Wednesday, June 5, 2019

24 Hours of Movies: Blaxploitation!

by Patrick Bromley

I love blaxploitation movies. I'm not saying that to sound "woke." I'm saying that because it's true. It's always one of my favorite days of Junesploitation, so this year I thought it would be fun to program 24 hours of insane blaxploitation (not the most insane, of course; you'll notice a total lack of Black Devil Doll from Hell). There were so many titles that I couldn't include in the lineup that maybe I'll do another one of these next year. On the plus side, I was able to program three of my very favorite movies into this marathon, plus a bunch of other really cool titles and a few I've never seen before.

Happy Blaxploitation Day!

10 am - Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971, dir. Melvin Van Peebles)
Let's start off with the one that started it off. Melvin Van Peebles' watershed blaxploitation launched an entire movement and proved that there was a big audience for black films. I still haven't seen this one despite owning the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray. What a perfect opportunity to give it a spin.

Noon - Cooley High (1975, dir. Michael Schultz)
Let's mix things up for our second movie and watch this charming coming of age comedy drama about best friends growing up in Chicago in the early 1960s. Because so many blaxploitation films lean towards genre sensationalism, it's a nice change of pace to see something that's laid back and affable. It belongs early in the lineup, but it will play really well here.

2 pm - Hell Up in Harlem (1973, dir. Larry Cohen)
We can't have a Blaxploitation marathon without some Hammer, so I've gone ahead and programmed a mini double feature inside of our 24 hours. First up is this terrific crime film -- the sequel to Black Caesar and part of a couple films Fred Williamson made with the late, great Larry Cohen. Black Caesar is excellent, but I actually prefer the follow up because it does away with any plot or characterization and just sticks to 90 minutes of ass-kicking action.

3:45 pm - Boss (1975, dir. Jack Arnold)
For our second Fred Williamson film, I'm choosing Boss (aka Boss N--ger, also the title of the single catchiest theme song you never want to actually sing), a great little blaxploitation western directed by Jack Arnold, who knows how to put a movie together. There weren't a ton of blaxploitation westerns, but this one is one of the best. It also features one of my favorite last lines of the 1970s.

5:15 pm - Coonskin (1975, dir. Ralph Bakshi)
I've never seen this odd-looking animation/live action hybrid from Ralph Bakshi, but I liked the idea of slotting a cartoon into this lineup. The movie was hard to see for a little while thanks to some rights mixup, but those have since been resolved. There's a Region 2 Blu-ray that's very pricey, but the movie is also available to stream for those of you who subscribe to Brown Sugar.

7 pm - Action Jackson (1988, dir. Craig R. Baxley)
The primetime dinner slot goes to one of the great "modern" blaxploitation films (despite the fact that it's 30 years old and only 10 years removed from the actual blaxploitation movement of the 1970s), which casts Carl Weathers in his only real at-bat as an action lead. If this movie had been made a decade earlier with Jim Brown or Fred Williamson, it would be heralded as a classic of the genre. Maybe some of its greatness is obscured by its '80s excess, though I would argue that's a big part of what makes it great.

8:45 pm - Coffy (1973, dir. Jack Hill)
I mean, come on. There's nothing I need to say here. This isn't just one of my favorite blaxploitation movies; it's one of my favorite movies of any genre, period. Pam Grier was never better, and neither was director Jack Hill. That's saying a lot.

10:30 pm - Sugar Hill (1974, dir. Paul Maslansky)
And we start to segue into horror for the overnight section. Marki Bey plays a photographer who enlists the help of a voodoo priestess to raise an army of zombies after her boyfriend is murdered. So it's basically Coffy but with voodoo zombies. It's so much fun. And while it sounds fairly dark, the movie is actually pretty tame and earns its PG rating. Programming it on the early side of the overnight makes sense.

Midnight - Welcome Home, Brother Charles (1975, dir. Jamaa Fanaka)
On the total opposite end of the spectrum is this amazing movie that's very adult and very weird. Marlo Monte gives an award-worthy performance as a man done wrong by some crooked cops. I wouldn't dream of spoiling where this movie goes, and I hope you won't ever read up on it if you plan to watch it. This movie needs to be enjoyed unsullied by knowledge of its turns. I genuinely think this is one of the best movies of the 1970s, and deals with race and masculinity and relationships in a way that no other movie does.

1:45 am - Abby (1974, dir. William Girdler)
This will be a first time watch for me, but I knew I had to program the blaxploitation take on The Exorcist. The Warner Bros. legal department has made this a difficult movie to see, but I was gifted a copy by Adam Riske that I still haven't watched. Even if I don't love it, it's slotted between two great movies, meaning it is, at the very worst, a chance to catch our breath.

3:15 am - Tales from the Hood (1995, dir. Rusty Cundieff)
This is how I will convince Adam Riske to hang out for the entire overnight section of the podcast. Another great modern blaxploitation horror, this is one of my favorite anthologies and one of the best horror movies of the 1990s. Disregard the disappointing sequel and stick with the OG. We'll get to watch the sun rise as Clarence Williams III screams "Welcome to Hell, muthafuckas!!" which is the only way I want to wake up.

5 am - Blacula (1972, dir. William Crain)
I know Tales from the Hood would technically make a good end to our horror block. but I don't want to let the night pass without watching William Marshall class it up in the surprisingly terrific Blacula. It's less weird and trashy than some of the other stuff we'll be watching overnight, but that's why I wanted to make it the last one we watched. It was either this or Ganja and Hess, but that one works better in the middle of the night.

6:30 am - Black Shampoo (1976, dir. Greydon Clark)
It's exactly what the title sounds like: a take on Hal Ashby's Shampoo, only with an all-black cast. And way more sex and nudity. And more chainsaw fights. This movie is amazing. It's directed by the great Greydon Clark, who gets his very own day devoted to him this Junesploitation. Black Shampoo is the perfect movie to watch early in the morning when we're rubbing our eyes and not believing what we're seeing.

8 am - Truck Turner (1974, dir. Jonathan Kaplan)
The third and final of my favorite movies in this lineup, Truck Turner is Isaac Hayes' best movie and another of the greatest exploitation movies of all time. It's one of those movies that has everything, plus Nichelle Nichols as a psychotic madame doing a Katt Williams impression.

9:30 am - I'm Gonna Git You Sucka (1988, dir. Keenen Ivory Wayans)
Let's close out with the culmination of every blaxploitation movie ever made. Like almost any of Keenen Ivory Wayans' movies, only a percentage of the jokes in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka land, but it's a higher percentage than the rest of his work. I suspect the movie will play even better at the end of 24 hours of blaxploitation when the references are even more topical and we're perfectly in the mood for what this spoof delivers.

Now let's get some sleep, sucka!


  1. Great lineup - I really love what little Blaxploitation I've seen - Truck Turner and Welcome Home, Brother Charles are two of my favourites as well - and I'd be totally down for this marathon. I haven't even seen Coffy yet (I know, I know!), but I'm wanting to go a bit more obscure and check out Emma Mae - would you recommend?

  2. I would very much like to see this marathon. Great choices!