July 22nd, 2014: Ganja and Hess

Ganja and Hess

What It’s About:  Dr. Hess Green (Duane Jones) is an anthropologist studying an ancient African blood cult.  Through a bizarre encounter with a house guest George Media (director Bill Gunn) Green becomes a vampire…and meets George’s wife Ganja (Marlene Clark), with whom he begins an affair.  Eventually he will have to reveal his true nature…and the location of Ganja’s missing husband…

Why Watch It Today?:  Duane Jones, who died on this date in 1988, is most known to film (and especially horror film) fans from his iconic role as Ben in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.  The story goes that Romero cast Jones because he was the best actor to audition and there was no reason not to cast a black actor in the role-if you’ve ever seen the movie, you will believe it.  Despite scoring the lead in one of the biggest surprise cult hits of all time, Jones sole lead role in the following years was in today’s film.  Financed to cash in on the success of Blacula, Ganja and Hess‘s writer/director Bill Gunn delivered a film that has more in common with Ingmar Bergman’s occasional forays into the supernatural (and prefigures later arty vampire fare like The Hunger) than it does with AIP’s monster mashes.  The resulting film is a meditation on addiction and vampires as metaphor for being trapped between two worlds-not just the line between the living and the dead, but between African and European, working class and intelligentsia, church and criminal.  Naturally the producers were not happy, and Ganja and Hess, after a brief run, was cut to ribbons and released under various alternate titles, though it is now available in a restored version on DVD.

No trailer, but a glimpse at what you can expect:

 

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5 comments on “July 22nd, 2014: Ganja and Hess

  1. geelw says:

    My brother introduced me to this back in the late 90’s and it’s one of those films that’s a like it or hate it viewing experience. I liked it after sitting through it twice. The first time it was one of those crappy chopped up versions on a VHS compilation, the second time it was the restored version that cleared up the mess the first viewing left. It definitely sticks in your head after it’s seen…

    • T.A. Gerolami says:

      If nothing else you can’t call the restored version (haven’t seen the other) cookie cutter. I feel like I need to watch it at least one more time, if not more than one time, to really get everything that’s going on in it.

      • geelw says:

        Oh, true, true. The first versions was edited pretty badly, but the restored one makes SO much more sense and as I saw that botched cut first, it felt like I was watching a puzzle fall into place. If anything, it’s a film that defies a remake. You can’t capture what’s here successfully without losing something in the process…

      • T.A. Gerolami says:

        Yeah, my understanding in the released cut there’s stuff that helps make this cut make a little more linear sense.

        How could you remake something so personal?

      • geelw says:

        Well, you could say the studio tried to “remake” the movie when they cut it against the director’s wishes and released what they thought was a “better” version. In terms of an actual remake, I’ve only heard someone mention it in passing that he;d like to see one, but I think there was alcohol involved in that comment…

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