Dr. Hess Green becomes cursed by a mysterious ancient African artifact and is overwhelmed with a newfound thirst for blood – but he’s not a vampire. Soon after his transformation he enters into a dangerous romance with Ganja Hightower that questions the very nature of love, addiction, sex, and status.
The films of Spike Lee (or should I call them “Joints“?), range through a variety of genres. He’s directed films like Do The Right Thing (2000), Malcolm X (2000), School Daze (2000), Inside Man (2000) & Oldboy (2014). He’s also directed a number of well received documentaries and even a musical, School Daze (2000). But one genre he’s never tackled up until now is the horror genre, and while the title of his latest film, Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus, might not sound like a horror film – it indeed is (albeit one filled with tons of subversive social commentary in it). And like last year’s Oldboy, it’s a remake of a film from director Bill Gunn called Ganja and Hess (1973), which starred the late Duane Jones of Night Of The Living Dead fame.
The film tells the story of Dr. Hess Greene (Stephen Tyler Williams), a recluse who just happens to be a world renowned anthropologist. While working on some artifacts from the fabled Ashanti Empire, he comes across a legendary dagger that is supposedly cursed. He brings it back to his home in the Hamptons for further study, but after having dinner with his suicidal research assistant, Dr. Hightower (Elvis Nolasco), he finds himself under attack from his assistant and is eventually stabbed to death with the cursed dagger. Hightower commits suicide after believing he killed Dr. Green, but Dr. Green isn’t dead. The curse associated with the dagger is indeed true, and Dr. Green finds himself alive and thirsty. Thirsty for blood.
Shortly after his resurrection, Dr. Green gets a call from Hightower’s ex wife, Ganja (Zaraah Abrahams), who unexpectedly shows up. She’s looking for her ex husband, and knows that this is the last place he’s been. Dr. Green sends his manservant, Seneschal (Rami Malek), to pick her up, and she immediately makes herself at home. She also happens to be a first class harridan, a bitch of the highest order. But she finds herself swayed by the good doctor’s aloof attitude and falls in love with him. This despite the fact that she’s discovered her ex husband’s body stored in a freezer kept in Dr. Green’s basement. When confronted with her discovery, Dr. Green convinces her that he can provide her with eternal life, if she’s willing to listen to him. Eventually, he too falls in love with her and after a short wedding ceremony, turns her into the same kind of creature he is.
But what kind of creature is he exactly? Although Gunn’s original film went through a variety of title changes (Blood Couple, Black Vampire & Vampires Of Harlem to name a few) in a failed attempt to make some money, his film wasn’t about vampires at all – it was more of a treatise on assimilation, religious hypocricy & white imperialism. Some called it brilliant, and while I find the original film interesting, it’s hardly worthy of the acclaim heaped upon it by most. In my opinion, it’s a very slow, dialog heavy film overladen with metaphors that leaden its already dreary pace. That being said, it does have its moments, and is worthy of space in your collection for historical purposes if nothing else. The biggest mistake Lee makes with his remake is that he hems way too closely to the source material. In some instances, he recreates entire scenes from the original film, and in doing so adds nothing new to the script (which is credited to both Lee and Gunn). Lee doesn’t add much of a sense of purpose to the proceedings here, he seems content to let the story play itself out very slowly, not demanding too much from its audience. He does add a few flourishes though, especially in an extremely graphic sex scene featuring Abrahams and actress Nate Bova that’ll push a few buttons for sure. Lee also spins the ending of the original just a tad, although he frames the scene exactly the same way. There’s also a odd opening credit sequence featuring dancer Charles “Lil Buck” Riley doing his thing in & around Lee’s beloved Brooklyn nabe that looks wonderful, but is entirely out of place with the film that follows.
All of the performances are first rate, but Malek really steals every scene he’s in as Seneschal. The cinematography (by Daniel Patterson) takes full advantage of the gorgeous Hamptons beachfront, and gives the entire film a otherworldly vibe. The score (by Bruce Hornsby) feels oddly out of place though and Lee makes the odd choice to feature a multitude of R & B/Rap tunes throughout the film that sometime feel as if they’re overwhelming the film’s already sparse dialog. There’s hardly a moment during which music isn’t played behind a scene and it became a distraction to me after awhile. I suppose the message Lee is trying to get across is that everyone is addicted to something, whether it be cigarettes, sex, drugs or blood – but that’s not an especially novel idea in this day and age. And quite frankly, Gunn did it better 45 years ago. But if you’re a Lee devotee, then you’ll be seeing this film no matter what I say. If you’re unfamiliar with the original film, then Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus merits a viewing. But you might be better off seeking out the original and seeing the great Duane Jones (& Marlene Clark as Ganja), in their heyday.
Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus – 1.5 out of 5 shrouds.
Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus is now available on bluray per Anchor Bay