay isn’t in any way going to convince a straight kid to become a homosexual. The fact is that a proven detriment to children is growing up gay in a society where that lifestyle is persecuted. This fact is certainly borne out by the disturbingly high rate of suicide among gay kids.

Finally, the arguments against granting gays equal rights just come down to some weird hatred or distrust of gay people. I’ve heard folks state that the idea of gay sex repulses them, for instance. Fair enough, the idea of it isn’t my cup of tea either, but here’s the deal – granting equality to gays doesn’t mean that straight people have to watch them fuck. Here’s a secret – I don’t want to see MOST people have sex. Even people we think would look awesome having sex, probably really don’t. The average American looks pretty horrid these days. Look around. Do you want to see most of your neighbors pumping away at each other, flopping around and huffing sweatily while they get their jollies? Me either.

Gays probably are equally repulsed by the idea of straight sex, so it works both ways. Society has decided that most of us don’t want to see other people fucking, and has passed laws to keep that from happening, so just because Jack and Bill decide to get married doesn’t mean that we have to watch their bedroom activities.

I guess my point is that it doesn’t matter who other consenting adults want to fuck, it doesn’t in any way affect me, or any of us. The best neighbors I ever had were a gay couple. They had a nice house and yard, rarely talked to me other than waving hello, and never had the cops called to their house – something a few of the straight couples on my street could not claim.

Oh, and I never had to watch them do it.

I think that among some straight men, part of their dislike of gays stems from some stupid feeling that gay men want them. I’ve dealt with a few pushy gay guys that hit on me over the years, but I’ve dealt with a lot more pushy straight women doing the same thing. For most guys, I think they need a better sense of perspective. Are they knee deep in females that want to fuck them? No? Then what makes them think all gay men want to?

Finally, there’s the old argument that “Marriage has always been between a man and a woman,” and that by altering this unwavering LAW OF MARRIAGE, society will crumble. Again, some people must think that all it would take to destroy civilization is a good dose of the Gay, and that’s a pretty troubling realization.

But has marriage always been defined as a bond between a man and a woman? The answer is no. Polygamy has been, and is still practiced throughout the world, and same sex unions which were recognized by society were practiced in antiquity, going back as far as ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Same sex marriages are not a new thing.

When it comes down to it, there really is no valid argument for why one group of consenting adults should accept second class citizenship or discrimination simply because a large number of people are uncomfortable with their lifestyle. There are lots of people living lives that I would hate to live myself, but which I fully accept as OK for them. In the final analysis, nothing that other adults do within the confines of their own relationship or bedroom affects me negatively, and I bet that’s the case for most of us. The idea that it’s still acceptable to treat homosexuals abusively, or to demand that they accept less than the rest of us simply because we’re uncomfortable with their existence, is a blight on our society. In the long run, treating each other fairly and with respect does not erode civilization or our personal religious beliefs, it actually builds the bonds that form civilization, and still allows for our differences.

There is no real way use logic to prove that hatred or discrimination is somehow good. In fact, the interesting thing in attempting to do so is that logic will actually prove the opposite is true. Hatred is not a virtue, and it is a killer of the human spirit.


1970’s Blaxploitation Zombie Fury Filmed in H-Town = “Sugar Hill”

Sugar Hill (1974)

1970s blaxploitation films tended to cover a lot of the same ground – Typically a black hero or anti hero fighting some form of injustice, often against evil white oppressors or criminal groups attacking a black community. There are some very good blaxploitation films, but they did tend to rely on formulas often enough.

A small number of these films tackled horror themes, and a couple did a good job. The first “Blacula” film is one of the better vampire films of the 1970s, for instance. A couple of other blaxploitation films of the period played on horror themes as comedy – The Rudy Ray Moore “classic” “Petey Wheatstraw, the Devil’s Son In Law” , is a good example of that angle.

“Sugar Hill” is an interesting take on blaxploitation horror – It’s a good combination of both the “revenge against criminal predators” storyline that is a standard of the genre, and genuine horror.

After her boyfriend is murdered by gangsters led by an evil white dude named Morgan (played by horror veteran Robert Quarry), who is trying to gain control of a nightclub he owns, Diana “Sugar” Hill enlists the aid of ancient Voodoo Queen Mama Maitresse to enact supernatural revenge against them. The sorceress summons Baron Samedi himself, who raises the reanimated corpses of dead slaves to kill Morgan and the members of his gang.

The plot is pretty simple for the most part, so like most blaxploitation and horror movies, the film’s success is measured in how effectively that simple plot is handled… And for the most part, it’s handled pretty well. Anyone that’s seen a handful of blaxploitation films will find all of the expected cliches of the genre, but what saves “Sugar Hill” is that it’s handling of the horror elements are generally effective. Baron Samedi is played effectively, if a little over the top, by Don Pedro Colley, and his legions of zombie slaves look creepy for the most part – They’re covered in cobwebs and have a grey gaunt appearance with silver reflective eyes – Although the weird eye choice is a little jarring, and silly looking at times, it’s also spooky in other scenes. There’s lots of atmospheric lighting, and fog effects to help set the mood.

And,the zombies are a creative bunch! Since they’re from the Voodoo tradition and not flesh eaters like George Romero’s monsters, these dead folks trap their victims in coffins full of snakes, chop off their heads, and feed them to starving pigs! Most of the mayhem isn’t particularly graphic, but it’s all pretty nasty business. Even the Baron’s payment – He gets to take Morgan’s bitchy white girlfriend down to the Underworld to be his sex slave, is pretty horrible when you think about it – These supernatural Creepos play rough.

So how is the film over all? It’s far from perfect… Heck, it’s far from “good”… But it is fun, and has some genuinely horrific set pieces scattered liberally throughout. There are some weird continuity mistakes – Sugar’s hair seems to magically change from a big Afro to a more styled hair do from scene to scene, and some of the acting is sub par.. I don’t know, when I’m reviewing 70s exploitation films, it seems unfair to really judge them by the acting unless it’s truly terrible, or somehow much better than normal – They’re B Movie exploitation films for a reason.

I think “Sugar Hill” is an entertaining variation on blaxploitation fare, and a rarity in horror films – A zombie movie where the zombies don’t eat people but are still scary… Or at least spooky.

I don’t give out star ratings, but if I did, I’d give “Sugar Hill” 6 Mirrored Zombie Eyes out of 10, for it’s interesting take on both blaxploitation and horror movie material.

An interesting bit of trivia – “Sugar Hill” was filmed in and around my hometown of Houston Texas. In fact, a “Voodoo Institute” in the movie is actually the Heights Branch of the public library. I used to live a few blocks away from that place.