Posted by: John Gholson
First things first, I can almost guarantee you’ve never seen a film like Bill Gunn’s 1973 effort Ganja & Hess. Perhaps incorrectly labeled as “blaxploitation” because of the time period in which it was released, this vampire movie is about as far from something like Blacula as you can possibly get. Kino Lorber, along with the Museum of Modern Art, has restored the film from its abbreviated 78 minutes to the director’s 110-minute vision, and in doing so, has presented us with a soulful, difficult film that’s more of a loose collection of atmospheric sequences than a 1970’s shocker. The movie it reminded me of the most was Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, but even then, that film is more concerned with its narrative than Gunn’s avant garde take on horror.
Duane Jones, recognizable to horror fans everywhere as Ben from Night of the Living Dead, plays Hess Green, who we’re told is cursed with vampirism by being stabbed with a cursed dagger before the film begins. Hess treats his curse a little bit like one might treat a compulsive secret – with personal fulfillment and privacy. He meets Ganja (Marlene Clark), the widow of one of his victims, and she’s unusually tolerant of his vampirism (such is love). Soon, his private activity becomes a shared one.