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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/13/98

Ganja and Hess
Restored Director's Cut - 1973 (1998) - Chiz Schultz Inc. (All Day Entertainment)

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Film Rating: B+
One of the most unique and poignant tales of horror to be told, marked even more important by the impact this film has had on an entire genre of film. Ganga and Hess is a movie all film lovers should see, and film students should learn from.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/B
Clean audio, a transfer from a flawed source, but made beautiful with the digital transfer. Hey, you can't go wrong with a classic horror film that's 16x9 enhanced. Extras are mild, but still nice. And this has to be the most beautiful cover created for any DVD, courtesy of artist Bill Chancellor.

Overall Rating: B
Although not everyone's cup of tea, this is one of those movies everyone should see at least once. Like a beautiful painting, it's an artist's voice crying out from a work. Too bad the artist was stifled so soon, I would have loved to hear more on what Bill Gunn had to say.

Specs and Features

110 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single layered, Amaray keep case packaging, collection of production stills and artwork, 42 page essay by Tim Lucas and David Walker, audio commentary by producer Chiz Schultz, Marlene Clark (Ganga), director of photography James Hinton and composer Sam Waymon, film-themed menu pages, scene access (22 chapters), English (mono - two track)


Every once in a while, sometimes in a very long while, a movie comes along that redefines an entire genre. Even something as brainless as the action/adventure genre can get an invigorating shot. For example, after Die Hard made it's mark, every action film from that point forward was described as being "Die Hard on a . . .". Well, before Bruce Willis unleashed his smirk on audiences, back in 1973 to be precise, a production company called Kelly-Jordan Enterprises tapped an accomplished novelist and theater actor/writer/director named Bill Gunn to make a Blacula rip-off to further exploit the whole blaxpoitation genre. At that time, it was an untapped market -- and if the film was done right, it would have made a lot of money. The problem for Kelly-Jordan was that Gunn aspired to turn the opportunity he was given into a chance to create real art, rather than entertainment. It was a bad move for Gunn's commercial sensibilities -- but it was a broad genius stroke for the art form known as cinema. Ganga and Hess is very much a work of art. Right from the start, the stark imagery of huge granite bodies intertwined and a deep-voiced gospel song vibrating the scene will slowly, but surely, suck any audience member into this movie. Instead of redefining the black horror film genre, Bill Gunn redefined Black cinema history.

Ganja and Hess, as stated above, was supposed to be a black vampire story, and it is -- in a way. It's the story of Dr. Hess Green (Duane Jones), an anthropologist and geologist who specializes in the history of an ancient African civilization known as Myrhia. We learn that he was stabbed by an ancient dagger three times and is now cursed. Although the film never once utters the word "vampire", that's what Hess is. An undead vampire addicted to blood. But Ganja and Hess is more a tale of addiction than anything else. Gunn is saying to the audience, and using his characters as metaphoric examples, that we are all addicted to something. For some it's sex or drugs, for others it's DVD -- some expensive addictions to be sure. But for Hess it's blood and for Ganja (the mesmerizingly beautiful Marlene Clark) it's power in any form -- both as equally expensive. Ganja is the beautiful wife of George Meda (played with hypnotic grace by Bill Gunn himself). Meda is Hess' newest assistant, an emotional firecracker who ends up killing himself in Hess' home. Ganja comes to find him, and she and Hess fall in a twisted relationship based on love and sex, but not necessarily in that order. Believe me, it's easier to watch than it is to explain. Every action, in fact every movement in this film means something, and can't just be explained away. It's a film that needs to be seen, and felt, in order to truly understand it.

The wonderful thing about this DVD, is that without it, we wouldn't be able to see Ganja and Hess -- at least in this form. As film history buffs already know, Ganga was pulled from distribution after a week's release. It was reedited and renamed and in its newest forms (there are 6 versions floating around) was cursed by it's creator Bill Gunn. Its long and involved history is greatly detailed in the essay on the DVD by Video Watchdog creator and writer Tim Lucas and co-written by David Walker. It'll take you about 12 minutes to read, and it's worth the time taken. Another extra that adds some weight is the audio commentary. It's wonderful to listen to a group of people who so much love this film, and the filmmaker. It features the producer Chiz Schultz, Marlene Clark who played Ganga, composer Sam Waymon (who is that deep voice singing over the opening credits) and best of all the DP James Hinton. Hinton remembers each and every shot he made for this film like it was shot yesterday. And the film is beautiful. Never before this film was made, had a film featuring black actors made black characters look so good. His use of color and light is remarkable, and to know that it was filmed on a Super 16mm and blown up to 35mm is even more unbelievable.

The print itself is pretty good -- for what they had to use. There are so many factors to understand when it comes to this film. The print used was struck from a recently found 35mm print held by the original editor. No one knew of its existence until a few years ago -- and the only other print was housed at the Museum of Modern Art and was greatly damaged (and the original negative was destroyed making all the bastardized versions). There are some parts in the film showing extreme age, and the print can be grainy, but there are all source problems -- the digital transfer itself is honestly pretty good. There are little to no compression problems. I did notice that about 20 minutes into the disc, things looked really washed out and I couldn't really tell if it was the print of the transfer -- it cleared itself up, but popped back up 20 minutes later. The sound is a simple two track mono. There's no hissing or pops, and it comes out clean. All in all, it's a nice job.

Sadly, Gunn is not with us anymore, to see what a great reception his film is finally going to have in the states. Lead actor Duane Jones who gave Night Of The Living Dead the right human edge as Ben -- is a powerful presence here. Quite possibly one of the best actors to have worked on the screen, he too is off to a better stage. We are missing both of these great men's unique talents.

Bottom line

You can't deny the power that this film has, and being a DVD exclusive, it's a pretty powerful DVD as well. The only complains one could have is that the source print wasn't cleaner, but we have no one to blame but ourselves when it comes to that. This is the best we have, and thankfully we have it. No complaints here.

Todd Doogan
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