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Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Vampire > Voodoo > Supernatural > Ganja & Hess – The Complete Edition (Horror)

Ganja & Hess – The Complete Edition


Picture: C     Sound: C     Extras: B+     Film: B+



Ganja & Hess (1973) is back in a new DVD edition from All Day Entertainment and Image Entertainment.  As previously reviewed in its now out of print edition, it is an amazing low budget Horror film that is filled with elements of Vampirism, the occult, and a struggle between Christianity in the Western (read white) and African (read black) worlds.  There are the white churches and their take on Christ, as well as the Baptist take that is primarily African-American.  In addition to this simple duality is the additional hauntings of Voodoo and even Catholicism that run throughout this film.  Even after al the Blade feature films and awful TV series, not to mention other very, very bad Vampire and Voodoo releases, the film has only gained in value.


To recap, Dr. Hess Green (Duane Jones of George Romero’s original 1968 Night of the Living Dead, which has had yet another sequel since the release of the last version of this film on DVD) is stabbed under strange circumstances, by an ancient African dagger relic, suddenly gets a thirst for blood, and can remain immortal except for the quenching that one appetite.  Or at least that seems to be the case in the beginning.  Besides the struggle between the various religious movements from thousands of years of Christianity, there is the doctor’s murder of George Mead (the film’s writer-director, Bill Gunn).  This brings the arrival of his wife Ganja (Marlene Clark), who starts to fall for the doctor, despite demands about the whereabouts of her husband.


Logic gives way to the supernatural throughout the film in a way that is sudden, creepy, yet ultimately makes sense.  The acting is not bad either, thanks to Gunn’s tight ideas about what he is doing.  This film was butchered into at least six other known versions that could not have made any sense, but it is now the way the late Gunn intended it.  It is a lost classic of authentic Black cinema in the United States and a Horror gem that manages to dodge the so-called “Blaxploitation” cycle altogether, though several of those senseless versions tried hard to make it fit that mode.


Looking at it again, a few years later, its status as at least a minor classic has become more obvious as the genre has suffered through a new cycle of inane remakes of any Horror film with a known name just to squeeze a few bucks out of it.  Happening in fuller force since the first DVD was issued and our last review happened three years ago, it has been spared the degradation for now.  Maybe because it is so subversive, challenging and is still ahead of its time as portraying African Americans as intelligent and able-bodied.  In recent such horror films, like the bad remakes, African Americans (if present at all) have been incidental and the only African American Horror projects have been incidental to Hip Hop projects that have all been very bad and never understood (or even cared about) the genre.


The film is as visual as anything and requires a serious attention span, something increasingly lacking in audiences thanks to Hollywood deadly combo of “dumbing down = quick bucks” that is finally backfiring.  It becomes a purposely creepy and even profound cinematic experience that has a true sense of density and palpability that makes it as effective now as the first time you see it.  Kalat’s comparison to Carl Theodore Dreyer’s classic Vampyr (1932) is accurate, though the film is not trying to rip it off by any means.  I agreed with this point as addressed in my essay on vampirism in cinema which you can read more about at the following link:





Overall, how this film can be so great and literally hundreds like it can be so bad and disposable with tons of financial and technological resources in embarrassing.  More and more, Ganja & Hess is becoming an undiscovered genre classic that may even be more.  You should immediately put in on your must-see list, whether you have actually seen it before or never have.  If you saw a lesser butchered version on film, TV or tape, you will definitely want to trade up.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image is from various materials in 35mm or Super 16mm and is the same transfer as the previous DVD.  It was Super 16mm that the film originated in and cinematographer James Hinton did an amazing job with stocks of the time in capturing the fictional tale.  Super 16mm was new at the time, but a step above the 16mm that was being used on many a documentary and Rockumentary.  Though quality varies at times, the interesting choices of color, the open spaces, and unusual angles add up to a very visually memorable experience.  The print materials show their age.  It can be said that the film had somewhat of an influence on Stanley Kubrick’s two tales of domestic horrors: The Shining (1980) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999), but you can judge for yourself.


The Dolby Digital 2.0 is Mono for the film, while Stereo for the commentary track.  Though it is not known if any of the music exists in stereo, the sound was recorded on location for a majority of the film and the persons involved in restoration have kept it in its original mono.  That location recording has some minor problems.  The combination of music score and sound effects design is remarkable and will make you wish the film was stereo, but it is extremely effective in either case.  This reconstruction job is good enough to be very effective.  Together, sound and picture, along with its various elements, averages out.


With even further advances in restoration, photochemical and digital, it will be interesting to see what happens when this gets issued in high definition and future 35mm theatrical releases.  All Day is not dealing with any HD formats yet, though Image has initially threw their support behind HD-DVD and if any All Day/Image film would really work and make sense in the new format, this would be at the top of the list.  David Kalat has painstakingly reconstructed so many films that he has become one of the restoration champs in saving vital films everyone should see.  We have reviewed just about all of them and he has made All Day one of the great indie video labels.  Though expensive, his move in to HD cannot happen soon enough.


Though this DVD and restoration was issued back in 1998 form a transfer master made at that time, it still holds up enough eight years later despite more obvious flaws.  The original extras included the fun, smart commentary track, 1991 Video Watchdog essay by Tim Lucas & David Walker in DVD-ROM form that you can print and photo gallery.  The new and very welcome extras include the excellent The Blood Of The Thing featurette where the principles who made the film talk on camera about the long road to getting the film made running about a half-hour, the screenplay in DVD-ROM form that you can print and an amusing Ganja & Hess Reduced segment Kalat does audio commentary on to this abbreviated version of the film which highlights key scenes and expands analysis on them.  A great independent Horror classic just got better with the upgraded special edition.  Ganja & Hess – The Complete Edition is simply (I’ll say it again) must-see for all serious film fans, especially those who fancy themselves big Horror and Vampire fans.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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