Directed By: Jack Hill
Written By: Jack Hill
Produced By: Robert Papazian
Cast: Pam Grier, Sid Haig, Robert DoQui, Allan Arbus, Booker Bradshaw, William Elliott
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes
Review Date: September 17, 2010
Coffy is a film that loves to empower women. Sure, there are the ubiquitous, blaxploitation-laden moments of objectified women dancing at strip clubs with nothing but nothing on. However, these scenes soon follow with said women kicking each other’s asses with broken bottles, plates of the messiest food you can imagine, and razor blades conveniently hidden in an Afro. And what a whopper of an Afro Pam Grier has on top of her gorgeously statuesque head. If you see Pam Grier coming at you, you best look out. This woman is an unstoppably sexy, deadly force with which to be reckoned.
The story opens with some extreme violence at the hands of a vengeful protagonist. Coffy (Pam Grier) poses as a scantily clad hooker to lure a drug pusher back to his home. She pulls out all the stops: Her chest bursts through her shirt whilst promising a night of “no holds barred” sexual fantasy. He gets a little bit of action, and more than he bargained for. Before the credits roll, we get a full frontal shot of Pam Grier gratuitously blowing the drug pusher’s head off. The scene is dry and shot with little imagination, but this isn’t what the film is about. It’s simply about an impossibly sexy woman kicking the ass of crooked men.
And let’s not forget the catfights. In her search for the drug dealers that sold her little sister heroin, Coffy meets a prostitute who is privy to a wealth of information about the mob ring that purveys the drugs in town. The dialogue takes itself slightly too seriously, but all is forgotten once Coffy and the nameless, pasty prostitute have at it with broken bottles and splintered boards. It’s simple, mindless stuff, but blaxploitation is all about audience awareness, and director Jack Hill never looses sight of this main goal. All the while, he tells a compelling story with some subtle messages.
Coffy works her way through to the pimp King George (Robert DoQui), much the same way she worked the headless pimp that initiated the story. This time, however, she takes a more methodical approach. The pimp isn’t her primary focus, but rather the mafia boss at the top, the nasty and unstable Vitroni (Allan Arbus). This man not only spits on and degrades the woman he sees but also murders one of Coffy’s dear friends, an honest cop (William Elliott, in a small but endearing turn ) who refused to do business with the drug lord. Before she can have her vengeance, she must first deal with a backstabbing, politically inclined boyfriend (Booker Bradshaw) and Vitroni’s henchman (A young Sid Haig) in the film’s strongest and most suspenseful scenes. These scenes are deliberately lengthy and the tension is palpably disconcerting, but extremely effective. We’re sure this isn’t the untimely demise of our heroine, but damn if she doesn’t come close. What follows is a fabulous conclusion of non-stop, shoot-em-up violence that I won’t spoil. I will say, however, that the men in the audience will think twice before philandering behind their significant other’s backs again.
Coffy is not only great for its depiction of violence and black culture, but also for its empowerment of the African-American woman as well as its anti-drug propaganda (which, at the time, was uncouth). And of course, Pam Grier proves again why she is the ultimate badass. Simply glorious!
Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.