Ganja & Hess

Jul 09 2012

Duane Jones (best known as Ben from the original Night Of The Living Dead) is Hess — an academic who is stabbed by his lunatic assistant (Bill Gunn). Leaving Hess for dead, the assistant then commits suicide. Improbably, Hess wakes up from his slight case of impalement feeling 100 per cent, with no sign of lacerations on his body. However, due to vampire microbes on the knife (let’s call them vampichlorians), Hess is now troubled by a thirst for human blood.

Soon, the now-dead assistant’s wife, Ganja, meets Hess to discuss her husband’s “disappearance”. Hess plays dumb about the whole “he went killed himself and made me a Blacula” thing. Remarkably, the two somehow hit it off and get married. It’s all a matter of time, however, before Ganja finds out the truth.

Ganja & Hess is a cult film with something of a storied past. After it was screened in its original cut, the film was taken away from its director and given some re-tooling so that it could play more like a blaxploitation film. Presented on DVD in its original form, I can see why that decision was made. Ganja is interesting from a technical perspective, particularly the soundtrack, which mostly consists of an eerily hypnotic thumping. Still, experimental waffling does not a movie make.

As much as I appreciate the ambition of Ganja, as well as its psychedelic qualities, it’s a somewhat incompetent outing. It’s a crime that this film is nearly two hours, when you could easily cut out a half-hour of this film and not miss a damn thing. Since the relationship between the title characters makes no sense, it wouldn’t harm the plot at all (I can see why the distributors re-edited the film. I’d love to see their version). Much like its imaginative soundtrack, Ganja & Hess is initially creative, but grows more repetitive and irritating with each passing minute. Avoid the film if you’re expecting anything more than a tedious curiosity.

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