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Better than Expected, but Falls Short of Potential
If you go into "Lord Shango" expecting blaxploitation horror schlock along the lines of "Blacula" or "Sugar Hill," you're going to be disappointed. Once you adjust your expectations, however, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
The movie opens with the baptism ceremony of Billie (Avis McCarther), the teen-age daughter of Jenny (Marlene Clark). Interrupting the ceremony is Billie's voodoo-practicing boyfriend. A struggle ensues with the church elders, who attempt to forcibly baptize the boyfriend, "accidentally" drowning him. Jenny doesn't entirely believe the drowning was accidental, even though her boyfriend Memphis (Wally Taylor) is one of the church elders involved. While Jenny is at her waitress job, Billie is seemingly possessed, writhing on her bed and beckoning for Memphis. Yeah, we know where this going, and once Jenny discovers what went on all hell breaks loose. Billie, ashamed, runs away, while Memphis begs for Jenny's and God's forgiveness. God may forgive, but Jenny doesn't, renouncing Christianity in favor of voodoo, using its rituals to find her daughter and get revenge.
"Lord Shango" actually has a lot in common with "Ganja & Hess," which also starred Clark. Like that movie, "Shango" seems better suited for the art-house than grindhouse. Many of the supernatural elements are implied, and, in some instances, may not be supernatural at all. Fanning the flames is a character named Jabo (Lawrence Cook), the local drunk who mayor may notbe Lord Shango reincarnate. If he has any special power, it's his ability to manipulate by suggesting that some characters face dire consequences, as he does when he plays on Memphis' paranoia, or greater rewards, as he does with Jenny, who seems convinced she knows his "real" identity.
But while "Lord Shango" is far more intelligent than one might expect, it doesn't entirely live up to its potential. For starters, this movie often drowns in its own soundtrack, with musicbe it gospel, tribal drums, funk, jazzblaring in practically EVERY scene, whether it's necessary or not. It's frequently difficult to hear the dialog, and there are many times when the music deflates the tension. The movie could also benefit from some tighter editing (you have to sit through an awful lot of gospel singing and voodoo drumming before the story really kicks into gear) and a more satisfying ending. Having raised our expectations, screenwriter Paul Carter Harrison and director Ray Marsh can't quite meet them.
It's no "Ganja & Hess," but "Lord Shango" is still worth seeking out. The acting, for the most part, is fairly strong, and the story is pretty compelling, even if it's clumsily told.
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