GANJA & HESS (1973) Reviews and overview

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‘Bad blood runs between them’

Ganja & Hess is a 1973 American horror-themed feature film written and directed by Bill Gunn. The movie stars Duane Jones, Marlene Clark and Leonard Jackson.


Archaeologist Doctor Hess Green (Jones) becomes a vampire after being stabbed by his intelligent, but unstable, assistant (Gunn) with an ancient cursed dagger. Green falls in love with his assistant’s widow, Ganja (Clark), who learns Green’s dark secret…

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Ganja and Hess had a troubled release, being re-cut and distributed under various titles such as Blood Couple; Double Possession; Black Vampire and Blackout – each time aiming to capitalise on more exploitable elements such as blaxploitation, horror and exorcism. The difficulty in pigeonholing the film has contributed to its emergence as a cult item.


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This film contains the only other lead role for Duane Jones, best known for starring in George A. Romero’s 1968 seminal horror classic Night of the Living Dead (although he appeared in bit-parts in other movies).


Ganja & Hess is very much of its time, and ultimately, how much you will relate to the film will probably depend on how much you like free-form early Seventies American indie cinema.

The film is a fascinating example of the strange collision of experimental filmmaking and the mainstream that took place at the time – an art-house genre piece before such things were commonplace. It’s intriguing, memorable and unique, and for that alone is well worth a look.

David Flint, MOVIES & MANIA

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Other reviews:

“What we end up with is a film that’s far more personally ambitious and ambiguous than a vampire movie, an art film with all the accompanying pretensions that that classification suggests. It has elements of horror, but the fragmented approach to story and heavy subtext—the blood lust being a metaphor for addiction, for instance—make it seem more suited to a study than a wintry night’s viewing.” Tom Becker, DVD Verdict

“There are times when the beauty of the film is haunting, to be sure. But too often, it is overly ponderous and heavy-handed.” Mikel J Koven, Blaxploitation Films

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“There are films that are fun to watch; Ganja & Hess compels you to watch. There are films that ask more questions than they answer; Ganja & Hess answers zero questions, nor does it aim to. But maybe that’s why it lingers in the brain.” April Swartz, Badass Digest

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Main cast and characters:

  • Marlene Clark … Ganja Meda – Beware! The BlobThe Beast Must Die; Black Mamba
  • Duane Jones … Doctor Hess Green – Night of the Living DeadTo Die For; Fright House
  • Bill Gunn … George Meda
  • Sam Waymon … Reverend Luther Williams
  • Leonard Jackson … Archie – Basket Case 2
  • Candece Tarpley … Girl in Bar
  • Richard Harrow … Dinner Guest
  • John Hoffmeister … Jack Sargent
  • Betty Barney … Singer in Church
  • Mabel King … Queen of Myrthia – Dead Men Don’t Die; Tales from the Darkside

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