During the height of the blaxploitation craze, American International Pictures (AIP) was adamant about making an action film with a black leading lady. Having lost a hot property known as "Cleopatra Jones" to Warner Bros., they employed exploitation specialist Jack Hill to write and direct such a project. And so COFFY was born, and Hill concocted the script specifically as a starring vehicle for Pam Grier, veteran of several of his Filipino-made action flicks. With her exotic looks and wildcat charms — not to forget her willingness to frequently disrobe — Grier became an overnight sensation and COFFY was a smash for AIP, and it was quickly followed by the likes of FOXY BROWN, FRIDAY FOSTER and others. Olive Films now unleashes a trio of Pam Grier flicks, available on Blu-ray in the U.S. for the first time.
Coffy is an attractive young nurse who is determined to extinguish everyone responsible for destroying her 11-year-old sister who is comatose because of drugs. She easily lures a pusher into a bedroom, and graphically blows his head off with a shotgun. Then she forces his driver to inject himself with a fatal shot of heroin. After she alerts a nice black cop named Carter (William Elliott, NIGHT OF THE LEPUS) of her predicament, he detects that his white partner, McHenry, Barry Cahill, GRAND THEFT AUTO) is crooked and on the take. Carter tells Coffy that McHenry is working with the drug mob, and that the head of it is an Italian gangster, Vitroni (Allan Arbus, GREASER’S PALACE). Suddenly two ski-masked thugs burst into the apartment, since Carter won't go on the take. They rough up Coffy and batter Carter to the point where he'll never be the same. Coffy discovers from a prostitute that a big shot dope distributor and pimp, King George (Robert DoQui, THE DEVIL’S 8), works for Vitroni, and she makes him the target of her retaliation.
King George is introduced getting out of his limo garbed in a tacky pimp suit, complete with a funky theme song that whispers his name in a cool-ass manner ("King George...He's the King!"). The shapely Coffy has no problem convincing George to take her in his stable, enabling her plan to take on the underworld to soar. With her crooked politician boyfriend (Brooker Bradshaw, SKULLDUGGERY) also in cahoots with Vitroni, vengeance comes in a big way for Coffy, and she does her baddest to violently wipe out those who double-crossed her.
Jack Hill throws in just about everything that he can to make the narrative about crooked cops, pimps, prostitutes, lesbians, the mob, and the vengeful nurse of the title as outrageous as possible. Loaded with comic violence, pimp George is dragged by the bumper of his car (by Hill regular Sid Haig who is great as the heavily-accented Armenian lackey) down the most obstacle-ridden allies, a catfight involves Coffy and a half a dozen other girls (most become conveniently topless during the struggle), and a one-eyed derelict is literally pulverized by Coffy's wheels at the foot of Vitroni's front door. Bob Minor, the credited stunt coordinator who worked on many of the 1970s blaxploitation movies (he doubled for William Marshall in both “Blaculas”), makes an appearance here as Vitroni’s loyal chauffeur Studs, and he has an even better part in FOXY BROWN as the leader of a black militant group. Linda Haynes (ROLLING THUNDER) is great as King George’s bitchy hooker girlfriend who, during the catfight with Coffy, has her palms sliced up by the razor blades hidden in her foe’s wig! The unforgettable score is by jazz-funk artist Roy Ayers, and not only does King George get his own theme tune, but so does Coffy (“Coffy is the color of your skin. Coffy is the world you live in”).
Outrageousness seemed to be contagious in the follow-up, 1974’s FOXY BROWN, again directed by Hill. Originally intended as a continuation titled "Burn Coffy, Burn," that idea was junked after AIP realized that their current sequels weren't doing too hot, and Hill had to re-write the story. FOXY BROWN takes things a step further with even more sleazier characters and more violent proceedings than its prototype.
When Foxy Brown's brother Link (the incredible Antonio Fargas. ACROSS 110TH STREET) is cornered at an outdoor taco stand by two members of a local dope ring, he frantically phones her to come to his rescue. As the two hoods are closing in on the hapless double-crosser, Foxy suddenly drives up, wreaks havoc with the two assassins and escorts her brother to her apartment for protection. Later, when Foxy brings home her boyfriend, Michael (Terry Carter, ABBY), an undercover narcotics agent who has had plastic surgery to prevent identification by the mob, Link recognizes him.
Trying to get himself off the hook, Link phones Miss Katherine (Kathryn Loder, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE), the domineering head of the local dope and prostitution ring. Miss Katherine passes the information along to her lover/enforcer Steve (Peter Brown, CHROME AND HOT LEATHER) and he sets up an ambush, which ends in Michael's death. Foxy is furious when she discovers that Link was indeed the informer, and she confronts him in his love-nest where he has sex and sniffs snow with his white mama. Making it known that she's "a whole lotta woman," she pecks Link's ear with a gunshot and wrecks the joint, forcing him to reveal the name of the mob leader. Thirsting for revenge, Foxy associates herself with Miss Katherine and becomes a part of her high-class call girl operation (much in the same vein as in COFFY), and uses her allure to seduce and then humiliate a client judge (Harry Holcombe, KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS) and frees one of their stable (Juanita Brown, CAGED HEAT) by reuniting her with her son and husband. When Miss Katherine and Steve discover who Coffy is, they abduct her and send her to their private ranch for further maltreatment, but this “whole lotta woman” isn’t going to go down without a fight!
Although the plots are somewhat similar, FOXY BROWN takes the irresistible trash level of COFFY a bit further. This is exemplified in a nasty sequence where Foxy is shot full of narcotics and taken to a secluded shack on a pier, placed in the custody of two extremely grubby degenerates (played by H.B. Haggerty and Boyd ‘Red’ Morgan). After being beaten, raped and overdosed again, she maims one of the ugly mugs with a clump of wire coat hangers, and manages to escape after mercilessly setting them on fire. FOXY BROWN also boasts a turbulent brawl in a lesbian bar, a bad guy being diced by a plane propeller, and let's not forget the famous "pickle jar" scene, devised as a sort of retribution by Hill for a compromise he had to make with the studio's end! Sid Haig has a smaller role as an easily seduced plane pilot, and the dynamic funky score is by R&B great Willie Hutch, with the soundtrack being released on Motown Records a year after the film’s release.
In her final film for American International Pictures, Grier stars as the title character of FRIDAY FOSTER, a sexy ex fashion model working as a magazine photographer. Living in a penthouse apartment with her little brother Cleve (Tierre Turner, DEVIL TIMES FIVE), she gets an urgent call from her editor (Julius Harris, LIVE AND LET DIE) on New Year’s Eve to secretly photograph the airport arrival of billionaire Blake Tarr (Thalmus Rasulala, BLACULA) only to witness an assassination attempt. During the same night, she gets another urgent call from her best friend (Rosalind Miles, SHAFT’S BIG SCORE) who the next day is stabbed to death before walking out on the runway of a fashion show. Friday also becomes a target, as an attempt is made to snuff her out while she’s taking a shower, and she teams up with helpful private detective Colt Hawkins (Yaphet Kotto, TRUCK TURNER) and the two become entangled in a plot involving a senator (Paul Benjamin, ACROSS 110TH STREET) and some program known as "Black Widow" which could be a plot to wipe out the African-American political leaders of the nation.
Based on a syndicated comic strip that had ended its four-year run the year before the film was released, FRIDAY FOSTER was produced and directed by drive-in movie maverick Arthur Marks in a four-picture deal for AIP which also included BUCKTOWN, J.D.’S REVENGE and THE MONKEY HUSTLE. Although dealing with common themes found in many other blaxploitation flicks, it’s more of a straight detective/espionage drama which works well as a vehicle for Grier (as a very “liberated woman”), who never looked more lovely than she does here. This is more lighthearted stuff (with touches of humor and a “cute kid” main character) when compared to the likes of COFFY and FOXY BROWN, but there’s still plenty of shootouts and car chases (with Friday stealing a hearse and a dairy truck in the process), and the well-known cast includes guest appearances by the likes of Eartha Kitt (hamming it up as a fashion mogul), Godfrey Cambridge (as a gay events booker), Jim Backus (as a wheelchaired politician), Scatman Crothers (as woman-chasing preacher) and future “The Love Boat” star Ted Lange (as a young pimp constantly showering Friday with gifts). The year before his landmark appearance in ROCKY, Carl Weathers plays the persistent hitman Yarbro who dresses as everything from an airport security guard to a deliveryman, as well as a garbage man, crushing someone in a telephone booth with the back of his truck!
COFFY, FOXY BROWN and FRIDAY FOSTER were previously available on DVD from MGM as part of their “Soul Cinema” line, with the films then being repackaged in double-feature form. Olive Films uses MGM’s HD masters for these Blu-rays, presenting the films in their original 1.85:1 aspect ratios in full 1080p. These transfers look fantastic for the most part (with COFFY especially being a nice upgrade from MGM’s non-anamorphic DVD) with strong colors and detail. With COFFY and FOXY BROWN exhibiting some fleeting speckling and debris, FRIDAY FOSTER is by far the strongest and cleanest-looking transfer here. All three titles feature excellent DTS-HD stereo tracks, but there are no subtitle options. Note that Olive Films’ releases of these three Pam Grier titles are barebones (no trailers and no Jack Hill commentaries which were featured on MGM’s DVDs of COFFY and FOXY BROWN) so those with region B capabilities may want to also seek out Arrow Films’ U.K. Blu-rays of COFFY and FOXY BROWN, which do feature the Hill commentaries as well as a number of other extras. (George R. Reis)
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