Ganja & Hess (1973)

How do I even begin to describe Ganja & Hess? I’d first learned of it watching a documentary, and I cannot for the life of me remember the name of it, but it’s the kind of thing you watch if you’re too lazy to pick up a book about film, I guess. It was a long time ago, so I don’t remember much of what was said about Ganja & Hess, but I can pretty well assume it didn’t even begin to describe the film.

Duane Jones (yep, the guy from Night of the Living Dead) plays Dr. Hess Green, a very wealthy anthropologist (?!) studying the ancient civilization of Myrthia. Like every rich, professional anthropologist he brings home pieces from the excavation site (?!), one of which happens to be a dagger that turns those stabbed with it into vampires (or, more accurately, blood addicts). Hess has just hired George Meda to be his new assistant (played by the director, Bill Gunn). As the two have a few drinks together, we find out quickly Meda is super unstable and suicidal.

During the night, Meda takes the dagger and stabs Hess, then proceeds to shoot himself in the chest. Hess awakens from the incident with an insatiable taste for blood, and laps up what’s been spilled out of Meda’s body. What follows are a few scenes of Hess searching through the city for new prey to sate his thirst. For a while there, it seems like Hess is feeling all right about his new lot in life, but suddenly he gets a call from a woman named Ganja claiming to be Meda’s wife. Hess tells her Meda has disappeared, and Ganja insists Hess let her stay at his house until he shows up. Ganja & Hess have a contentious relationship at first, but then it is clear they share a mutual attraction.

Sure, maybe on the surface this is sort of a vampire movie, but you don’t have to look very far to see there’s so much more going on here. It’s not about some guy with fangs preying on your young women at night, but it’s about addiction, classism, racism, and probably a lot of other -isms and -tions that smart people could talk to you all night about. This is not a throwaway trash flick, this is interesting, thought-provoking and unique. Still, I can’t say I loved it, and by the end of it my exasperation took over and I was ready for it to end. But after having thought about it for a few days, I like it more, and I want to see it again. The best thing a good movie can make you do is think, right? You don’t actually have to like it very much for it to be good.

Surely it is worth mentioning that Bill Gunn was expected to make a throwaway blaxploitation vampire film, and when he showed this print of Ganja & Hess to the financiers it was clearly not what they expected. As a result, I believe there exist more than a handful of different versions out there, slicing up the film in hopes of giving the audience the blaxploitation they were looking for, instead of the thoughtful social commentary Gunn produced.

This movie is definitely not for everyone, and not just because of the sensitive nature of the subject matter or the full-frontal male nudity. Regardless of how intelligently this film is it is still a B movie – it looks good, but you can tell it was cheap, and the acting isn’t all that great, either, but I’ve never let these things bother me. Besides, this is kind of a movie you need to watch.


3 Responses to “Ganja & Hess (1973)”

  1. 1 ladyfaceladyface
    November 5, 2012 at 4:42 am

    If only all anthropologists were so interesting.

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