Archive for the Blaxploitation Category

Nick Cato’s 50th SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES Column!!

Posted in 2012, 70s Horror, Blaxploitation, Crime Films, Devil Movies, Drive-in Movies, Gore!, Grindhouse, Monsters, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , , , on May 17, 2012 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
Special 50th Column: “My Grindhouse Wish”
by Nick Cato

Since I’ve spent 99% of this column’s space talking about the experiences I’ve had at my local theaters, I figured I’d take this special 50th installment of SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES to reveal the top ten grindhouse films (that I’ve seen either on TV or video) that I WISH I could’ve seen at a seedy theater or drive-in upon their INITIAL release.  While I enjoyed the following films for a variety of reasons, I’m sure each one of them would’ve been enhanced, surrounded by wise-cracking theater patrons during a scratchy, poorly-focused screening.

10) I think I was about 10 years old the first time I saw DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973) on late night television.  After a surprising opening, the film drags for a good fifteen minutes, then slowly builds to a finale that (at the time) was quite intense.  This underrated gem about lunatics running the asylum is currently being remade, but there’s just no way they’re going to capture the gritty, desolate tone of this low-budget shocker.

9) SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED is an extremely low budget 1974 Yeti thriller that goes in a direction few first-time viewers will see coming.  I saw this on TV for the first time around 1979 and couldn’t get enough.  I’d love to have seen an audience’s reaction to the twist ending.

8) Released in the summer of 1972, I’d love to have been at a rural drive-in when NIGHT OF THE LEPUS first screened.  This incredibly goofy film about giant rabbits attacking Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, and STAR TREK’s DeForest Kelly must be seen to be believed, and must’ve had the crowds in stitches.  What makes it so good is how serious the filmmakers took the whole thing…

7) Every cult film fan has a favorite Russ Meyer film.  Mine is SUPERVIXEN (1975), which is basically a sexy road trip chase film with a little MANIAC COP thrown in.  But what blew me away was the dazzling editing during an early sequence split between a gas station and an apartment: every film maker should watch this at least once.  There’s a good chance you’ll get dizzy trying to keep up with all the angles and shots.  It’s also genuinely hysterical.

6) There must’ve been something seriously dangerous in the air during the early 70s.  Case in point is 1972’s BLOOD FREAK, about a dope-smoking guy who eats turkey from an experimental turkey farm and is turned into a turkey-headed monster who needs the blood of other drug addicts to survive.  Oh…and it also has a pro-Jesus message and stars Steve Hawkes, who had starred in a few Spanish TARZAN films (got all that?).  I can’t even begin to think what theater-goers must’ve thought of this, but thanks to the lunatics at Something Weird Video, adventurous cinephiles can obtain a deluxe DVD edition loaded with extras.  I’ve watched it too many times to admit…

5) In the late 90s I found a used VHS copy of 1975’s THE BLACK GESTAPO, a film I had never heard of despite being a life-long fan of blaxploitation cinema.  But unlike other films in this subgenre, THE BLACK GESTAPO was just downright nasty and mean-spirited throughout its entire running time: tired of their women being raped by white guys, a group of black men band together and start taking their streets back.  There’s plenty of action, classic dialogue, and violence (including a bathtub castration sequence that pre-dates I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE by four years) to keep any trash-film fan’s interest.  I’d hate to have been the only white guy at a screening of this, but then again it could’ve been a real blast!

4) While the idea behind THE CORPSE GRINDERS (1971) sounds better on paper than it translated to film, this early offering from director Ted V. Mikels is a real piece of cinematic insanity: a floundering pet food company—in an attempt to save money—begin to dig up corpses and grind them into cat food.  In turn, cats start going crazy and attack their owners.  A couple of moronic cops get on the case.  The corpse-grinding machine was made out of a refrigerator box and looks beyond cheesy, yet somehow certain scenes in the graveyard have fantastic atmosphere.  The cat attacks are unconvincing, the acting is horrendous, and I would’ve given anything to have seen this with a group of like-minded film freaks…

3) Since my initial Saturday afternoon TV viewing of SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS (1975), I’ve been hooked: a Satanist (who is also a janitor at a local high school) kidnaps four cheerleaders who get lost on a road trip.  He’s looking to sacrifice one of them in a ritual, but is killed by the Devil when he tries to rape one of them.  A shady couple (the wife played by Yvonne DeCarlo of THE MUNSTERS fame) then attempt to finish the janitor’s job, only to discover one of the cheerleaders is actually a closet witch.  In many ways this is the ULTIMATE 70s exploitation film: cheerleaders, backwoods Satanists, and four of the best looking actresses ever to grace a low budget feature add up to a true guilty pleasure.  This slice of 70s sinema ends with the cheerleaders using their newfound powers to help their football team win!  When I finally found a VHS copy of this sometime in the early 80s, I was surprised to see such a low nudity level (something most grindhouse films rely on), but the sheer nuttiness of this offering from director Greydon (BLACK SHAMPOO) Clark works well, despite its lack of skin.

2) When my family purchased our first VCR in 1983, I immediately ran to our local video store and rented 1963’s BLOOD FEAST, a film I had been reading about in FANGORIA Magazine since their fourth issue.  In the middle of watching it, my dad came home from work and freaked out.  He had seen this at a theater in Georgia a few weeks before he went to Korea with the army.  He told me people—some soldiers—actually passed out during a few of the gore scenes and most of the theater was empty by the time it ended.  NO ONE had seen anything like this at that time, and it was amazing to have first-hand proof that the accounts I had read in FANGORIA were true.  I can’t even imagine what it must’ve been like to be in a theater when something so different and ground-breaking was unleashed for the first time.  And being my old man was there, perhaps my love for this stuff was somehow passed through him to me at the time?

1) Despite the ground-breaking nature of BLOOD FEAST, I thought long and hard about what the A-#1 grindhouse film I wish I could’ve seen in a theater should be.  It might seem a bit typical, but I can think of no better film than NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968).  I remember reading an article from film critic Roger Ebert where he recalled his first viewing: a young child sat next to him, hiding his eyes and shaking in total terror, causing Ebert to write, “What kind of a parent drops their kids off at something called NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD?”  I first saw it on late night TV when I was about seven years old, and it’s the main film responsible for my love of the horror genre.  George Romero’s low-budget classic reinvented the zombie film, and, from all accounts that I’ve read, was one of the scariest experiences since 1960’s PSYCHO for many theater-goers.  What more could any fan of grindhouse cinema ask for?

SO there you have it, folks: ten films I wish I could’ve seen in a theater from the “golden age” of the grindhouse film.  Now it’s time for me to stop dreaming and begin searching my fading celluloid memory for the 51st column.  See ‘ya in two weeks!

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

A “Suburban Grindhouse Memories” Classic: GANJA AND HESS (1973)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, 70s Horror, Art Movies, Blaxploitation, Classic Columns, Cult Movies, DVD Review, Experimental Films, Indie Horror, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , , on February 23, 2012 by knifefighter

(Editor’s Note: Because of circumstances beyond his control, Nick Cato wasn’t able to get me his latest SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES column this week. So I figured, instead of having a hole in our calendar, I’d just reprint one of his best old columns from 2010. Keep in mind, with the next installment, Nick will have written 47 columns of SGM for us here at Cinemaknifefight.com. This one was Number 4. A true classic that deserves a bigger audience. Mr. Cato will be back with a brand new column next time.)

******

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES No. 4:  Bill Gunn: a True Filmmaking Genius.
By Nick Cato

In the early 1970s, “blaxploitation” cinema was all the rage on the grindhouse circuit (be it urban OR suburban).  When director Bill Gunn was approached to make a film in the vein of BLACULA, he took the money and did something far more serious.  Instead of trying to make an exploitative quickie, Gunn went for the gusto and delivered an artistic deep-thinker that (to this day) has many who see it believing it’s a vampire film.  It isn’t.  In fact, Gunn went all-out as he wrote, directed, and stars in this surreal, nightmare of a film that requires at least three to four viewings before even half of what it has to say will hit you.

Since I was only five years old when GANJA & HESS was originally released, it was a treat to (finally) see this for the first time at a revival theater last month (April, 2010).  This was the first time that I knew–halfway through a screening–that I’d have to see what I was watching again (and as soon as possible) just to keep my train of thought (this turned out to be one of the most challenging films I’ve reviewed yet).  So I purchased a DVD the next day and watched it three more times.

The film follows Dr. Hess Green (played by legendary NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD star, Duane Jones), his new assistant George (Bill Gunn), and his assistant’s wife, Ganja (the lovely Marlene Clark).  Despite what some reviewers have said (I’m assuming they saw one of the several, heavily-edited/re-titled versions), Hess DOES NOT become addicted to blood AFTER being stabbed by his assistant; the very beginning of the film scrolls these titles (over some magnificently eerie music): “Doctor Hess Green … Doctor of Anthropology, Doctor of Geology … While studying the ancient Black civilization of Myrthia … was stabbed by a stranger three times … one for God the Father, one for the Son … and one for the Holy Ghost … stabbed with a dagger, diseased from that ancient culture whereupon he became addicted and could not die … nor could he be killed.”  So, for the record, Hess is already addicted to blood when his suicidal assistant George moves in; Hess is a wealthy anthropologist living in a tremendous mansion (African American stereotypes don’t exist in this film, instantly banishing a “blaxploitation’ label from it).  He even manages to stop George’s first attempt at suicide; George (apparently aggravated at this) eventually attacks Hess with the ceremonial dagger Hess had brought back from Africa.  Hess survives, but George ends up shooting himself in Hess’ bathroom.  When Hess discovers George’s body, we see him fall to his knees and lap his blood (the main scene I’m assuming has caused many to label this a vampire film).

George’s wife Ganja shows up at the Hess mansion to wait for her husband (Hess has him stored in a freezer in the basement).  And this is where GANJA & HESS truly becomes strange.  After discovering her husband in the freezer and assuming Hess killed him, she ends up believing Hess’ testimony of George’s suicide and she helps Hess to bury him.

Ganja & Hess fall in love, get married, and Hess eventually makes her a part of the “Myrthia” tribe, bringing its ‘blood curse’ upon her (one edited version, released in the 80s on VHS as BLOOD COUPLE, gave the film a standard (and false) vampire-film packaging).  Things get even stranger when Hess brings a man home for Ganja to feed on (she ends up having an affair with him first) and Hess begins to doubt his Christian roots when he finally begins to feel guilt after feeding from a young mother–guilt that nearly leads him to a nervous breakdown.

One of several misleading re-titles for Ganja & Hess: BLOOD COUPLE

It should be pointed out here that while everything I’ve just described is happening, the incredibly spooky score by Sam Waymon, along with some dazzling cinematography (I swear Dario Argento was inspired by much of this) helps to give GANJA & HESS a constant aura of surreal darkness that won’t leave your mind anytime soon.  One commentary track I listened to on the “GANJA & HESS: THE COMPLETE EDITION” DVD (Image Entertainment) mentioned that the opening sequence is told from 12 points of view (after re-watching it, I’m betting this is why so many are turned off to the film early on—it’s truly unlike anything you’ve seen before).  And this is just one thing that makes GANJA & HESS such a unique–and challenging–film.

GANJA & HESS is a film about religious identification and one man’s realization that he has strayed from the faith of his upbringing.  After making peace with God at a church service, he attempts to bring Ganja with him.  The film’s final moments feature Hess’ death and Ganja contemplating her own life: to me it’s apparent she likes what Hess has turned her into by smiling when she visualizes the dead man Hess had brought home for her running naked out of their pool.  And being a sequel-less film, we’re left to consider and debate if this is so.

Again, this is NOT a vampire film.  It’s an intense, unusual study of a millionaire who, despite having all there is to have in this world, is haunted by what lies beyond this life.  And yet despite this underlying theme (as well as a church service scene that goes on for WAY too long), I don’t think it was Gunn’s intention to make an evangelical film (and if it was, I’d like to know what church–in 1973– approved of extended shots of full-frontal male and female nudity, pagan blood drinking, and an artistic-look at suicide).

Watch GANJA & HESS.  Then watch it again, even if you don’t like it the first time.  Despite a few slow stretches, the film has plenty to offer to those who take the time to contemplate and dig out its treasures.

I can’t remember the last time a film has caused so much conversation between my friends and me.  GANJA & HESS, despite its all-black cast, is NOT a blaxploitation film.  It is a genuine hybrid of horror and art house filmmaking that stands alone.  It can not (and will not) ever be duplicated.

This is a true gem from Bill Gunn, and a gem I’ll surely be revisiting again and again.

© Copyright 2010 by Nick Cato

(Editor’s Note # 2 – This movie had a LOT of alternate titles during its (several) runs on the grindhouse circuit. They include: BLACK EVIL, BLACK VAMPIRE, BLOOD COUPLE, DOUBLE POSSESSION, VAMPIRES OF HARLEM and BLACKOUT: THE MOMENT OF TERROR. Confusing enough for you?)

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou – BLACK EYE (1974)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, Action Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Blaxploitation, Crime Films, Detectives, Hammer Films, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , on February 2, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

BLACK EYE (1974)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk-till-dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable—then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

Fred Williamson was a famous football star, playing for both the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs.  He was also one of the first black action heroes, a muscular, lithe, handsome presence onscreen and off.  He was a hit with the ladies, but he didn’t degrade them in his pictures.  Nicknamed ‘The Hammer’ in his gridiron days, he could fist fight with the best of them, and even better, the cat could act.   The Hammer was nobody’s whipping boy.  Instead, he built a long career by playing smart guys, detectives and cowboys and gangsters with real soul.  Williamson was first noticed in the TV show JULIA, co-starring with the lovely Diahann Carroll.  This was followed by a string of classic blaxploitation films, including HAMMER (1972), BLACK CAESAR (1974), HELL UP IN HARLEM (1973), THAT MAN BOLT (1973), and THREE THE HARD WAY (1974), where he shared billing with two other hot African Americans, Jim Brown and Jim Kelly.  A textbook classic of its kind, THREE THE HARD WAY is a wild ride, but it’s been seen by everyone and is readily available.  You all know I would find something else to discuss here, right?  You bet your sweet…Shut your mouth!

BLACK EYE (1974) is like a Sam Spade plot gone horribly left of center.  In it, Williamson plays Shepherd Stone (natch), a down-on-his-luck private detective with little money in his pocket and an office in the back of a local pub.  He’s been thrown off the force, see, because he kept beating up pushers.  His beautiful girlfriend who lives downstairs (played by the luscious Teresa Graves—a regular on LAUGH IN, she later starred in the TV drama GET CHRISTIE LOVE and the movie OLD DRACULA-1975), is a bisexual who’s started dating an older white woman who owns a modeling agency, played by the great Rosemary Forsyth (SHENANDOAH-1965, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE?-1969  and 2001’s GHOSTS OF MARS).  After interrupting the girls in flagrante, he shamefully returns to his run-down apartment.  But first, he hears a noise in the flat of his neighbor, a hooker who has several side businesses going.  When he investigates, he finds her dead, and an Aryan/Nordic type of man attacks him with a gold-tipped walking stick,  the top of which is sculpted into a dog’s head.  The blond man gets away, and our hero calls the cops, who promptly ask him to help them on this case.  You know, since he’s already involved and all.

Shepherd Stone is also asked to look into the disappearance of a young girl by her father, played by Richard Anderson (FORBIDDEN PLANET-1956 and he was Oscar Goldman on THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN).  These two cases lead Stone to a sordid porno studio, sordid parties of the very rich, sordid broken-down carnivals, and the local church where the girl was last seen.  The church is run by a slimy preacher who may or may not be running a cult, but is certainly running some kind of scam.  Meanwhile, everyone wants the gold dog cane that the blond killer had in the hooker’s apartment.  Once owned by a famous silent film star (BLACK EYE opens with cool silent black and white footage of this actor, making me wonder if I was watching THE ARTIST (2011) again), this cane has been used to smuggle pure heroin into the country.  But by whom?  And who’s willing to kill for it?  The crooked preacher?  The porno producer?  The old gay man who collects movie memorabilia?  Soon, bodies are piling up everywhere Stone turns, the cane gets stolen twice, and everyone beats up everyone in several nifty bare knuckle brawls.  Complete the picture with a decent, bouncy car chase through a bodega slum, lots of sexual innuendo (“You’re a woman.”  “I’m a whole lotta woman!”), a mass baptism scene complete with a hundred hippie Jesus freaks, and a few good twists to the plot by the end.

Fred "The Hammer" Williamson in BLACK EYE.

BLACK EYE (he’s black and a private eye, get it?) was directed by Jack Arnold.  Yes, that Jack Arnold – the director of such classics as THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953), THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), and TARANTULA (1955).  Arnold’s career went south after the 1950s, and he was relegated to directing television shows like PETER GUNN, RAWHIDE, and (say it ain’t so) GILLIGAN’S ISLAND.  In the 1970s, he directed several blaxploitation features, including BLACK EYE.  It’s a long strange journey, but he still keeps the pacing fast, the dialogue snappy, and the people beautiful, baby.

Our feature was written by Mark Haggard (director of THE FIRST NUDIE MUSICAL-1976) and Jim Martin.  It’s not Shakespeare, or even Hammett, but it’s a fun little flick that plays a little dirty while still maintaining a PG rating.  If the plot seems overcomplicated, that’s because it is.  I’m still not sure how one woman fits into the whole bizarre plot, but it doesn’t take away any enjoyment from the movie.  In fact, the whole convoluted thing goes down easy with the popcorn and beer.  Dashiell Hammett himself once claimed he never knew who killed one character in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941).

And this isn’t a writer’s picture, or even a director’s.  This one belongs to the walking charisma that is Fred “The Hammer” Williamson.  With those hangdog eyes, those long sideburns, and that just-eaten-the-canary grin, he is a hero for the time.  He doesn’t use a lot of slang, and he only fights when he must (or when he catches a dope pusher in an arcade), and he’s entirely on the side of the cops, so he doesn’t really fit into the blaxploitation hero paradigm of the early 70s.  He isn’t a pimp or a crook or a gangster.  He’s just a regular Joe, fighting the man to get an honest day’s pay and fighting a predatory lesbian for his woman.  In fact, the whole matter-of-fact handling of the bisexual and lesbian characters in the movie is very evenly handled, surprisingly advanced for its time.  BLACK EYE doesn’t judge.  It’s just the facts, ma’am.  But The Hammer rises above it all and makes it much more enjoyable than it ever should be.  Williamson’s still acting.  In fact, he has four movies scheduled to open next year, including a remake of the brutal 1982 movie, FIGHTING BACKLong may the King reign!

BLACK EYE is available in a nice print from Warner Archive on DVD.

I give BLACK EYE three sordid porn studios out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

Fred Williamson hangs out with some hippies in BLACK EYE

Cinema Book Review: IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY

Posted in 2011, Blaxploitation, Book Review, Books About Movies, Nick Cato Reviews, Nicolas Cage Movies with tags , , , , on October 1, 2011 by knifefighter

IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY: A CASHIERS DU CINEMART COLLECTION by Mike White
(2010 Bear Manor Media / 377 pages / trade paperback)

Book Review by Nick Cato


From 1994-2008, CASHIERS DU CINEMART was a fanzine featuring wildly opinionated movie reviews and retrospects, as well as interviews, with everyone from Crispin Glover to cast members of seldom-seen 70s blaxploitation films.  IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY collects some of the fanzine’s finest moments, and features introductions from exploitation film guru Herschell Gordon Lewis to the founder of Film Threat, Chris Gore.

Author Mike White is perhaps best known for calling Quentin Tarantino out for certain “similarities” between the 1989 Hong Kong movie, CITY ON FIRE, and his own film, RESERVOIR DOGS.  White even made a short feature titled WHO DO YOU THINK YOU’RE FOOLING?, which shows (side-by-side) shots from both films, calling Tarantino’s motives into question.  The opening chapters of the book deal with this whole saga, and while I had seen White’s film online, there’s plenty more here for those interested in this on-going celluloid grapple.

Among my favorite sections were Mike Thompson’s look at the original script for the Nicolas Cage film 8MM,  Mike White’s section on ALIEN 3, White’s interview with Canadian cult film director Guy Maddin, and of course, the huge section dedicated to the 1975 blaxploitation classic BLACK SHAMPOO, which features an overview of the cast, interviews with the director and a few stars, and an interesting story on how Mike and his friends became addicted to it (and still hold annual viewings).

While I haven’t mentioned even half of what’s on display here (STAR WARS fans will get a kick out of the small section dedicated to it), IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY looks at films through the eyes of super-geek film fans, and while (at times) things get a bit obsessive (I mean, what film geek DOESN’T get obsessive when talking films?), film fans will not be bored, even if a topic being discussed isn’t of particular interest.

A fun. informative, and smart book to garnish any film freaks’ book shelf.

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

For more about Mike White, check out his website at: http://impossiblefunky.blogspot.com/

BLACK SHAMPOO!

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, Blaxploitation, Chainsaws!, Exploitation Films, Grindhouse, Soft-core, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, The Mob, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , on June 9, 2011 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES: Modern Memories
Hair Salons and Chainsaws!
By Nick Cato

Brooklyn’s “reRun Gastropub Theater” was the setting on Wednesday, June 1st for a screening of the 1976 blaxploitation classic, BLACK SHAMPOO. The reRun Theater is a fun little indie cinema, located in the back of a trendy restaurant. Its stadium-styled seating is made up of 60 seats ripped from mini vans (!), and a full bar with snacks are located right alongside them. A 12-foot screen features digitally projected, locally made films as well as independent features from around the world (so, if you’re ever in NYC I strongly suggest a visit). Back in January, I had the pleasure of viewing Alejandro Jodorowsky’s SANTA SANGRE (1989) here, and the picture and sound were phenomenal.

The BLACK SHAMPOO screening was actually part of author Mike White’s book tour (his collection of pieces from his long-running fanzine, “Cashiers du Cinemart,” has been compiled in a hefty volume titled IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY [2010 Bear Manor Media]—and although I’m only halfway through it I can HIGHLY recommend it to any serious film geek). Mike has a large section dedicated to the film BLACK SHAMPOO (his all-time favorite movie), featuring commentary and interviews with a few of the films’ stars, as well as director Greydon Clark (who is responsible for countless 70s/80s exploitation classics, such as SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS (1977), WITHOUT WARNING (1980) and the infamous arcade sex comedy, JOY STICKS (1983)). While Mike did a brief intro for the film and a reading/book signing afterwards, it was the film that was the highlight of the evening.

This was my first screening of BLACK SHAMPOO, and as a life-long fan of the blaxploitation genre, I can safely say you’ll be hard pressed to find a more entertaining, funny, violent and downright FUNKY film. While the first 20 minutes play out like a really bad 70s porn film (complete with some of the coolest music ever to grace this type of feature), BLACK SHAMPOO soon turns into a hybrid love/gangster/revenge story complete with everything we psychotronic film fans love about these types of films: stereotypical black men and women and stereotypical gay hairdressers that would probably cause a protest were they done this way today; a party sequence that’s so out of place it almost gives the film a surreal edge; insane violence that includes chainsaw mayhem, pool cue mayhem and a mob-orchestrated curling-iron anal rape shakedown (you read that correctly); deplorable acting; and so much more, it’s hard to remember half of what went down after just one viewing.

The film centers around Mr. Jonathan, the owner of “Mr. Jonathan’s” hair salon on the Sunset Strip. His reputation as the ultimate ladies man has caused an endless line of women to book appointments for his “services.” And while he’s in the private back room “shampooing” his clients, the front of the place features women having their hair done by Mr. Jonathan’s staff, which includes Artie and Richard, two gay hairdressers who are done so over the top you can’t help but laugh every second they’re on the screen (fans of “classic dialogue” would do well to keep a pad and pen on hand during the entire film).

Mr. Jonathan gets so much action he actually begins to find shagging a real chore (even when two seemingly underage rich white girls seduce him during a house call…only to get their butts whipped by their mom’s belt for stealing her appointment [in a sequence that brings the “roughie” films of the early 70s to mind]. The mother then goes on to shag Mr. Jonathan as the two girls watch from the pool!).

After all this opening soft-core madness, BLACK SHAMPOO gets down to business. It seems the new black secretary at the salon has actually run away from her white mob “boyfriend,” who has kept her in his mansion as a modern day sex slave. When Mr. Jonathan catches wind of this, he takes his new receptionist, Brenda, out on a date and the two quickly fall in love. When the mob finds out Brenda’s whereabouts, they come down to the salon and trash the place (after kicking Artie’s poor little white ass in one of the most unconvincing “fight” scenes ever filmed). Brenda’s ex-boyfriend turns out to be underworld kingpin Mr. Wilson (an amazingly non-stereotypical name for a gangster), who is now on a mission to get Brenda back. He employs three of the goofiest goons ever to grace a trash film (Maddux, appropriately nick-named “Schumck;” an unnamed, tall black guy who looks like he played for the Knicks in the mid-70s; and a hysterical chauffer who has a few scene-stealing lines and actions).

Feeling guilty over the beating Artie took (which left him in a neck brace) and the trashing of the salon, Brenda goes back to the mob’s mansion. Mr. Jonathan—by way of a mob “invite”—takes a trip to the mansion so Mr. Wilson can explain that Brenda’s now back where she belongs—and Brenda seems happy about it. Confused and pissed off, Mr. Jonathan heads out to his cabin in the woods to get his head together—and Brenda eventually meets him there with Mr. Wilson’s top secret book of money laundering information. Before long, the mob catches wind of this, and we’re all set for a bloody-good showdown in the woods.

BLACK SHAMPOO is unlike any blaxploitation film out there, mainly due to the character of Mr. Jonathan. He’s not a cop or pimp ala SHAFT (1971) and DOLEMITE (1975), just a heterosexual hairdresser who happens to be quite handy with a chainsaw and pool cue. And while his onscreen persona is actually quite boring (John Daniels has the acting skills of a parking meter), for some strange reason the audience revels in his booty-shaggin, belly-slashing schtick.

I mean, come on folks: what other film features a chainsaw-wielding black hairdresser dishing it out to the mob after laying pipe on half of Hollywood? Mr. Jonathan just may be the COOLEST blaxploitation character of all time (I’ll let you all know if this holds up to repeated viewings as good as DOLEMITE, the granddaddy of all blaxploitation films). Also, major kudos for a sonically-funky soundtrack that will stay in your head long after the film concludes.

I also recommend watching BLACK SHAMPOO with an audience of like-minded fans: while I’m sure I would have loved this had I watched it alone on DVD, I’m not sure how many non-fans of this subgenre will be won over by it.

But I still say give it a shot. Until next time, I’m off to the salon . . .

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

NOTE: For more about Mike White and his book IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY, check out his site: http://impossiblefunky.blogspot.com/

 

Mr. Jonathan (John Daniels) is seduced by two rich white girls, Meg (Kelly Beau) and Peg (Marl Pero) in BLACK SHAMPOO.