Da Sweet Blood of Jesus review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Where, oh, where has Spike Lee gone? A filmmaker who was once so highly regarded for his challenging and well-made films about race in America seems lost in where he wants to go next. I can’t help but feel that he really wants to branch out and try something different from the expected. Few would consider him a candidate for remaking the Korean action/drama Oldboy, but he took on the role of director for that project with mixed results. Similar to how Lee stuck close to the source material of that film, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus has a certain level of loyalty as well in how it taps the avant garde 70’s horror picture Ganja & Hess with an odd sort of remake.
Spike Lee plays this movie mostly by ear - sticking to the nightmarish and strange tone of the original. He attempts to weave a different sort of the film the way he opens with a Brooklyn dancer on the streets of New York. The dancer does little more than offer up an atmosphere that will fluctuate throughout the picture. This starts becoming more evident in how we get to know Doctor Hess Green (Stephen Tyrone Williams), a black art collector infatuated with the Ashanti Empire. He frequents churches and museums, speaking with an almost too straight line of tone as if he were reading the script like a strict Shakespeare play. His latest treasure is a dagger that he believes was an instrument in blood transfusions. His lunatic of a friend Lafayette (Elvis Nolasco) put this theory to the test by stabbing Hess and then murdering himself. The build-up to this scene doesn’t make too much sense and neither does the following scene in which Hess drinks Lafayette’s blood to become a vampire. The script just wants to get to the bloodsucking ASAP.
The rest of the picture plays out as a modern black vampire tale which dances around all manner of aspects. As a respectable member of his upscale neighborhood, Hess tries to make his vampire lifestyle work as best he can. He secretly swipes blood from a blood bank, but cannot sustain himself on having a few cups at a dinner party. Seeking flesh, Hess employs a prostitute to seduce and drink. Slowly, Lee plays out the sex scene through mounting degrees of intimacy until the eventual bite. But, whoops, turns out the hooker has HIV. Time to get tested and practice safe bloodsucking. Can vampires even get HIV? I’m now curious how messed up Dracula’s blood must have been with so much mixing without checking sexual history.
Hess’ blood hunting continues on with various men and women, eventually adding a female partner in crime as his new vampiric wife. They put on a show by inviting a woman into their home that they share with another slow and sensual scene before devouring her nude form. There are plenty of areas to explore from such a concept. At one point Hess targets an inner city mother with a baby forming a small bond before sharing a bed to murder her. This is an opportune moment of commentary on the state of women being victimized in the city and the painful fate of their children, but it seems somewhat lost for its slow and brief construction. The same goes for the aspects of sexually transmitted diseases, upscale living, unorthodox husband/wife relationships and the swinger lifestyle.
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus has some interesting ideas, but is a bloody mess of them. There’s some definite style to the production - a directorial flair that hasn’t quite evaporated from Spike Lee’s joints. But the movie ultimately just feels like a love letter to indie horror of the 1970’s than anything else it may have been aiming for. While I can’t quite recommend the film for its stilted acting and lack of capitalizing on its potential story, I must admit I was never bored with the movie. And, for what it’s worth, it does embody an affectionate tone for those 70’s horror pictures. That doesn’t exactly make it good, but it at least displays that Lee is knowledgeable about the type of movie he wants to make more or less.