Nurse by day, ball busting vigilante by night, Coffy (Pam Grier) is a force to be reckoned with. You don’t get more badass than this babe. Out to avenge her sister Lubelle Coffin, Coffy sets out to bring down the drug gangs that lure young girls into heroin and prostitution. Gangs she blames for giving Lubelle a drug habit when she was just eleven years old.
Coffy’s quest sees her infiltrate the gang from the inside, by posing as top class hooker Mystique fresh in from Jamaica; taking her into the clutches of pimp, King George (Robert DoQui). He is eager to make her part of his harem: Such is the power of her disguise Coffy quickly becomes one of the main events in the smorgasbord of fantasy delights offering their sexual services through King George’s organisation. The choice to go native, and her arrival at George’s pad comes much to the disgust of his ‘old lady’ Meg (Linda Haynes), who would like to consider herself queen of the food chain as far as George is concerned. George has other plans and this causes tension in the household as the two women go head to head jostling to be number one. But when mob boss Arturo Vitrioni (Allan Arbus) becomes aware the newcomer is an imposter- and that she is romantically linked with local politician Howard Brunswick (Booker Bradshaw) (a man who has openly declared war on the drug corruption he contributes to being brought into black communities via unscrupulous white crime lords)-, the question becomes has our heroine bitten off more than she can chew here?
American International Pictures cycled through a bunch of drive-in money spinners during their reign as American producers and distributors of low-budget film throughout the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. The company covered just about anything and everything that fell into the remit of horror and exploitation-from sci-fi schlock, to luxurious gothic; via plenty of seventies sleaze, cheesy beach party movies, sixties psychedelia and all manner of B grade action and horror.
When it comes to Blaxploitation specifically, A.I.P were quick to realise the potential in the subgenre and tried to meet the market demand with their own take on the theme; following the success of outside independent forerunners such as Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), and Shaft (1971). A.I.P’s freeform approach to the genre brought about some interesting results. For instance the twinning of horror and Blaxploitation themes in the genre busting Blacula (1973) provided an innovative cross-over of ideas that worked in perfect unison and spawned an entire spin-off subgenre of Blaxploitation Horror to burst forth from the A.I.P cannon.
Jack Hill’s Coffy was every bit as diverse as Blacula had proved to be previously. Although the film returned to ‘traditional’ themes, the choice to have a female lead in a typically male role, was ground breaking for the time. The success of the picture lies in Hill’s ingenuity to place a very strong female character centre stage and Pam Grier’s solid performance as the titular Coffy that works to pull it all off. Hill’s career previous to working on Coffy, had already demonstrated the director’s proclivity for female fronted roles at the head of his pictures. Hill had worked with actress Grier already, in notable W.I.P films, The Big Doll House (1971) and The Big Bird Cage (1971); apparently spotting her potential from the outset. Hill has waxed lyrical in many interviews on how he ‘discovered’ the actress while she was working as a receptionist for A.I.P.
Blaxploitation, and indeed the wider remit of exploitation and action film, was chocked with (what were seen as) bankable male stars in the early seventies. Pam matched her male counterparts as an equal on her own terms, creating a new trend and opening up the playing field for a future generation of women working in genre film. This is one of the reasons why her legacy remains so important to the field of both exploitation and Blaxploitation cinema. Hill had envisioned Coffy as a vehicle for the actress to showcase her talents as a sole lead, and rightfully it has gone on to be considered one of her overall career highlights so far, as well as leading her to the (unofficial) sequel Foxy Brown (1974) which was also helmed by Hill; although he has stated on record of the two, it is Coffy he prefers; outlining the reason for this is that he felt he had more input into the final product than he did on the second act.
But then Pam Grier was made to play this type of role- a strong, feisty, independent woman; intelligent, spewing just the right amount of attitude, in charge of her own sexuality and perfectly aware of how to own and use it to get what she wants. Grier’s performance personifies female strength, and never once loses the sense of humanity or femininity. She displays vulnerability, and human emotion in amongst the rage fuelled butt kicking for her part here, to spellbinding effect. The actress isn’t afraid to get naked when she needs to either, and is able to pack a double barrelled shotgun like a pro. What more could you ask for in a female action hero? It is no wonder the role spawned an entire generation of similarly female focused roles, but if you ask me, Coffy still remains unrivalled for being the first and the very best of its kind.
Ultimately the film is a hell of a lot of fun. Apart from Grier marching from scene to scene inflicting her wrath on low-lives and criminals, wrestling with beefy lesbians, or brawling with a room full of scantily clad hookers, there are some colourful and highly entertaining characters to behold. Robert DoQui’s King George- “George, George, George, they call him Mr Cool, don’t play him for a fool”- and his penchant for weird fashion- that has him looking like an escaped villager from The Prisoner series (bizarre cape and all)- is a veritable highlight. As is Jack Hill favourite Sid Haig, appearing this time as mob boss henchman, Omar. The plot races from scene to scene, never really letting go of the tempo. With Grier stealing every frame she appears in. Hill knows how to pack a punch when delivering his key themes- portioning in the right amount of blood and boobs to ease things along-, and does so with the same spirit of fun that can be found running through the bulk of his exploitation oeuvre.
To top it all off we have a fantastic array of unique seventies fashion and the most delicious Roy Ayer funkadelic soundtrack to boot. The film stands as testament to just why Pam Grier rules as one of the most iconic women of seventies independent film. One woman, lots of ass kicking, and some of the best lines to spawn from A.I.P’s short but sweet dalliance with Blaxploitation, Coffy becomes THE definitive female seventies action flick under the skilled hand of director Jack Hill and a must buy for all fans of retro exploitation cinema.
Arrow’s newly restored Blu-ray edition comes with the following specs and extra content. Check out their official site here for more details.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
- Restored High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation, on Blu-ray for the first time in the world!
- Original uncompressed mono PCM audio
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Audio commentary by writer-director Jack Hill
- A Taste of Coffy – A brand new interview with Jack Hill
- The Baddest Chick in Town! – A brand new interview with Pam Grier on Coffy and its follow up, Foxy Brown
- Blaxploitation! – A video essay by author Mikel J. Koven (Blaxploitation Film) on the history and development of the genre
- Original theatrical trailer
- Image Gallery
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
- Booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Cullen Gallagher and a profile of Pam Grier by Yvonne D. Sims, author of Women in Blaxploitation, illustrated with archive stills and posters