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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus

Spike Lee, with his 2014 film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, tries something ambitious: an erotic supernatural thriller, but with art-house pretentions. He succeeds about half the time. Even though it's not a complete success it has some interest.

Based on a 1973 film called Ganji and Hess, Lee fashions a vampire tale incorporating the African American experience, transubstantiation, and old-fashioned horror. An expert in African culture, Stephen Tyrone Williams, receives a ceremonial sword from the Ashanti empire. He describes how they were doing blood transfusions way before the time of ancient Egypt, and how they came to be addicted to blood.

Williams' assistant, an unhinged man, stabs him with the sword and then commits suicide. Williams comes back to life, and then licks up his killers' blood as if he were a cat at a saucer of milk.

The rules, as it were, of Williams' affliction are unclear. It seems he can eat and drink, unlike vampires, and walk in the sun, etc. But he has a thirst for human blood that goes beyond using bags of it. He murders a prostitute, and then goes to New York and picks up a young mother and kills her. But they come back to life, presumably hungry for blood themselves.

His assistant's ex-wife (Zaraah Abrahams) comes looking for her ex and falls in lust/love with Williams, not knowing her former spouse is in the freezer. Even after she learns this she is indoctrinated into the blood cult, and, in a scene that will please those who like girl-girl sex scenes, gets her first kill with Williams' old girlfriend, who shows off everything.

As often with Lee, the interesting elements of the story are not satisfactorily tied together and the point seems to be lost. We see scenes of a small Baptist church in Brooklyn, and the point about drinking Jesus' blood and eating his flesh is well noted, but beyond that I'm not sure what message Lee has. The film has long stretches of inaction (Lee does not like making anything under two hours, it seems).

Before I started my Spike Lee film festival I had never heard of this film. It did have a theatrical release, but was also VOD. The funding came from Kickstarter. I will say this about Lee--he has never sacrificed his principles. No superhero films for him.

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