Coffy

1973, Movie, R, 91 mins

Review

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If you're looking for nonstop, no-holds-barred exploitation, look no further. Pam Grier's first solo starring role is an enormously entertaining black action classic.

Nurse by day, vigilante by night, luscious Coffy (Pam Grier) leads a complicated life. Her sister is a vegetable in a drug rehab center, prompting Coffy to seduce and kill one of the dealers responsible. Her boyfriend Howard Brunswick (Booker Bradshaw) is a burgeoning politician campaigning vehemently against drugs in the ghetto. Her policeman pal Carter Brown (William Elliot), after refusing a bribe from mobster Arturo Vitroni (Allan Arbus), is beaten into a coma. Coffy swears vengeance, wheedling her way into the stable of whores run by drug-dealer King George (Robert DoQui) in order to switch his stash of heroin for sugar and catch the eye of his guest Vitroni.

But when Coffy tries to seduce and kill Vitroni, she is recognized by one of his henchmen and captured. Coffy accuses King George of putting her up to it, and Vitroni has him killed. Coffy's boyfriend Howard turns out to be part of the gang, and instructs Vitroni to kill her. After the henchmen shoot her full of dope (not realizing it's actually sugar), Coffy feigns getting high and manages to escape, steal a car, and return to kill Vitroni and his men. Then she heads to Howard's beach house with revenge in mind, but begins to melt to his sweet talk--until a naked woman walks out of the bedroom, spurring Coffy to shoot Howard in the crotch.

The involved plot has a predictable arc, but takes any number of unexpected detours en route to its brutal conclusion. Violence is extreme and often genuinely shocking, with shotgun-toting Coffy blowing the head off a drug dealer before the opening credits even roll. King George's farewell is particularly vicious; bound with a noose around his neck, he's dragged to death behind a car driven by cackling Omar (Sid Haig), the body bouncing off curbs and through various obstructions. The film is similarly chockablock with gratuitous nudity and casual perversity, as when Coffy first catches the eye of Vitroni, a man she knows to be a sadist, by instigating a catfight with a jealous prostitute. Naturally blouses are torn asunder. When a disgusted King George tries to intervene, Vitroni gleefully stops him, ordering him to let them fight. Screenwriter-director Jack Hill is clearly having a ball with this material, milking it for every exploitative moment. (In a throwaway line, a prostitute sporting a bruise on her spine is advised that she should stay off her back for awhile.)

Having helmed an unheralded classic of independent trash cinema in SPIDER BABY (1964), film student Hill was employed in the mid-1960s by American International Pictures (along with former classmate Francis Ford Coppola), for whom he worked in every possible capacity. During the initial gold rush of blaxploitation, he was brought aboard CLEOPATRA JONES (1973) in the developmental stage, but when the project was bought out by Warner Bros. and the producers left out in the cold, they decided to make their own variation on the theme. Hill wrote COFFY and cast AIP's former receptionist, Pam Grier, in the lead role. Previously Grier had featured in Hill's two women-in-prison films, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE (1971) and THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972), as well as sharing the lead in Eddie Romero's BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA (1972)--all of them shot in the Philippines. At the time of COFFY she wasn't overly skilled as an actress (her Jamaican accent when she goes undercover is truly appalling), but Hill's script didn't exactly call for a lot of dramatic emoting. It called for her to look good and kick ass, two things that nobody's ever done better than Grier. A planned sequel mutated into the following year's FOXY BROWN, also written and directed by Hill and starring Grier, subscribing to the simple credo set forth in COFFY's closing theme: "Revenge is a virtue." (Graphic violence, extensive nudity, sexual situations, substance abuse, extreme profanity.) leave a comment

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