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Ganja & Hess 18

Part of Black History Month
Bill Gunn, USA, 1976, 110m.

Ganja & Hess is a unique and radically black take on the vampire genre. With hallucinatory visuals, it not only reshaped the black imagination, it also changed what vampires could signify on screen. Although director Bill Gunn – riding a wave of blaxploitation bloodsuckers in the early 1970s – said “the last thing I want to do is make a black vampire film”, he paved a path for black filmmakers to use genre to say what is unsayable without it.

Black anthropologist Dr Hess Green (Duane Jones) is researching the Mythrians, an ancient African nation who ritually drank blood. When he is stabbed with one of their artefacts, a mystic dagger wielded by his deranged assistant Meda (director Bill Gunn), it awakens an unquenchable thirst. When Meda’s wife Ganja (Marlene Clark) searches for her husband, she is converted and learns to live with the demands put on her by her new life.

Later remade by Spike Lee (Da Sweet Blood of Jesus), Ganja & Hess gave its star Duane Jones another classic horror title to his name, alongside his lead in Night of the Living Dead. Seeing the African American experience as parallel to the vampire’s experience of violent transformation and complex assimilation, Ganja & Hess articulated a conflicted yearning for freedoms beyond the recent Civil Rights struggle.

Later recut and released in an inferior version, this restoration represents the original release, restored by The Museum of Modern Art with support from The Film Foundation, and mastered in HD from a 35mm negative.

Content warning: Contains depictions of suicide

Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn, Sam Waymon

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