Ganja and Hess (1973)

AKA, Blood Couple, AKA Double Possession, AKA Black Evil, AKA Black Vampire, and AKA Blackout: The Moment of Terror (*Whew* I think that’s all of them)

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Ganja and Hess tells the story of Dr. Hess Green, an anthropologist. Dr. Green takes on a new assistant (played by the Director, Bill Gunn) and invites him to dinner. Unfortunately his new assistant is horribly neurotic. The man rambles his way through a very nice dinner (Dr. Green is apparently very well off), has to be talked out of a tree later in the evening, and then later that night, for reasons unknown, stabs Green in the chest with a ceremonial dagger. Driven to guilt and despair, the assistant kills himself

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After of course taking a nice warm bath and bloodying up the drains.

But Green isn’t exactly dead. In fact, to his surprise he’s very much alive and has acquired a taste for human blood. He deals with this, at first, like any rational man would. Not by killing people of course, but instead by robbing blood banks. But when his desire for blood becomes too great, he resorts to killing prostitutes (and pimps).

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There’s a baby crying in the background in this
scene. You can see he’s really torn up about it.
/sarcasm  Have fun sleeping tonight.

Enter Ganja, his dead assistants wife. Ganja comes looking for her husband, but quickly falls for the doctor and the two start a life together despite the veritable truck load of literal and figurative skeletons in Hess’s closet.

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Marlene Clark is really very striking in this film. She was also
given some of the better scenes, thank god.

Ganja and Hess is a very interesting take on the vampire genre. The word ‘Vampire’ is not once uttered during the entire 110 min length of the film. There is also no neck biting, no coffins and Mr. Blood Drinker has no problems walking around in the sunlight. (There is quite a bit of religious symbols, so there is that.)

Instead the film treats Green’s growing blood lust as an addiction, and commonly refers to it as such throughout the film, treating it as one would a dependency on alcohol or any other drug. When the need becomes to great he’ll resort to drinking it off the floor, but more commonly you’ll see him sipping it out of a glass.

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That’s not tomato juice, people.

For a movie from 1973, the film can be a bit grainy and some of the shots are poorly framed and too long (the aforementioned tree scene is a good example. You see the assistants feet and the top of Hess’s head while they have a winded conversation. I kept expecting the camera to pan up or down or something, but it didn’t happen.) But after the first 10 minutes or so the movie picks back up, especially after Marlene Clark shows up.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film was the soundtrack. African tribal beats, chants, and calls echo throughout, often picking up tempo and volume as the need for blood intensifies. The beats often give off a ghostly echo in the background, giving the film a very surreal tone. There is also quite a bit of tribal imagery offered in the film, perhaps harkening to Green’s anthropological roots or the dagger’s.

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Or both. Who knows.

The actors do an exceptional job of keeping the film together despite the movie’s surreal tone and often choppy storytelling. Duane Jones, in his only other leading role since Night of the Living Dead, fits into the surreal-ness of the film so well it’s astounding and when Marlene Clark shows up she’s so warm and human that they’re a perfect counter balance to each other.

Mind you, this is not a film that everyone will enjoy. The ethereal tone is enough to turn a lot of people off and the lack of enough vampire lore in what is clearly a vampire movie will turn off even more. But if you can get past that then Ganja and Hess is a unique movie experience not to be missed.

PS: A word of note, if you’re interested in watching this movie make sure you specify the title as Ganja and Hess. The other titles mentioned look to be edited cuts of the film, made to try to cash in on the Blacksploitation market after the films distributors pulled the movie from theaters after a week long run in Manhattan.

Ganja and Hess is currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

It’s also received both a DVD and Bluray release.

Michi

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