Blerd Film Club: Ganja & Hess

In 1972 stage director and playwright William "Bill" Gunn was approached to make a film about Black vampires. He didn't want to do it, but when he saw a budget of $350,000 and was promised creative control he went to work on an experimental film. That film became 1973s Ganja & Hess starring Duane Jones known for Night of The Living Dead and Marlene Clark of Sanford and Son fame.

Dr. Hess Green is a filthy rich anthropologist who researches the Myrthians a fiction race of ancient Africans known for drinking blood. His assistant George Meda (played by Bill Gunn) threatens to commit suicide. Hess convinces him not to but that night George attacks Hess with a ceremonial dagger used by the Myrthians in rituals before killing himself. Hess survives but finds that he craves blood when he awakens, drinking from George's dead body and storing it in the freezer.

With his new life as a vampire (that walks in the sun), he has to find a new way to get blood. He chooses to sleep with prostitutes and drain them of their blood. Some of them, he kills, and others he leaves alive. The film doesn't explicitly state this is what he's doing right away, but you catch on. Ganja Meda is Geroge's wife. She arrives to visit but when she can't find him, she becomes Hess' lover. 

Ganja discovers her husband's dead body in the freezer, but isn't exactly upset. Instead, she falls for Hess even harder choosing to marry him and become a vampire as well. Hess brings a man to Ganja to teach her how to survive, she kills the man. They throw the body in the water and go about life. Hess grows tired of life as a vampire and turns to the church. When he returns home that even he kills himself in front of the cross. Ganja looks out the window and watches the man she killed earlier rise from the lake and run towards the home naked, full frontal. That's your warning.

I'm glad Ganja & Hess isn't a long film, because I can admit it took me two watches to really grasp the full story. That's because the story isn't told in a straightforward manner. There are cuts between past and present with no warning. A re-cut version was released that makes the story more linear and was released under the title Blood Couple but it didn't do as well as the original, which is shocking, because the original didn't exactly bring down the house. It would have been considered a failure under most criteria; poorly reviewed by viewers, almost no revenue and was quickly pulled from theaters.

Still it went on to become a classic for being one of the more experimental films in both the horror and Blaxploitation genres. It would be credited time and time again for inspiring many people to go into directing. A remake directed by Spike Lee in 2014 titled Da Sweet Blood of Jesus received similar reviews with many not even realizing it was a remake right away.

I honestly can't recommend this film unless you're looking for something to slightly warp your mind. Maybe the re-cut version is a better film for watching. You'll spend most of your time analyzing this film as it wasn't necessarily made for horror. Bill Gunn the director flat out stated he didn't want to make a movie about Black vampires so he made the film about addiction instead, just substituting blood for drugs. Looking at the film from that light makes it somewhat better but not really enjoyable. It's one of those films that played a big role in inspiring great films, but it wasn't.

You can check out some of my short stories at 12 AM Fiction or if you like vampires follow my web serial Exsanguinate and of course hear me on the Powerbomb Jutsu podcast if you enjoy pro wrestling.

Blerd Film Club: Ganja & Hess Blerd Film Club: Ganja & Hess Reviewed by Darrell S. on Saturday, February 20, 2021 Rating: 5

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