Friday, August 18, 2006


Coffy

(1973, 91 min.)

Starring Pam Grier, Booker Bradshaw, Robert DoQui, William Elliott, Allan Arbus, Sid Haig, Barry Cahill, Lee de Broux, Ruben Moreno, Lisa Farringer, Carol Locatell (as Carol Lawson), Linda Haynes, John Perak, Mwako Cumbuka, Morris Buchanan.

Written and directed by Jack Hill.

Our story starts with a bang – literally (ha!). Coffy (the inimitable Grier) tricks drug dealer Sugarman (Buchanan) into taking her back to his crib. She shows us her boobs, blows his head off with a shotgun and then ODs his junkie assistant, Grover (Cumbuka). The next shock comes in the very next scene as we cut to a hospital and discover that this angel of death is, in fact, an angel of mercy, only she’s having trouble concentrating on her nursing, what with her plan to murder every member of the LA drug world and all. See, our heroine has a problem with heroin, not personal usage, but the fact that her sister got hooked and subsequently used by her pushers, although she’s now in rehab, an empty shell. Coffy shares her frustration with childhood friend Carter (Elliott), who’s a cop. He’d like to be more than a friend, but she’s involved with local pol, Howard Brunswick (Bradshaw), who she’s first seen meeting in a restaurant that features a topless girl dancing on a table. Brunswick is clearly a creep from the getgo, although Coffy can be forgiven for not noticing at first, seeing as this was the ‘70s, a time when Smarm, as a dialect, was far more commonplace in public life.

Carter has deeper things than unrequited romance to worry about anyway, since his partner and other fellow officers are hip deep in the culture of corruption, and his refusal to wade in as well earns him a beatdown by a couple of mafia goons (one played by genre favorite Haig). Coffy, being present, gets smacked around as well, though not before getting a shot in with a vase to the head. Haig also takes a few moments to rip open her shirt so we get another look at her chest.

Carter’s prospects for survival don’t look so hot, and Coffy determines to get the Mafioso who sent the thugs, and who is also an integral part of the dope smuggling. (Not that she needed more impetus to get psychotic on peoples’ asses, but this lends the story more pathos, as Carter is the only completely sympathetic character in the piece.) The dude’s name is Vitroni (Arbus, who for some reason employs a Hispanic accent), and word has it he’s into some sick shit. He especially enjoys getting rough with the working girls of a pimp/drug dealer named King George (DoQui). Coffy proceeds to set herself up as one of George’s girls and orchestrates a wild party scene that guarantees that Vitroni will request a one-on-one with her. (She also pulls a switcheroo with George’s dope supply that turns out to have unbelievably coincidental benefits later in the story.) She meets with him intending to kill him, but unfortunately one of the thugs recognized her vase-over-head technique at the party from their encounter at Carter’s, and she is subdued and imprisoned. Things don’t get any more pleasant from there.

This is a thoroughly nasty piece of work from the opening shotgun blast to the closing one. There are only victims and victimizers (a number of characters get to be both). One does get a sense of actual outrage on the part of writer/director Hill at the rampant vice and corruption, and he doesn’t excuse Coffy’s murderous behavior 100% either (he throws her a small loophole when she states that going into that mode is like being in a dream she can’t control). There’s some of the expected racial cynicism, but it’s largely either played for laughs (the only mention of racial harmony comes from the unctuous Vitroni) or merely implied, as in a shocking scene of violence near the end. But, of course, none of that is really the point. The cheap thrills, violent action and copious nudity are the draws, and the movie certainly delivers in that respect. There’s a streak of viciousness on display that may surprise those unfamiliar with the genre, but which enthusiasts will eat up. The party scene, probably the most memorable set piece in the whole thing, is a particular kick, with Coffy hurling girls left and right (and ripping open their shirts in the process), all leading up to the wince-inducing climax when George’s favorite girl Meg (Haynes) grabs our heroine’s hair only to have her hands cut up by the razors Coffy’s hidden in her ‘fro. Plus we get the added bonus of hindsight, allowing us to enjoy such excesses of the era as the garish clothing, the ‘baby, baby’ patois, and Sid Haig’s gigantic grin.

But even if the movie had nothing else, it would have our Pam. She’s not a natural actress, but she is a natural screen presence. She somehow manages to navigate her character through a gamut of scenes ranging from psychotic bitch to soft-spoken lady and you buy it, largely because it’s her. (Not to mention how goddamn sexy she is. There’s one scene where she’s photographed nude through a fish tank that, while I can’t say exactly why, struck me as one of the hottest things I’ve seen in a while.) The movie may be too rough for some folks, but for anyone who’s ever worshipped at the altar of Pam, this is canon. Hill and Grier would essentially remake this movie the following year (and indeed it was originally intended to be a sequel) as Foxy Brown.


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