Just as sure as we see an ancient African dagger fawned over by a collector of antiquities, we know it’s going to be plunged into somebody’s heart in Spike Lee’s awkward, oddly rhythmed Kickstarter remake of the 1973 indie-horror classic Ganja & Hess. Refined Dr. Hess Green (Stephen Tyron Williams) already has a stiff-backed existence swanning around Martha’s Vineyard before he turns vampire, and Lee’s Bruce Hornsby–scored jazziness runs counter to the solemn mood needed for thrills. Never once does the film feel sharp on black identity (as did Bill Gunn’s original), and the terror is theoretical only.
When Ganja (Zaraah Abrahams), the exotic ex-wife of one of Hess's more unstable colleagues, shows up on the island, she casts a sexual warp over the movie—one that might have been productive had Lee not seen it mainly as an opportunity for gratuitous nudity. It pains me to write such things. Taking a wider view, this essential filmmaker has, of late, brought a lot of verve to his filmmaking, especially on 2012's underappreciated Red Hook Summer. He's approached horror obliquely—and successfully—in movies like Malcolm X and 25th Hour. But after creating an opportunity to cut loose, Lee seems weirdly anemic.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf