A landmark in the history of African American cinema and one of the most important films of the 1970s, Ganja & Hess
suffered a tortured fate that nearly resulted in its extinction. Briefly released in New York City in 1973, it was originally intended to be a "blaxploitation" horror thriller, but actor-director Bill Gunn (who died in 1989) created something much more complex and artistically expressive: a vampire film starring the late Duane Jones (earlier immortalized as the hero of Night of the Living Dead
) that never mentions the word "vampire," addressing interwoven themes of addiction, passion, class distinction, faith, and the place of blacks in a dominant white society. Unfolding on a sensual level that is better experienced than explained, the film is equal parts dream, nightmare, and existential odyssey.
Not surprisingly, a film that so daringly defied convention was hard to market, and after its failed release it was drastically re-edited and eventually released to video under no fewer than seven different titles. Fortunately, a single print of Gunn's original version survived at New York's Museum of Modern Art, its reputation rising through revival screenings until Ganja & Hess achieved cult status as a "lost" milestone of its decade. The DVD release preserves Gunn's original cut in superb condition (considering the film's turbulent history) and includes engaging commentary by surviving cast and crew and an insightful essay reprinted from Video Watchdog magazine. And while Ganja & Hess is certainly not for all tastes, there's no denying that its fully restored release on DVD represents an historic occasion that any cinephile should celebrate. --Jeff Shannon
Dr. Hess Green (Night of the Living Dead’s Duane Jones), a wealthy and respected African-American anthropologist, is assigned a new assistant, an intelligent but unstable man named George Meda (Bill Gunn). One drunken night, George stabs Hess with a dagger from the ancient African tribe of Myrthia and then kills himself. The Myrthians were cursed with a thirst for human blood, and, by the time George's wife, Ganja (Marlene Clark), comes looking for him, Hess has developed a similar addiction to blood. Hess and Ganja fall in love, and they soon marry, but Hess infects his new bride with the Myrthian curse, which gives them eternal life, but at a terrible price. Brand new high definition transfer and restoration.