lord shango | ray marsh | paul carter harrison | marlene clark | lawrence cook | wally taylor | religion | ritual | cult | drama | united states | avis mccarther | john r. russell | bill overton | b.a. ward | stanley greene | maurice woods | ethel ayler | blaxploitation
Film: Lord Shango
Director: Ray Marsh
Writer: Paul Carter Harrison
Starring: Marlene Clark, Lawrence Cook and Wally Taylor
This is a movie that I had never heard of until my co-host on Side Quest Podcast, Jake, brought it to my attention. He knows more about blaxploitation cinema than I do, but he knew it interested me. Both of us had seen the star of this, Marlene Clark, in Ganja & Hess. Settling in to watch this movie, I realized that I’ve seen her in a couple other things now like The Beast Must Die and Beware! The Blob. We decided to watch this as a Side Quest Podcast episode to celebrate Black history month. The synopsis here is a tribal priest returns from the dead to take his revenge on non-believers.
Now I feel like this synopsis is a bit vague, but I can roll with it. We start this movie off seeing a church and this is intercut with someone running across a field. This man is Femi (Bill Overton). He is heading for this church where Jenny (Clark) and her daughter Billie (Avis McCarther) are being baptized. Femi’s goal is to stop it. The congregation is led to the river by Reverend Slater (John R. Russell). He is joined by deacons Memphis (Wally Taylor), Davis (B.A. Ward) and Tibbles (Stanley Greene). They’re helping the reverend with the baptism. Watching on is a drunkard by the name of Jabo (Lawrence Cook). He tries to stop Femi, but in the end, the deacons try to baptize him which results in drowning.
Jenny and Billie attend the funeral for Femi. It is led by a cult leader, Maurice Woods. This is done in ritual fashion and Jabo is also there to pay his respects. After attending, this makes Jenny question her faith. It is even more so when she leaves to go to work. She leaves Memphis at home with her daughter. When she returns, Billie is getting dressed up. She says it is for Femi. She realizes that Billie had sex with Memphis. She looks for him and ends up at the church. He is praying for forgiveness. Jenny is irate and forces him to move out. She also finds a note from Billie saying she left over what happened.
The movie then shifts a few months into the future. Jenny is living alone. She misses her daughter. Memphis is also struggling, having lost Jenny. Jabo visits him at his job, talking of sacrifice, even though Memphis believes that Femi’s death was an accident. Jenny has abandoned the church over everything that happened.
Jenny then decides to seek the aid of Lord Shango, who is the deity behind this cult. She attends and asks them to bring her daughter back. A sacrifice is needed. Members of the group give her items to use. This results in Deacon Davis having a heart attack. The ritual brings Billie back to her. Her daughter is also pregnant. Jabo tries to convince her to stop going to this cult, but Billie wants Femi back. Jenny also must concern herself with the baby that her daughter is carrying.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap my recap of the movie. I’m going to be honest, there isn’t a lot to this movie. That isn’t to say that things don’t happen though. It is more of a character study for Jenny and her family. We also get to learn a bit more about Jabo as things go on. Jenny is where I’ll start. It is interesting that the first scene is her and Billie getting baptized. From what I know from growing up, Black people tend to be more religious. We get that with this group of people from Tennessee. There is this church led by Reverend Slater. With him is most of the town including Memphis. Also in this town is this cult that is more pagan. Jabo used to be a part of this as well as Femi. He is interesting as he interrupts the baptism claiming that they shouldn’t follow Christianity. It is the religion of those that enslaved them and killed many of their people. This movie is exploring this idea and I found that to be interesting for sure. Going along with this, praying to Lord Shango and this other deity, Jenny gets what she asks for. Billie does as well in a ‘be careful what you wish for’ way. It makes this pagan religion stronger as you can see results.
Now I said that I wanted to explore the character of Jenny, but that needed to be fleshed out to get deeper into what I want about her. Jenny is torn about what to follow. Christianity vs. this pagan religion. We see her go to church and then attend Femi’s funeral with the cult. Our introduction to her is showing the dark side of the Christian faith. It isn’t done with an in-your-face way. Yes, Femi gets murdered, but they’re not outright saying Christianity is at fault. This is me reading deeper. Jenny has been praying to God for Billie to come back. It isn’t until she makes a sacrifice with the cult that she does. It makes think that director Ray Marsh and writer Paul Carter Harrison might be atheists, agnostic or just able to make a movie like this regardless of their beliefs. Whatever their beliefs, I like what they’re exploring here.
There was a bit of a note I wanted to include here after chatting with Jake regarding this movie. The pagan religion we are getting here was an actual religion. There was a technical director on set for it who followed it. The rituals they were doing were in line with how they are performed. This religion came from Africa and the expert was a king there. I thought this was interesting element that adds a bit more to the movie for me.
What makes this all work though would be the acting. A lot of credit needs to go to Clark. She was the reason that Jake recommended this to me as I said. She has an intense look about her that works. I love the emotion we see with what happened with Memphis. She feels bad for her daughter. She also wants her back when she leaves. I think that Clark carries this movie with her performance as Jenny. Cook was also good as Jabo. We always see him drinking, which shows he's a broken character. His look helps here. What I like about him is that he warns Jenny about what she is getting into. I like him for that. It is also interesting him ‘haunting’ Memphis and wanting him to be punished. It is fitting for where Jabo ends up. Taylor was fine in his role. I like him as a Christian who did something bad and then tries to justify it. Those he hangs around with in the church reenforce that idea. If I have an issue here, it would be with Taylor. It might just be the era, but I can’t buy that Billie is that much younger than her mother or any of the adults. It doesn’t ruin the movie, but it was off putting. Regardless of my issue, I thought Russell, Overton and the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
Then the last things to go into would be the cinematography, effects and soundtrack. For the former, I thought this was shot well. It doesn’t do anything too out there, but it worked. What I did like was with some of the rituals having fuzzy focus. We get this with Billie when she is feverish and believes she is seeing Femi. This makes me wonder if the other times she claimed this, was she seeing him or was he there in spirit? The mind can play tricks on you, especially in a time like this for her. There aren’t a lot in the way of effects, but it also isn’t necessarily that type of movie. I could have done with a bit more to be honest though. This movie is a bit slow. Regardless, they did go practical which was good for me. Finally, would be soundtrack. This goes heavy with drums, which works for the rituals we see. It also works when we know that something supernatural is happening. Other than that, we get some jazz music that fits the era. Not necessarily my type of music, but it fit for what they needed here.
In conclusion, this movie explores some interesting concepts. I’m a fan when a movie can explore something like Christianity vs. pagan beliefs. Despite that, this movie doesn’t have the deepest story as it is more of a character study of Jenny and then does explore Jabo as we go. That does make it a bit slow though if I’m honest. I do think that Clark has a great performance here with the rest of the cast rounding this out. I would have liked a bit more from the effects. The cinematography was solid though. The soundtrack isn’t necessarily my type of music, but I did like the drums and jazz fit. With that said, I think this is over average for me. Adding a bit more this could be better for sure. I also think this could be an interesting one for a remake.
My Rating: 6 out of 10