Film Review: Detroit 9000 (1973)

Also known as: The Holy Hill Caper (working title), Detroit Heat (video title), Police Call 9000 (Canada), S.O.S. Black Guns (France), Call Detroit 9000 (UK & Ireland)
Release Date: August, 1973 (Detroit)
Directed by: Arthur Marks
Written by: Orville H. Hampton
Music by: Luchi de Jesus
Cast: Alex Rocco, Hari Rhodes, Vonetta McGee, Herb Jefferson Jr., Ella Edwards, Scatman Crothers

General Film Corporation, Rolling Thunder Pictures (1998 re-release), 106 Minutes

Review:

“Was this a honky caper to keep black power from taking over the state Senate?” – Reporter

Detroit 9000 was originally marketed as a blaxploitation film during the height of that genre’s run. In reality, it is less blaxploitation and more urban crime thriller.

It was never hugely successful but it had a resurgence in the late ’90s when Quentin Tarantino helped to get it in the public eye by sampling it on his Jackie Brown soundtrack and by helping to get it redistributed into some theaters. A DVD release followed that.

The film stars Alex Rocco and I love seeing him in his younger days. He’s a guy who I’ve appreciated in just about everything he’s done. Here, he plays a cop trying to do things by the book in a town full of corruption, crime and racial tension. His partner is black and played by Hari Rhodes. The two of them had a dynamic relationship that works well on screen.

You also get to see Vonetta McGee, one of the queens of blaxploitation cinema, and Scatman Crothers as a charismatic preacher.

The one thing that this film had working for it was the action. Sure, there are some flaws, like a noticeable squib on a guy’s neck before it blows open and that same guy firing an assault rifle in the most nonsensical way possible, but this picture is action heavy with a lot of gravitas.

It also feels gritty and real. While that was normal for urban movies of the era, this one just has an extra level of authenticity. It was filmed on location in Detroit and the city really is a character in this film in the same way that New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles really came to life in some of the top film-noir pictures of the 1940s.

I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I would. I’m a fan of blaxploitation flicks and while this isn’t a true blaxploitation picture, it was kind of better than that style’s average offering due to being more of a straight up crime picture. Yes, racial issues were at the forefront but this felt less like a political and social statement and more like a buddy cop action movie that just happened to take place in that cinematic landscape.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Cotton Comes to HarlemBlack CaesarThe MackTruck Turner and Bucktown.

Film Review: Scream Blacula Scream (1973)

Also known as: Blacula II, Blacula is Beautiful, Blacula Lives Again!, The Name is Blacula
Release Date: June 27th, 1973
Directed by: Bob Kelljan
Written by: Joan Torres, Raymond Koenig, Maurice Jules
Music by: Bill Marx
Cast: William Marshall, Pam Grier, Don Mitchell, Michael Conrad, Lynne Moody, Richard Lawson

Power Productions, American International Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Your bread, man, all of it! Or are we gonna have to become anti-social and kick your ass?” – Pimp, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any ‘bread’ on me, and as for ‘kicking my ass’ I’d strongly suggest you give it careful consideration before trying.” – Blacula/Mamuwalde

Blacula was a better than decent attempt at merging blaxploitation cinema with classic horror. It also did fairly well for American International, so a sequel was pretty much a no brainer.

William Marshall came back but that was it. But if you need to find someone to replace Vonetta McGee, one of the queens of blaxploitation pictures, you hire the other queen, Pam Grier.

This film also brings in a voodoo twist and its a voodoo ritual that resurrects the bones of Blacula and brings him back into the world once again. Grier also plays a voodoo practitioner that becomes the apple of Blacula’s eye since his beloved African princess isn’t in this tale. All things considered, while I loved Marshall and McGee playing opposite of one another, I really liked Marshall’s chemistry with Grier too.

The gist of the story is about how a voodoo priestess, Lisa Fortier, chooses an apprentice to be her successor that isn’t the man destined to be her true heir. The rejected heir becomes outraged, buys the bones of Blacula and uses his powers to bring the vampire back to life. The evil voodoo heir needs Blacula to help him get revenge but Blacula turns him into a vampire and enslaves his spirit. As the film rolls on, Blacula ends up with a large vampire horde that is hard for him to control and after being smitten with Grier’s Lisa, he must protect her from his own children of the night.

While this isn’t as good as the first Blacula, it isn’t a huge step down either. I liked Grier, a lot. I also liked the voodoo element and the fact that it came with its own twists and powers that could be exploited in this tale of hungry rogue vampires. Plus, William Marshall just looked so comfortable in the role. While he isn’t the traditional Dracula, he brings a certain gravitas and legitimacy to the Dracula mythos and holds his own against some of the greats. He’s certainly better as a Dracula-esque character than the vast majority of actors who stepped into the role of a vampiric aristocrat.

Scream Blacula Scream was good enough to at least warrant another sequel but alas, this was the last film in the short-lived Blacula series. There have been rumors of a remake for years but nothing has ever actually materialized. But I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of Blacula as the undead never truly stay dead.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Blacula, of course! I also like watching these paired with those two Count Yorga movies from the same era and also put out by American International.

Film Review: Black Mama, White Mama (1973)

Also known as: Chains of Hate (alternate), Women In Chains (Canada), Hot, Hard and Mean (UK), Chained Women (Philippines), Frauen in Ketten (Germany)
Release Date: January 19th, 1973
Directed by: Eddie Romero
Written by: H. R. Christian
Based on: an original story by Joseph Viola, Jonathan Demme
Music by: Harry Betts
Cast: Pam Grier, Margaret Markov, Sid Haig

Four Associates Ltd., American International Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Some jive-ass revolution don’t mean shit to me!” – Lee Daniels

This film has been on my radar for years but I never had the opportunity to watch it until recently. I expected it to be a “women in prison” film but with the girls on the run and chained together while they spit racist shit back and forth at each other. However, it is a much better movie than that and to be completely honest, I was surprised about how good this movie actually is.

But really, I shouldn’t be surprised about the film’s quality, as Pam Grier has “the thing”. I can’t really define “the thing” but it’s this quality certain actors have that just makes them standout and rise above everything around them, as a beacon of absolute awesomeness, even if they are in a film that is total shit. Luckily, this film isn’t total shit, so it’s even better than just it’s great star.

Grier does have some help though because Margaret Markov, the white girl chained to her, is really damn good in her role too. You actually care about these girls and their separate agendas where in any other movie like this, you really wouldn’t give a shit and just hoped that violence or a titty were going to pop into the next shot.

Black Mama, White Mama also features Sid Haig in what is now one of my favorite roles he’s ever played. He’s basically a white cowboy criminal kingpin that wears colorful shirts, a sweet hat and rules his particular island of the Philippines with a big posse and big guns.

This starts as a standard “women in prison” movie, except that it takes place (and was shot) in the Philippines. Then there is an escape when the prison bus carrying the girls is attacked. One wants to go one way, to reach a boat with a lot of money, the other wants to go the other way, to her boyfriend and to help fight a revolution to free the island from tyranny. There are police in pursuit, a Filipino kingpin in pursuit, an American kingpin in pursuit, revolutionaries in pursuit, dogs in pursuit and a whole lot of sexy women running away from all of it.

Black Mama, White Mama is exceptional when looking at it within the context of being some throwaway, run of the mill, sexploitation, grindhouse, “women in prison” movie. It feels less grindhouse-y and more like something Cannon Films would make in the ’80s.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Pam Grier movies from the era. It’s not a standard “women in prison” film and it’s not an urban action drama but any Grier film will still probably flow well with this regardless.

Film Review: White Lightning (1973)

Also known as: McKlusky (working title)
Release Date: August 8th, 1973
Directed by: Joseph Sargent
Written by: William W. Norton
Music by: Charles Bernstein
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Bo Hopkins, Jennifer Billingsley, Diane Ladd, R.G. Armstrong, Laura Dern (uncredited)

United Artists, 101 Minutes

Review:

“I was tryin’ to save these two buddies of mine from getting knocked up by a homosexual.” – Gator McKlusky

White Lightning is a decent movie but not anything exceptional. Yet it still holds a special place in history because it’s popularity would help it to kick off a new type of film genre in the 1970s. Without this, we might not have had all those other car and trucker movies. Hell, who knows what Burt Reynolds would have done had he not carved out his place in history with this sort of role.

This took that ’70s whitesploitation shtick and made it mainstream. This was a film put out by a major studio and had some semblance of a budget compared to the similar grindhouse pictures of the time.

Burt Reynolds, himself, referred to the film as “…the beginning of a whole series of films made in the South, about the South and for the South. No one cares if the picture was ever distributed north of the Mason-Dixon Line because you could make back the cost of the negative just in Memphis alone. Anything outside of that was just gravy. It was a well done film. Joe Sargent is an excellent director. He’s very, very good with actors. And it had some marvelous people in it whom nobody had seen before. Ned Beatty for example. I had to fight like hell to get Ned in the film.”

The film had a pretty good score done by Charles Bernstein, who would make that famous A Nightmare On Elm Street theme a decade later. The score here may sound familiar to fans of Quentin Tarantino, as he reused some of it for his Kill Bill films.

Reynolds was pretty good as Gator McKlusky and he would get to return as a character in the sequel Gator, three years later.

The plot sees Gator initially try to breakout of an Arkansas prison but his attempt is foiled. He then works out a deal to bring down a crooked Sheriff, who is responsible for murdering his brother. Gator wants revenge, the system wants justice and everyone loves moonshine and fast cars.

White Lightning isn’t my favorite film in the genre it helped popularize but it is still worth revisiting from time to time due to its cultural significance and because well, Burt Reynolds is cool. Although, I prefer him alongside Jerry Reed.

Film Review: Hit! (1973)

Release Date: September 18th, 1973
Directed by: Sidney J. Furie
Written by: Alan Trustman, David M. Wolf
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor

Paramount Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“You know the government pays me $18,000 to be a computer programmer. I’d trade every single cent… just for one night with you.” – Esther

I recently got the Amazon Video subscription add-on Brown Sugar. It’s a streaming service that showcases black cinema and television shows but also has a huge library of blaxploitation pictures, which immediately justified the $3.99 monthly fee. Perusing their library, I came across this. It’s a film I have never heard of before but since it stars both Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor, I had to click “play”.

Sadly, it didn’t live up to the expectations I had in my mind.

The story is about an FBI agent (Williams) that comes to find his daughter dead after she overdosed. His superiors take him off of the case, as he’s too close to it. So Billy Dee goes rogue, forms his own badass squad and goes after the drug pushers responsible.

The main problem with the film is that it is too long. The length draws the movie out way too much and honestly, this story could and should have been told over ninety minutes and not over nearly two and a half hours. It made the film slow and drab and it actually felt like it was three hours. It had some good moments and a few high points but it was jam packed with so much filler that it was like Taco Bell beef instead of a nice juicy Angus steak. It could have been that Angus steak.

Also, the ending just felt really anticlimactic after sitting through this long, drawn out epic.

Now the acting was good. I liked Williams in this a lot and Richard Pryor was great in his parts. There just wasn’t much else to sink your teeth into.

It was directed by Sidney J. Furie though and that right there could be the crux of the problem. Not to bash the guy but he also directed the abysmal Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, some of the Iron Eagle movies and some other major duds. Granted, this is better than all of those films and he did helm The Appaloosa and Lady Sings the Blues, both of which were well regarded to some degree.

Hit! just isn’t as good of a film as it should have been. In an era of badass blaxploitation movies, it lacks excitement and gravitas. It really isn’t a true blaxploitation film though and maybe that’s why it misses its mark.

Film Review: Coffy (1973)

Release Date: June 13th, 1973
Directed by: Jack Hill
Written by: Jack Hill
Music by: Roy Ayers
Cast: Pam Grier, Booker Bradshaw, Robert DoQui, William Elliott, Allan Arbus, Sid Haig, Leslie McRae

American International Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“It was easy for him because he really didn’t believe it was comin’, but it ain’t gonna be easy for you, because you better believe it’s comin’!” – Coffy

Jack Hill made some damn cool pictures in the 1970s. Coffy is the first time he used Pam Grier as his top billed star and it is her breakout role, even though she appeared in a handful of those “women in prison” movies before this.

Grier plays Coffy, a black female vigilante that takes matters into her own hands when she hunts down and kills all the drug pushers that she holds responsible for turning her sister and her community into addicts. Basically, she is like a black female Punisher but much sexier and a lot cooler. The film’s original marketing tagline read, “They call her ‘Coffy’ and she’ll cream you!” If that’s not badass, I don’t know what is.

I first discovered Pam Grier when she had her recurring role on Miami Vice but I thought she was cool then and I had no idea about what she did in the decade before my childhood. As I became a teenager, I learned about Foxy Brown and this film and then experienced her return to form in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. But Coffy, is really where Grier created the persona that would become her forte.

Grier carries this film. In some scenes, she has help from the always sinister yet entertaining Sid Haig, probably now most famous for playing Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. This is Grier’s film though and she shines. But it is cool seeing her play opposite of Haig.

This is a pretty gritty and raw motion picture and having a female lead was really cool, especially when you didn’t get to see women play these tough roles. The ’70s really shattered the damsel in distress formula and it was blaxploitation pictures that helped lead the way. And really, it was Coffy that was out in front of all the others. At least, in my opinion. It’s just an iconic picture and still, one of the best things Pam Grier ever did.

Film Review: The Bad Bunch (1973)

Also known as: Tom (original theatrical title), Nigger Lover, America the Beautiful, Kiss the Establishment Goodbye, Love In Our Time (all working titles), Mothers, Fathers and Lovers (alternate title), The Brothers (reissue title)
Release Date: October, 1973
Directed by: Greydon Clark
Written by: Greydon Clark, Alvin L. Fast
Music by: Ed Cobb
Cast: Greydon Clark, Tom Johnigarn, Jacqueline Cole, Bambi Allen, Aldo Ray

Dimension Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Let’s get that honkey!” – Everyone in the film

I was anticipating this being better than it was but I should have been warned by other people’s reviews of it. Also, it is directed by Greydon Clark, who also stars in it, and nothing he has done has been very good.

Two of his films were bad enough to be lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000Final Justice and Angels Revenge. Some of his other films are also duds: JoysticksBlack ShampooStargames and really, who am I kidding, all his pictures are dead on arrival.

The Bad Bunch or Tom or whatever you want to call it probably would have been on MST3K too, if it weren’t for the copious amounts of boobies and over the top racial hatred.

There’s really nothing positive about this picture. I love grindhouse movies and blaxploitation flicks but this is one of the worst I’ve seen. Based off of the premise, which sees an ex-GI from Vietnam go to Watts to give a medal to the father of his deceased friend and then finds himself in the ghetto being hunted by blacks full of hatred for whitey, I thought that this had some promise.

The hunt for whitey culminates into a one on about a dozen brawl, which is broken up by cops less than twenty minutes into the film. Then the rest of the movie is full of nonsensical scenes that mostly do nothing to advance the plot other than displaying racial hatred and a lot of breasts and ’70s bush.

A much better movie would have been the white guy on the run, trying to survive, using his military skills. This guy had no skills whatsoever and when his shirt was off, he looked like my old Uncle Claude, who never lifted a weight in his life.

This film is a prime example of wasted potential but maybe I’m jumping the gun, as there really wasn’t anything here that had potential, other than the premise. The direction was horrible, the acting was atrocious and not much about the plot made sense.

So does The Bad Bunch deserve to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Why, yes! The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.”