Wednesday, May 16, 2018

COFFY 1973

"They call her Coffy and she'll cream you !"

     In the early 70's AIP was looking to break into the burgeoning genre of what's now known as Blaxploitation and were set to distribute Jack Starrett's CLEOPATRA JONES when the deal fell through and looking to get some product quickly into the market they turned to writer/director Jack Hill. CLEOPATRA JONES was meant to be the first Blaxploitation starring an empowered female central character and Hill going with the same basic formula (along with the undeniable presence of Pam Grier) created a classic of 70's cinema and the film that launched Pam's career. COFFY with a revenge-seeking bad-ass female character beat CLEOPATRA JONES and its similar plotline into release and ended up burying it at the box office.
     Starting off with a bang as it's wonderfully bloody & violent pre-credit sequence shows what looks to be a hooker begging her john/dealer for a fix, she quickly dispatches him by blowing his head off with a shotgun and then forcing his minion to OD on heroin. We quickly learn that the "hooker" is nurse Pam Grier (whose last name is Coffin and only referred to as "Coffy" throughout the film) whose out for revenge after her younger sister was addicted to smack and is confined to a psychiatric hospital. She is also in a relationship with up & coming politician Howard Brunswick (Booker Bradshaw SKULLDUGGERY 1970) and friends with nice guy policeman Carter (William Elliott from TV's ADAM-12) with whom it's also hinted at she had a past relationship.

     After Carter is brutally beaten and left brain dead Coffy sets her sights on the entire drug organization including drug kingpin gangster Arturo Vitroni (Allen Arbus from TV's MASH) and pimp "King George" (who has his own theme song on the soundtrack) played by Robert DoQui (GUYANA: CULT OF THE DAMNED 1979). In a scene that must rank among a highlight of 70's Blaxploitation cinema (or cinema in general for that matter), Grier decked out in a white bikini, massive sunglasses (and a hilarious fading in & out Jamaican accent) lounges by a pool on order to meet King George and infiltrate his stable of hookers. Becoming the favorite of the King, she incurs the wrath of blond-haired hooker Meg (played with spit-in-your face brass balled perfection by the wonderful Linda Haynes from ROLLING THUNDER) which leads to a massive catfight during a party with plenty of ripped off dresses and some amazing (and painful it would seem) stunt work performed by Grier, Haynes, and others.
   Grier has a magnificent presence here and although her acting is a bit wooden she carries this movie with gusto and Jack Hill's usual economical pull no punches direction and writing keeps things moving at a quick clip. Although the plot is standard stuff having a female in the lead role of the avenger was something new (along with Raquel Welch in 1971's HATTIE CAULDER) and would pretty much set the blueprint for Grier's 70's career as a kick-ass leading lady.
   She also plays the role of conflicted and confused - especially to the level of corruption she encounters and how much killing is forced upon her. Although she does have a moral compass she clearly knows what she wants to do and the villains are played to such outlandish rottenness you can't help but root for their demise.

    With the "n" word thrown out in about every other line and a very bloody dragging death behind a car, Coffy is awash in a very gritty 70's un-PC atmosphere and like many urban dramas of the period it deals with the encroachment of drugs and crime (usually perpetrated by whites with Italian surnames) into black communities. It presents the entire system of police and politicians as totally and wholly corrupt with only Coffy's policeman friend being honest and he, in turn, meets with a very bloody exit.
    Filled with familiar character faces (including Sid Haig as a gangster enforcer), Stuntman Bob Minor (THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS), Leslie McRay (DEATH RACE 2000), Lisa Farringer (TRUCK TURNER) and an uncredited Marilyn Joi pops up as a prostitute. Pam had worked with Jack Hill previously for New World in the Philippines for THE BIG DOLL HOUSE and THE BIG BIRDCAGE. COOFY features an excellent soundtrack Roy Ayers including the title theme "Coffy Is The Color".