Starring: Duane Jones, Marlene Clark
Director: Bill Gunn
When you hear the storyline – wealthy, cultured professor of anthropology is stabbed with a mysterious ancient dagger and goes from sipping fine wines at cocktail parties to gorging himself on blood in seedy dives – you’d be inclined to assume that Ganja and Hess is just another Blaxploitation movie a la Blacula. But while it was released in 1973, during the height of the Blaxploitation boom, it actually harks back to the acid-fuelled ’60s. It’s a rare example of a black hippie flick.
Stylistically, it seems to draw heavily on the Nicolas Roeg playbook, with fragmentary, elliptical storytelling, frowsty verite style camera work and rambling, semi-improved dialogue, all of which make rather heavy weather of the hokey plot. For horror fans, the key point of interest is the presence in a starring role of Duane Jones of Night of the Living Dead fame. Sadly, while Jones looks the part and brings a certain gravitas to the film, he’s given disappointingly little to do, and his character, Dr Hess Green, is too taciturn to be very engaging. Nor does the situation improve once his vampiric tendencies emerge – like much else in the film, the violence is half-baked and unconvincing, and it’s typical of the movie’s vagueness that it’s never made clear exactly how he extracts the blood from his victims’ bodies.
Ganja and Hess has some pretensions to being a case study of addition, but its arty and undisciplined approach to the theme leaves it feeling rather toothless. Aside from a couple of trippy dream sequences, it doesn’t have much to hold the viewer’s attention. One for Blaxploitation completists rather than the general viewer. The HD transfer is quite grainy and a little washed out at times, but generally free of print damage. The disc comes with a very nice 30-minute documentary pulling together motley interviews that provide lots of background to the making of the film and its brief appearance in movie theatres. There’s also an excellent audio commentary with the producer, cinematographer and lead actress, who cover plenty of ground between them. Fans of the film – or those eager to explore a little-seen curiosity – are sure to be pleased with this package of extras.