= Highest Rating
is a seminal '70s "blaxploitation" film,
a classic of the genre —
and not just for making Pam Grier a bona fide
cult movie star. For what's basically a low budget
exploitation flick Coffy
is surprisingly intelligent, with unusual attention
given to characterization. Writer-director Jack
Brown) deserves the credit for this
along with a winning cast of performers. Not that
there aren't plenty of "trash" cinema
elements on display, mind you... Viewers seeking
ample nudity and gritty, violent action won't
come away disappointed either.
(Grier) is a tough young woman, having survived
the means streets of the ghetto to pursue a successful
career in nursing. Her steady boyfriend Howard
(Booker Bradshaw) is a rising political star on
the city council. Her little sister hasn't been
so lucky... Strung out on smack by age 11, her
sibling now lies comatose in a drug treatment
center. Coffy is filled with rage when she thinks
of the dope pushers who've profited from her sister's
misery and that of countless others. The streetwise
nurse decides to take the law into her own hands,
enacting vigilante justice against those responsible
judge, jury and executioner.
not clued into any of this until Coffy claims
her first victims. Pretending to be a drugged-up
hoochie mama willing to trade sex for smack, she
lures a big-time pusher to his death, blowing
his head off with a sawed-off shotgun. She gives
the dead man's lackey a choice: inject a fatal
dose of heroin or get the same treatment as the
boss. Coffy is completely unmoved by the henchman's
begging. She coldly sticks him with the hypo,
killing him. The police believe the deaths were
a murder/overdose so Coffy goes unsuspected.
private war on crime is reignited when a close
friend, African-American police officer Carter
(William Elliot), is nearly beaten to death by
masked thugs for not going on the take. Coffy
is with him when it goes down; she's
roughed up and nearly raped by one of the goons.
Carter is left permanently disabled by the beating.
Before the attack, he told her that his patrol
partner was taking money from an Italian gangster,
Arturo Vitroni, supplier of most of
the dope peddlers in the black community.
does some amateur sleuthing and starts to connect
the dots. To get to Vitroni she'll have to infiltrate
the stable of "King George" (DoQui),
a notorious, flamboyant pimp who supplies hookers
for the mobster's perverted tastes. This she does
by posing as "Mystique", a high class
call girl from Jamaica. (Whose Caribbean accent
is all over the map.) The King's instantly smitten
and wants to bring her into his harem after "checkin'
her out first." That throwin' down and knockin'
boots with a pimp was part of Coffy's plan isn't
debatable. She does a sexy strip and obviously
rocks the King's world. This chick'll do anything
to get revenge.
provoking the jealousy of the King's main squeeze,
Meg (Linda Haynes) —
culminating in a food-tossing, blouse-ripping
catfight between Coffy and George's girls —
"Mystique" eventually gets her one-on-one
session with Vitroni (Alan Arbus of TV's M*A*S*H*).
The mobster degrades Coffy by barking racial slurs
and spitting on her. (Vitoni's a pervert who gets
off on this kind of thing.) Coffy turns the tables
on the creep when she whips out a concealed pistol.
"I'll be pissin' on yo' grave tomorrow,"
she snarls. Just before she can pull the trigger,
however, Vitroni's vicious bodyguard Omar (Hill
regular Sid Haig) intervenes and
disarms her. Fast on her feet, Coffy tells Vitroni
that King George hired her to
assassinate him. Vitroni orders her held prisoner;
George is to be rubbed out in spectacular fashion
— the pimp is dragged to his death while tied
to the bumper of his pimpmobile. (In the wake
of the James Byrd incident in Texas a few years
back, this can be an uncomfortable scene.) In
the meantime a summit meeting between Vitroni
and corrupt city officials will be held to get
to the bottom of things. Coffy, naturally, is
marked for death. But her captors have badly underestimated
the lady's resourceful cunning and unquenchable
desire for revenge...
you're looking for kitschy silliness a la Dolemite
then Coffy ain't
your bag, baby. Sure, some of the early '70s lingo,
pimp fashions and cultural conventions may provoke
a smile or two —
the scene in which a middle-aged doctor and
Carter, both black, exchange a "soul brother"
handshake had us grinning; King George's introductory
theme music is a hoot —
but the story is played totally straight. It's
lurid, "pulp fiction" melodrama to be
sure but the main characters aren't just one-dimensional
cartoons. Both Hill's screenplay and approach
to directing the film ensure this. The incomparable
Pam Grier, despite acting skills that were still
a bit raw in this early phase of her career, makes
Coffy someone you care about, a heroine you can
root for — even though her tactics are sometimes
pretty brutal. As the bald, leather-jacketed Omar,
genre regular Sid Haig renders a typically insignificant
part, that of the bad guy's henchman, into a memorable
turn. (He drives King George's pimpmobile while
the owner is dragged behind it.) It was admittedly
odd though seeing Arbus, the kindly shrink Dr.
Sidney Friedman on M*A*S*H*, playing a
thoroughly repulsive swine. (It'd be charitable
to say that his Italian accent — like Grier's
Jamaican dialect as "Mystique" — is
less than convincing.)
refreshing aspect of Coffy
is the dearth of racial stereotypes, usually the
most unsettling thing about watching blaxploitation
flicks up to 30 years after their release. Exaggerated
"shuckin' and jivin'" doesn't take the
place of performances. (Aside from his taste in
dress, DoQui's King George is pretty low key for
a '70s movie pimp.) African-Americans are both
victims and victimizers, part of the problem as
well as the solution —
adding an element
of realism to Coffy's
comic book revenge tale.
release of Coffy is
part of its "Soul Cinema" line of DVDs.
(As the film was originally an AIP release, one
supposes it could've just as easily been one of
the company's "Midnite Movie" titles.)
Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, this is the best
it's ever likely to look on home video. The disc's
Dolby Mono audio track is crispy clear and distortion-free.
There are French and Spanish language tracks as
In addition to the threatical trailer, the disc
offers an audio commentary by writer-director Jack
Hill. In a very relaxed, laid back style he recounts
various aspects of Coffy's
production and the rationale behind his approach.
Disagreements between Hill and the studio over content
provide some interesting anecdotes (the producers
wanted it to be more violent and sensationalistic),
as do his memories of working with Grier on this
and other films.