SUGAR HILL (1974) Reviews and overview

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‘Meet Sugar Hill and her zombie hit men…’

Sugar Hill is a 1974 American zombie film directed by Paul Maslansky from a screenplay by Tim Kelly (Cry of the Banshee). The movie stars Marki Bey, Robert Quarry and Don Pedro Colley.

The film was produced and released by American International Pictures (AIP), the company that previously combined the horror and blaxploitation genres with Blacula and its sequel, Scream Blacula Scream.

A voodoo queen uses zombies to take revenge on a group of white gangsters for the murder of her partner: helping her out is the voodoo lord of the dead, Baron Samedi.

The zombies in Sugar Hill more closely resemble the creatures of voodoo legend – i.e. the walking dead who do the bidding of a human master – than the flesh-eating living dead ghouls now currently popular. According to the film, the zombies are the preserved bodies of slaves brought to the United States from New Guinea.


“We do get the expected snakes, Voodoo dolls, and zombies, of course— in fact, we get some of the scariest non-flesh-eating zombies to be seen anywhere— but we also get Baron Samedi, and a portrayal of him that isn’t too far from accurate, at that.” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting

‘The film’s rated PG, so there’s not much by way of sexuality or violence, but the film doesn’t need it. It’s just a crazy movie all on its own; the zombies are the reanimated corpses of slaves, but besides some dust and ever-present cobwebs
in their afros, they look none the worse for wear.’
Bad Ass Digest

“Quarry makes an excellent, slimy victim, Colley has the time of his life as Samedi, and Bey should have had a much bigger career – she fills the frame with strength and beauty that is impossible to turn away from. Val Lewton style zombies may not have been in vogue in the ‘70s, but the sight of slaves rising up to mete out justice on oppressors will never get old, and nor should it.” Daily Dead

“While the film does exploit the fact that Ms. Bey is clearly an attractive woman, it mostly saves its stereotypes and exploitative nature for the cartoonishly evil whites…” The Lightning Bugs Lair

“The plot doesn’t involve much more than following Sugar around on her EC Comics inspired revenge spree but Sugar has got atmosphere and attitude up the wazoo. Foggy, swampy and colorful, it also contributes a refreshingly original take on the living dead.” Kinder Trauma

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“There is little genuine tension – the villains are summarily dispatched, and the protagonists are never really in danger – but retro-hounds will have a field day with the ’70s phrases, fashions, and ‘fros. The racist characterization is unimaginatively simplistic, however, leaving the racial moral heavy-handed.” Peter Dendle, The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia

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“The pacing never drags, and the subplot about Sugar’s detective ex-boyfriend investigating this rash of ritualistic murders doesn’t get in the way either. The vengeful kills are inspired and varied enough that they don’t come across as just more of the same.” DVD Talk

“Thanks to some well-staged and atmospheric sequences, Robert Quarry’s convincingly ruthless portrayal, and the genuinely frightening zombies, Sugar Hill still remains a fairly entertaining blast-from-the-past curiosity.” Bryan Senn, Drums of Terror: Voodoo in the Cinema

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“Some of the scenes look like rehearsal footage. Case in point is the beat down at the beginning. Morgan’s thugs tap at… I mean kick Sugar’s boyfriend, Langston, repeatedly while he’s on the ground. They truly do beat the hell out of him, but the scene is so poorly executed, it becomes laughable.” Cool Ass Cinema

“Despite brilliantly combining the zombie’s Caribbean heritage with the blaxploitation boom, Sugar Hill failed to do anything particularly interesting with its premise.” Jamie Russell, Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema

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” …a nice update of Lewton’s bug-eyed corpses from I Walked with a Zombie, albeit with a bit more ghoulishness. The scene where they’re revived from the ground is purely awesome and atmospheric, as they’re summoned in the middle of an ethereal forest, complete with thunder and lightning.” Oh-the-Horror

” …an ok Blaxploitation horror film, offering nothing terribly spectacular other than the disembodied chicken-foot attack, which is weird if not downright cool.”Mikel J Koven, Blaxploitation Films

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” …a brisk and efficient ‘blaxploitation’ horror movie with an intriguing historico-political resonance […] carries a real frisson and seems to nod in the direction of the excellent The Plague of the Zombies (1966).” Phil Hardy, The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

“Simple, focused and fun […] Compared to “real” blaxploitation pictures (including AIP’s Blacula), everything is clean and contrived. But it feels like everyone is in on the joke. Quarry speaks with a Southern accent. Gorgeous Marki Bey (who did little else) is firm and intelligent in her lead role.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers

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“With a bit more edge it could have been a standout in its genre. Baron Samedi could easily have become a recurring character like Blacula. Only in his case, he wouldn’t be a white creature shoehorned into black culture. Still, as 70s horror goes, Sugar Hill is an entertaining flashback.” Voices from the Balcony

Choice dialogue: 

Diana ‘Sugar’ Hill: “Hey whitey, you and your punk friends killed my man!”

Diana ‘Sugar’ Hill: “I’m not accusing you, honk. I’m passing sentence. And the sentence is death!”

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Cast and characters:

  • Marki Bey as Diana ‘Sugar’ Hill
  • Robert Quarry as Morgan – Teenage Exorcist; Deathmaster; MadhouseDr Phibes Rises AgainCount Yorga, Vampire
  • Don Pedro Colley as Baron Samedi – Dead End; Beneath the Planet of the Apes Night Gallery: ‘Doctor Stringfellow’s Rejuvenator’
  • Betty Anne Rees as Celeste
  • Richard Lawson as Valentine
  • Zara Cully as Mama Maitresse
  • Charles P. Robinson as Fabulous
  • Larry D. Johnson as Langston
  • Rick Hagood as Tank Watson
  • Ed Geldart as O’Brien
  • Albert J. Baker as George
  • Raymond E. Simpson, III as King
  • Thomas C. Carroll as Baker
  • Big Walter Price as Preacher
  • Charles Krohn as Captain Merrill
  • J. Randall Bell as Parkhurst
  • Peter Harrell, III as Police Photographer
  • Judy Hanson as Masseuse
  • Gary W. Chason as Lab Technician
  • Roy L. Downey as Stevedore
  • Garrett Scales as Crew Chief
  • John E. Scarborough as Uniformed Cop

Filming locations:

Houston, Texas

Film Facts:

A version for TV was cut to 83 minutes and retitled The Zombies of Sugar Hill.

Plot keywords:

alligators | Baron Samedi | candles | catfight | docks | fashion shoot | gangsters | living dead | massage | murder | nightclub | photographer | pigs | police | priestess  | revenge | snakes | strangulation | studio | swamp | undead | vengeance | voodoo | zombie cocktail | zombies

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