Plot: What’s it about?
When Ganja (Marlene Clark) returns home to visit her husband, little does she know waits lurks there instead. Her husband has been killed and is hidden within a freezer, but she has no idea that his murderer will greet her at the front door of her home. That man is Dr. Hess Green (Duane Jones), who seems like a decent enough guy, but inside he harbors the desires of a blood thirsty vampire. But Hess is not a savage by any means and in truth, he is plagued with guilt and due to his strong religious ties, he is unsure of how to proceed with his life. He struggles with the reality that he has killed and will probably kill again, but then again, he is not always able to resist when his vampiric instincts kick in. As time passes and he gets to know Ganja, he begins to feel strongly for her and as such, begins to fear the time when he must turn or kill her. But he also has other guilt issues and even though he tries to keep a religious sense about him, it might be too much to handle in the end, even for Hess.
I think Ganja & Hess is a landmark film in many respects, but I do understand why some folks dislike it. If you need a traditional narrative and well defined film, then this one isn’t going to be your style in the least. But as Ganja & Hess more than proves, you can tell a story in a non traditional, very visual manner and have it work, so long as it is in the right hands. A lot of films shoot for a dreamlike atmosphere and such, but very few succeed and among those that do, this picture is one of the finest examples. As the case is with any movie, this one has some flaws to be seen, but the good far outweighs the bad here, at least in my opinion. This picture has elements of horror, blaxploitation, and some real offbeat stuff too, but it just doesn’t fit into any of those genres in clean fashion. This disc from All Day Entertainment restores the film to the intended director’s cut, as it had been hacked many times before, so it could run in various drive in features. I recommend this movie to all fans of cinema and with such a deluxe treatment, this disc makes the perfect chance to give this flick a spin. I think All Day Entertainment (distributed via Image Entertainment) deserves some recognition for their work here, very impressive indeed.
Although he was involved in only a handful of motion pictures, Bill Gunn left his mark on the business. I am unsure of why Gunn never directed again after Ganja & Hess, but I think he could have done some cool flicks. As I mentioned above, this movie has a very dreamlike feel and appearance, which adds a lot to the impact of the film in the end. It would have been easier for Gunn to create a more traditional film here, to be sure, but thankfully, he made a film that was in a league by itself. As is the case with most movies from the 1970s, this one can be a little dated at times, but I don’t think it lessens the film in the least, sometimes it even adds to the effectiveness. As this disc houses the original director’s cut of the picture, we can all see Ganja & Hess in the proper form. The cast of Ganja & Hess includes Duane Jones (Night of the Living Dead, Negatives), Marlene Clark (Switchblade Sisters, Enter The Dragon), Enrico Fales, Richard Harrow, Betty Barney, Tara Fields, and even Gunn himself shows up in the film.
Video: How does it look?
Ganja & Hess is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I never expected to see this movie in such fine form, but I am very pleased it has been given this new anamorphic transfer. Some scenes show some wear and debris, but in the end, this is a terrific overall presentation and I think fans will be very pleased. Most of the picture looks very clean and sharp, but some also show moderate to heavy grain, although as I said, most look very good. The colors look solid here, with little fading I could see, while the contrast is level and stark also. As I said, some problematic sequences arise, but on the whole, this is a very strong transfer.
Audio: How does it sound?
Not a lot to talk about here, this disc houses a very clean mono mix, which stands up well. The music sounds good here and not too limited, while the sound effects come off as smooth and distinct as well. But this isn’t an explosive film in terms of audio, don’t expect a powerhouse mix out of this material. The real focus here is on the dialogue and it sounds very good, crisp vocals and no volume problems in the least. This mix won’t blow you away by any means, but it handles this material in clean, crisp fashion.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This includes a very informative and extensive text essay by Tim Lucas and David Walker, a selection of production stills and promotional materials, and an excellent audio commentary track. The track features Sam Waymon (soundtrack composer), Marlene Clark (performer), James Hinton (cinematographer), and Chris Schultz (producer), all of whom seem to have a lot to say about this flick. I was very impressed with how much insight is given here and if you’re a fan of Ganja & Hess, this is a must listen track, even if you usually skip audio commentaries.