Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, March 10, 2017


By 1973, it was apparent that blaxploitation was a full-blown cinematic phenomenon. Audience made it clear that they wanted to see black heroes on-screen and Hollywood was happy to feed them. And American International Pictures never met a fad they weren't interested in exploiting. With “Coffy,” the studio would give the genre its first real sex symbol and maybe its greatest icon. Pam Grier had already made her mark with “The Big Doll House” and “The Big Bird Cage.” Jack Hill, who made both of those films along with weirdo horror cult classic “Spider Baby,” obviously recognized Grier's incredible talent. “Coffy” was built around Pam's leading lady abilities. The film's success would lead to a series of similarly themed films for Grier, making her a bona fide star. (All of this is kind of ironic, considering A.I.P only made “Coffy” to beat “Cleopatra Jones” to theaters.)

By day, Coffy Coffins is an emergency room nurse. By night, she wages a one-woman war against the drug pushers and dealers. Coffy seeks vengeance for her little sister, a nine year old girl hooked on smack. A male friend of her's, the sole clean cop on the force, refuses to take a bribe from the local crime boss. This gets him brutally beaten. Now Coffy is pissed. She goes undercover as a prostitute to infiltrate the criminal underworld, playing the pimps and drug dealers against each other. The deeper she's drawn into this world, the more personal she realizes her connection to it is.

The opening scene in “Coffy” has the titular character posing as a drug addicted woman, so as to get close to a dealer. When the man least expects it, Coffy blows off his head with a shotgun. Afterwards, she delivers a fiery, incensed speech to the junkie in the other room. Coffy is a pissed off, driven by an intense and utterly justified rage. In moments such as these – and “Coffy” is full of them – Pam Grier shows more nuance then her male, black action contemporaries. There's an honest hurt floating behind her actions. When she barks “motherfucker” at people and delivers shotgun assassinations, you believe her. Yet Coffy is also vulnerable, falling in love and getting her heart broken. She's a sexual being but uses that sexuality as a weapon, her frankly amazing proportions getting her out of several jams. It is the purest definition of a star-making role. Pam Grier emerges from the film as a decades-spanning sex symbol, a convincing action hero, a feminist icon, and a fantastic actress.

That Coffy is still convincing as a powerful woman is another testament to Grier's incredible skills. Because, otherwise, “Coffy” is the purest of exploitation movies. I'm certain that no more than ten minutes passes between Grier's numerous nude scenes. (Then again, who can blame the movie? I'm not sure there's ever been a sexier leading lady than Pam Grier at the peak of her power.) Like “The Mack,” “Coffy” portrays a pimp not as a man that manipulates and abuses women. Instead, King George's harem of women enjoy his company. This leads to yet more opportunities for nudity. One laughter of a sequence has Coffy spurning on a massive cat fight with George's other girls. By the end of the fight, each of Coffy's adversaries have had their breasts exposed. For good measures, there's also a topless night club act and yet more stray titties.

Jack Hill knew his audience. “Coffy” doesn't just pile on the flesh. It's heavy on the blood too. Hill's background in horror become apparent in the film's brutal action sequences. The movie, after all, starts with an exploding head. Another startling scene involves King George's demise, dragged behind a speeding car and reduced to a bloody pulp. That cat fight is fantastically orchestrated too, with flips into tables and afros lined with broken glass. Still, Coffy spends a lot of time infiltrating the criminal underworld. She doesn't stick it to the man throughout most of the film... Until the end that is, when Coffy's roaring rampage of revenge is unleashed. That's when “Coffy” explodes, featuring even more shotgun murder and a car driven through a fucking house. It's very cathartic, is what I'm saying.

Aside from its incomparably bad ass heroine, something else separates “Coffy” from other blaxploitation flicks. “Super Fly” and “The Mack” portrayed drug dealers and pimps as heroes. In this film, these professions are portrayed as destroying the black community. They are hooking kids on drugs, forcing women to degrade themselves. They are also shown to be directly collaborating with white gangsters. These guys, in turn, are cooperating with dirty government men. In other words, all trails lead back to the Man, sending coke and horse into the black neighborhoods. Coffy works to dismantles these forces of oppression, all by herself. That this same system also exploits women doesn't go unnoticed either. The film's social commentary is perhaps undermined by its content. Yet its message of black freedom and feminine retaliation is clear.

“Coffy” maybe isn't the greatest blaxploitation movie but it's probably my favorite. It satisfies on the lizard brain level, packed with titillating pleasures and visceral action. Yet it's also smarter then that implies, using exploitation to sneak in a potent social message. At the same time, the film also features a magnetically powerful lead performance. As she blasts and battles her way through the swift ninety minute run time, she entered into pop culture history. And maybe that's the movie's most powerful message of all. If you value your balls and your life, you do not fuck with Pam Grier. [9/10]

[X] Afros or Sideburns
[X] Brothels or Pimps
[] Churches or Pastors
[X] Funky Soundtrack
[X] Homophobic Caricatures*
[X] Inner-City Setting
[X] Night Club Act
[X] Plot Involving Drugs or Organized Crime
[X] Racist Authority Figures
[X] Sticking It to the Man
[X] Sweet Love Makin'
[X] Use of Street Slang

*Harriet the Bull Dyke

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