SLAUGHTER (1972) Blu-ray
Director: Jack Starrett
Olive Films

Just about every tough black actor was given the opportunity to create his own Blaxploitation hero in the early 1970s. Ron O'Neal had SUPERFLY, Richard Roundtree had SHAFT, Fred Williamson had HAMMER and Jim Brown had SLAUGHTER. Although the football player turned thespian had a handful of film roles going back to the mid-1960s, SLAUGHTER represents his first real starring vehicle.

Slaughter (Jim Brown, BLACK GUNN), a conceited ex-Green Beret captain, is grieved by the news that a bomb killed his parents, due to his father's syndicate ties. When he finds out the details of the killer's flight, he chases the plane, killing one of the passengers while the others escape. Set up at a desk In the airport’s storage room, A. W. Price (Cameron Mitchell, NIGHTMARE IN WAX) a bigoted federal cop, tells Slaughter that his attack destroyed Syndicate ledgers that the government had trailed for a years, so he offers him a deal instead of arresting him. With the aid of two feds, Harry (Don Gordon, THE BEAST WITHIN) and Kim (Marlene Clark, GANJA & HESS), Slaughter flies to South America to take on those responsible for the killings, namely ruthless mobster lieutenant Dominic Hoffo (Rip Torn, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH), the right hand man to crime kingpin Mario Felice (Norman Alfe). When Slaughter barges in on Felice’s casino as an uninvited guest, he sends over the beautiful Ann (Stella Stevens, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE) to his hotel to placate him and find out all she can, but in turn, they fall in love with each other. This doesn’t sit well with nutty Hoffo (he aggressively used Ann as arm candy), who soon overrides Felice and his orders, kidnaps Ann and causes Slaughter to raid Hoffo's fortress-like ranch and revolt as only he can!

While not a critical success by any means, SLAUGHTER is action-jammed fun in the typical AIP tradition, and it remains a favorite among their Blaxploitation catalog. The film was directed by the late, great Jack Starrett, an actor who also had a busy career directing episodic television, and he helmed a string of 1970s drive-in classics of varying genres, including THE LOSERS, THE STRANGE VENGEANCE OF ROSALIE, CLEOPATRA JONES, RACE WITH THE DEVIL and A SMALL TOWN IN TEXAS. Starrett was more than adept at handling exploitation films and keeping them loaded with action and comic book violence, and here we get treated to a lot of James Bond-esque chases and bloody shootouts, with the location shooting in Mexico substituting well enough for the story’s unnamed South American city. Likely due to the controversy of Brown's appearance in 100 RIFLES opposite Raquel Welch a few years earlier, Stevens has several lovemaking scenes with Brown, and has no problem with disrobing before the camera, as by the this time in film history, a good number of mainstream Hollywood actresses were required to do nudity.

SLAUGHTER was the film that propelled Brown into Blaxploitation stardom, leading to a sequel the following year (SLAUGHTER’S BIG RIP-OFF) and several collaborations with another pro footballer-turned actor, Fred Williamson (THREE THE HARD WAY, TAKE A HARD RIDE). The stone-faced and confident Brown easily pulls off the role of an indestructible hero who easily guns down or beats up the bad guys without a struggle, and he’s got a great cast to play off of. The underrated Don Gordon (probably best known for starring opposite Steve McQueen in BULLITT and PAPILLON) provides some subtle comic relief as the down-to-earth fed who is always striking out with the woman, and he becomes a sort of a buddy to Slaughter (he is introduced to Harry as a surprise visitor to his hotel room, with Slaughter punching him and crashing with him through a window and into a swimming pool before realizes he’s an ally). Torn is also terrific as the psychotic racist Hoffo, effortlessly shooting the head of the mob for his own career's sake, and swearing to cut something off Slaughter’s person if he touches his woman. Norman Alfe (who apparently never acted in anything else) makes a fascinatingly awkward Godfather-style mob boss, with his deadpan style of acting and stilted, accented dialogue delivery. Although the soundtrack was composed by Luchi De Jesus, soul singer and 1970s chart buster Billy Preston performs the lively sounding titular theme song, no doubt one of the best tracks of its type to grace a Blaxploitation picture.

Previously available on DVD (first in 2001) as part of MGM’s “Soul Cinema” line, SLAUGHTER now arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Films in an HD transfer which is concurrently being issued on standard DVD. Heavy grain and artifacting problems that were on the original MGM disc are not to be found here, as the beautiful transfer presents the film in 1080p in the original 2.35:1 Todd-AO 35 aspect ratio that it was shot in. The image has a crisp and clean appearance, with grain being maintained nicely. Detail is superb, as proven by the close-ups, which reveal naturalistic fleshtone textures. Blacks are consistent and deep, and colors are well-balanced and solid throughout. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio sound mix has crisp-sounding dialogue and the music plays through nicely. There are no subtitle options included. The only extra is the original AIP theatrical trailer, narrated by the great Adolph Caesar. (George R. Reis)