Ganja and Hess / Double Possession / Blood Couple (1973)

Ganja and Hess / Double Possession / Blood Couple (1973)

“Everybody’s some kind of freak!”

After a Black anthropologist (Duane Jones) is stabbed by his suicidal assistant (Bill Gunn), he becomes a vampire, eventually seducing Gunn’s widow (Marlene Clark).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • African Americans
  • Horror Films
  • Vampires

Writer-director-actor Bill Gunn was expected to make a follow-up vampire flick akin to the phenomenally popular blaxploitation film Blacula (1972), but instead made this highly atmospheric experimental film which requires some analysis (and likely a re-watching) to fully parse. As noted by Stuart Galbraith in his review for DVD Talk, “There’s practically nothing to compare Ganja & Hess to in either all of black cinema or the horror genre, and because the film is very much its own animal, audiences often don’t quite know what to make of it.” Indeed, Ganja and Hess was notoriously re-cut and re-distributed numerous times under different titles in an attempt to make it more appealing, but is thankfully now available once again in Gunn’s original vision — which seems entirely appropriate for such an experimental film. While it’s not for all tastes and moves too slowly at times, it’s recommended for one-time viewing given its unique place in Black cinema.

Note: Fans of Night of the Living Dead (1968) will likely be thrilled to see its star, Duane Jones, on-screen again in one of his very few movie roles.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the three leads

  • Atmospheric cinematography by James E. Hinton

  • Sam L. Waymon’s score

Must See?
Yes, once, as an unusual cult movie and for its historical significance.


  • Cult Movie
  • Historically Relevant


2 thoughts on “Ganja and Hess / Double Possession / Blood Couple (1973)

  1. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Superb arthouse horror and, as pointed out, unlike anything else. Totally unique. It is very oblique and not at all what either fans of blaxploitation nor horror were expecting.

    Mesmerizing, intriguing take on vampirism is more concenred with it’s characters and eshews the usual trappings of such things. Beautifully shot on Super16 by George Hinton; my favourite shot is of a lovemaking couple doused in blood. Very deliberately paced this seems to be making veiled comments on the state of the US Afro-Carribean community and how it relates to the US class structure.

    A must see.

  2. First viewing. Skip it.

    Strangeness on parade – without being at all satisfying. To be honest, I was looking forward to a viewing (partially due to the fact that Gunn was gay – or at least mostly gay, reportedly) – but I found it to be a lethally slow and somewhat painful experience. And mostly dumb.

    Even allowing for the possibility of a ‘creative’ riff on vampire lore, this just fails miserably. Based on how they clumsily play out, sections of it (i.e., Hess’ transition to becoming a vampire, Ganja’s decision to forgive Hess for murdering her husband!) simply make no sense.

    As well, most of the dialogue is just plain awful. Much of what Clark goes on about… sheesh!

    In speaking about the overall negative critical reception the film received on its initial release, Gunn (as quoted in Cineaste) said:

    “It is a terrible thing to be a black artist in this country. If I were white, I would probably be called ‘fresh and different.’ If I were European, ‘Ganja & Hess’ might be ‘that little film you must see.’ Because I am black, I do not even deserve the pride that one American feels for another when he discovers that a fellow countryman’s film has been selected as the only American film to be shown during Critic’s Week at the Cannes Film Festival… Not one white critic from any of the major newspapers even mentioned it.”

    I can sympathize with part of that rationale. I can also sense Gunn playing the race card. My personal criticism has absolutely nothing at all to do with his being black. It has everything to do with the film being BAD.

    What’s worse (and perplexing)… the film contains hints of where Gunn might actually have done something interesting while *still* being edgy. He just didn’t do it.

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