Spike Lee Has Remade “GANJA & HESS” with “DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS”
In 2013, the great Spike Lee turned to Kickstarter ostensibly to help fund a film with little commercial interest. Titled DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS, the picture was given an intriguing, vague synopsis that hinted at a story of vampirism. It read, “A film about human beings who are addicted to blood. It’s a new kind of love story (and not a remake of “Blacula”). It has however, ended up a remake of something else entirely: Bill Gunn’s hallucinatory addiction fable, GANJA & HESS.
A 1973 feature which boasts a starring role from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD’s Duane Jones, GANJA & HESS was long unseen in its proper form. Recut into the 76 minute Blaxploitation film BLOOD COUPLE (despite a rousing reception at Cannes), Gunn’s film was restored thanks to one surviving print and released on DVD in 1998.
Apparently highly influential on Lee, GANJA & HESS has now been refashioned into DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS, just months after his seemingly less passionate take on OLDBOY hit theaters. DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS premiered Sunday, June 22 at the American Black Film Festival in New York City where Indiewire’s Eric Kohn tweeted this image of the film’s press notes, which confirmed the film’s main source of inspiration.
Hewing close to GANJA & HESS’ plot and characters, DA SWEET BLOOD… stars Stephen Tyrone Williams as ancient art scholar Dr. Greene, who’s stabbed with a cursed blade and stricken with an addiction to blood. Soon, he’s in a torrid affair with Ganja, the widow of his deceased research partner (who is likely the counterpart of the suicidal George Meda, played by Bill Gunn, in GANJA & HESS). From there, reports indicate Lee has veered off into an entirely different tone. While pegged as being meditative, much like GANJA, reviews of DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS are finding the film unique and playful, a stylistic horror-comedy in line with Lee’s aesthetic and European art horror (indicated by the image above of Zaraah Abrahams as Ganja).
Jordan Hoffman at The Guardian writes, “The transformative nature of blood has inspired deep thinkers of theology as well as the crass schlockmeisters of cheap-o horror. For Spike Lee, his newest picture Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is a hearty gulp from both glasses.” He later calls DA SWEET BLOOD… a “peculiar film that may be uneven, but is too unique and enjoyable to dismiss.”
Other write-ups and notes follow suit, describing DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS as messy, but winning and full of creativity and ideas. Not surprising, considering Lee is just that when at is most creative and energetic.
No news has broken on when the world at large will see DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS, but by virtue of it being a. A new Spike Lee joint, B. A new Spike Lee joint that’s something of a horror movie and C. A new Spike Lee join that remakes GANJA & HESS, I hope it’s quite soon. If you’ve yet to see GANJA & HESS, it’s currently available on DVD, Blu-ray and Amazon streaming. It’s utterly fascinating, alive filmmaking. Like its first audience is saying of DA SWEET BLOOD…, GANJA & HESS is imperfect, but truly special. For more, find Phil Nobile Jr.’s excellent look at its content and history here.