|Vintage Pulp||Oct 13 2009|
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.