Wow! My Best Blind Buy In a Long Time: Code Red's Lord Shango

Admittedly, calling something "my best blind buy in a long time" doesn't carry so much weight when you learn that I almost never blind buy.  It's fun to see people talking online about blind buying Scream Factory and Arrow titles like, "this sounds interesting," and guessing which will be the best to pre-order, when I grew up on all these movies and know exactly how good or not I think they are.  And when I don't know the movies but I think they're up my alley, I'll turn the internet upside down and shake out versions to test and see if I really need it in my collection or not.  But when Code Red announced Lord Shango as an upcoming title, it looked super interesting, and I just couldn't find a version to preview anywhere.  I saw the trailer and some clips, but that was it, so I took a gamble... and fucking won!
First, let me tell you what Lord Shango is not: blaxploitation.  Yeah, it's a 70s movie with an all black cast and crew (well, I'm not entirely sure about director Ray Marsh, who also worked on the recent Code Red release A Knife for the Ladies), and a lot of great music.  But this is to something like Sugar Hill what Ganja and Hess is to Blacula.  In fact, this stars Marlene "Hess" Clark, who commands the screen here as much as she did there, and she's surrounded by an equally strong cast.  And it's written by playwright Paul Carter Harrison; so yeah, come in looking for some serious, intelligent drama with a violent/ horror twist, not severed limbs and naked breasts.
Lord Shango is set in a small town... somewhere, where the community is divided between devout Christianity and an old voodoo-like religion that worships the titular Shango.  Clark's having trouble getting pregnant and thinks going with daughter to get baptized may bring them luck, but her daughter's fiancee is a devout disciple of Shango and interrupts the proceedings.  So the Christian clergy drown him in the baptism waters(!).  The next night, the daughter thinks she's being visited by him, but really it's her stepfather/ Clark's husband, who gets her pregnant.  The plot gets more intricate, and I won't spoil it all, but it essentially boils down to a bit of a bloody back and forth with this crazy family drama caught in between two religions, one of which happens to call for a lot of blood sacrifices.  There is definitely a supernatural element to the proceedings, and people get killed, so it does qualify as a horror film.  But it definitely leans more towards the serious drama side, and it's definitely not an FX film.  I like how neither religion is depicted as saintly and perfect, and neither is demonized, like you'd usually see in a little film like this... they're both largely trying to do right but can't escape their member's human flaws.
Code Red's brand new blu-ray release is almost Lord Shango's debut on disc.  It's been included in a couple of those budget multi-pack sets from BCI, but that's it until now.  Code Red's given it an all new HD master for 2016, presenting the film to us in widescreen for pretty much the very first time since it's limited theatrical run back in the 70s.
The film is presented in 1.78:1, or 1.77 if you want to split hairs, and is generally a very strong HD transfer of some rather worn, dusty film elements.  The picture is steady, grain looks natural, but there's a lot of fading and aging.  The first twenty minutes or so sports a lot of dirt and damage, including vertical green lines through the picture, but that does tend to clear up as the film proceeds, only worsening again at the reel changes.  In other words, another of Code Red's patented "grindhouse prints," although it's not as bad as The Redeemer or is most infamous ones.  Obviously, a pristine picture from an immaculate OCN would be ideal, and this picture does at time get spotty, with colors fading in and out; but it's very watchable.  The audio's got a bit of hiss to it as well, which comes and goes, but it's perfectly fine.  Only one scene in the beginning as characters yelling at and over each other has it actually hard to make out the dialogue, and I do wonder if an ultra-high end cleanup by LucasFilm could've cleared that up a little, but that's obviously how the scene was designed.
It's impressive to see any extras at all on this off-the-track little film, so it's not surprising we don't get very much.  The main feature is an interview with Marlene Clark, which the case and opening title refers to as a "career interview," where she talks about her whole film career rather than Lord Shango specifically.  Okay, but it's not even rally that.  She's just talking about Night Of the Cobra Woman and Black Mamba, and that's it.  Kind of random.  Is this an excerpt from her interview on Scorpion's recent Night Of the Cobra Woman release?  Or maybe Code Red was planning a Black Mamba release, but scrapped it?  I don't know, but something like that is going on here.  Still, Marlene was funny and it's a good interview.  But it would've been nice if she mentioned Lord Shango at least once.
The only other extra is the trailer, which is pretty low quality and probably taken from the internet.  But I'm still glad they've included it, because it's got some cool narration and gives you a glimpse of the film in a fullscreen version.  So we can kinda appreciate how far the blu-ray has taken us.
So overall, I'd say this is a pretty excellent blu-ray of a surprisingly good movie.  Ganja and Hess is a great barometer for if you'll like this.  Not just because Marlene Clark fans will be happy, but because the film has a similar tone and sensibilities.  If you're looking for more of a fun or trashy experience, this won't be for you.  There are no cool kills, and Shango doesn't reveal himself to be a laser-shooting demon at the end.  But I was very impressed with it, not to mention relieved that I didn't blind buy a dud.  I did that once.  It was called The Dead Hate the Living.

6 comments:

  1. Hey I kinda like The Dead Hate the Living
    thanks for the review, I'll have to pick this up soon

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  2. I asked him(Code Red Bill) if the interview was something left over from Night Of the Cobra Woman. It's left over from a cancelled dvd release of The Baron(1977). DVD sales weren't high enough to do a dvd of The Baron and I'm guessing all he had was a standard def master done,so he said he cancelled that dvd release since dvd sales aren't as good as blu-ray sales. Hopefully The Baron will get a blu-ray release at some point,but not counting on it since it's been out on so many public domain dvd labels in multipack sets.

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    1. Oh, that's weird, because she doesn't mention The Baron either! haha

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  3. Found out she was in The Baron. Didn't know she was,but knew she was in Enter The Dragon very briefly.

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  4. Does she mention Ganja & Hess in the interview?

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    1. Nah, just those two snake movies. It's kinda weird.

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