Vintage Pulp Oct 13 2009
HAUNTED HILL
1974 zombie blaxploitation flick has lessons to impart about fashion and life.

Last night we filled one of the holes in our blaxploitation résumé by watching the 1974 horror film Sugar Hill, and we came away with mixed feelings. The luscious Marki Bey plays the lead role of Diana “Sugar” Hill, and she’s extremely pale—so pale you wouldn’t really think she was African-American unless you were told she was. And therein lies the lesson imparted by the film.

The most basic fact about race is that, at its core, it’s simply a social construct in which people behave towards others the way they are commanded to, though scientists have said over and over that race doesn't actually exist in any empirical sense. And so watching the milky-skinned Bey—who could easily be Italian, or French, or Greek—get N-bombs dropped on her at various points throughout the movie began to turn Sugar Hill from a typical blaxploitation exercise into a statement on the utter ludicrousness of racism. We’re pretty sure the filmmakers did not have so lofty a goal in mind.

Their actual intent—to make a good horror flick—was not fully achieved. Sugar Hill is visually interesting but not scary, and it’s watchable because of the radiant Ms. Bey, but not fully engaging. The film does sometimes skirt the edge of unintentional humor—not because it’s so poorly made or acted (though both could be argued), but because it’s a shining example of ’70s fashion gone wild. We marveled at the afros, especially the one Bey suddenly appeared with halfway through the film. Her blowout seemed to symbolize the revenge spree she had decided to embark upon (assisted by a shuffling gang of cobweb-covered zombies). She massacres her white enemies, dropping a few H-bombs along the way (that’s honky, in case you don’t know). When will we all learn to just get along? If you like blaxploitation, you’ll like this film. For the uninitiated, well, maybe start with a Pam Grier movie or two before working your way up to this one. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
October 23
1935—Four Gangsters Gunned Down in New Jersey
In Newark, New Jersey, the organized crime figures Dutch Schultz, Abe Landau, Otto Berman, and Bernard "Lulu" Rosencrantz are fatally shot at the Palace Chophouse restaurant. Schultz, who was the target, lingers in the hospital for about a day before dying. The killings are committed by a group of professional gunmen known as Murder, Inc., and the event becomes known as the Chophouse Massacre.
1950—Al Jolson Dies
Vaudeville and screen performer Al Jolson dies of a heart attack in San Francisco after a trip to Korea to entertain troops causes lung problems. Jolson is best known for his film The Jazz Singer, and for his performances in blackface make-up, which were not considered offensive at the time, but have now come to be seen as a form of racial bigotry.
October 22
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
October 21
1973—Kidnappers Cut Off Getty's Ear
After holding Jean Paul Getty III for more than three months, kidnappers cut off his ear and mail it to a newspaper in Rome. Because of a postal strike it doesn't arrive until November 8. Along with the ear is a lock of hair and ransom note that says: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Getty's grandfather, billionaire oilman Jean Paul Getty, at first refused to pay the 3.2 million dollar ransom, then negotiated it down to 2.8 million, and finally agreed to pay as long as his grandson repaid the sum at 4% interest.
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