Ganja and Hess is a 1973 Vampires film starring Duane Jones. Jones is best known for his role of Ben in George Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead. Jones plays Dr Hess Green a archaeologist studying the ancient African kingdom of Myrthia. His assistant played by Bill Gunn, who also directs, is unstable and subject to bouts of violence. In one of his "freak outs" he stabs Green with an ancient Mythrian dagger and becomes infected with vampirism. After the assistant commits suicide his wife shows up searching for him and almost immediately falls in love with Hess and the two get married. While Ganja seems more than complacent in her new vampiric lifestyle, Hess seeks release from the curse. Playing vampirism for the most part more realistically than most films, they can walk in the sunlight and do not have fangs, they do crave blood and are essentially immortal. Hess does eventually find his release.
Ganja and Hess is a slow moving film but thanks in large part to the acting of Jones and Marlene Clark as Ganja, the film is never boring. It is visually very colorful and trippy fitting in with the time period it was filmed. Not excessively gory there are some scenes of fairly explicit violence.
At its most basic Ganja and Hess is a very unconventional vampire film. Below the surface it is also a film about addiction, comparing the addiction of drugs to slavery. The characters names are a not subtle hint at what this film is about, Hess being slang for hash and Ganja a common slang for marijuana. The only cure for vampirism in Ganja and Hess is surrendering to religion. This echos the role of religion in breaking drug addiction in real life. While many may argue that religion is just a placebo, it is a fact that many religious organizations are active in fighting addiction. Likewise religion was a vital part in freedom from slavery and a integral part of African American culture.
In the modern age of vampire redaction and pre-teen pablum such as Twilight, it is interesting to see a truly original take on vampirism. Ganja and Hess is not a kiddie film as it contains nudity, sex, violence and drug use among other nasties. Ganja and Hess belong to an era where story was more important than flash, and leading men needed talent not just emo hair and smooth skin. If you are a true horror fan, fan of Duane Jones or just a real movie fan, do yourself a favor and check out Ganja and Hess