Can you dig it?

by Martin Hafer

A baker’s dozen of the best Blaxploitation flicks … and three that are so bad you just have to see them!

Some of you youngsters have probably never heard the term Blaxploitation (AKA “Blacksploitation”) before.  But if you remember the 1970s, you’ll remember these types of films where the hero, for a change, was a strong black man or woman.  After decades of films targeted mostly towards white audiences, several studios (including some of the big ones) decided that times had changed and created a whole new style of movie.  They were violent, they were tough, they had poor production values … and often they were just terrible. But some of them were excellent films and hold up well today.  Here is a list of some of my favorites from this era:

Three The Hard Way: Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly take on an evil white supremacist who has created a formula to wipe out the black race!  Fantastic action and three of the best Blaxploitation stars are more than enough reason to see this one.  Incidentally, this film was much of the inspiration for the hilarious 2009 comedy, Black Dynamite!

Truck Turner: Isaac Hayes plays a bounty hunter who accidentally kills one of his assignments.  The dead man’s widow puts out a huge contract on Truck and everyone tries to get rich…or die trying!

Shaft: Richard Roundtree plays possibly the coolest of the black heroes.  See this one and not the unnecessary remake. Trailer below.

Coffy: This is Pam Grier’s best film of the 70s, though Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is also terrific but isn’t included because it was a much more recent film.

Super Fly: Ron O’Neal plays the most unlikely of heroes as he’s a pimp!  The great score by Curtis Mayfield makes this a terrific film.

Black Caesar: Fred Williamson plays a real anti-hero and the film follows his climb up the mobster ladder.  The film was obviously strongly inspired by the great Edward G. Robinson film, Little Caesar, but it far tougher and very exciting.

Watermelon Man: This is a strange but poignant comedy starring Godfrey Cambridge.  When the film begins, he’s a white racist living the good life in the suburbs.  One day, he wakes up to find himself black…very black!  A very insightful film in many ways.

That Man Bolt: Someone wants a briefcase delivered and it’s up to Bolt (Fred Williamson) to deliver it.  Practically an army-sized group of baddies want that briefcase and are more than willing to kill … as it Bolt!

Cotton Comes to Harlem: Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques star as Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, two hard-edged cops battling an evil huckster posing as ‘The Reverend.” This film features a great musical score, direction by Ossie Davis and is one of the few Blacksploitation movies with main characters who are cops!

Bucktown: Fred Williamson stars as Duke, a man who has gone south for his brother’s funerals.  When he tries to keep his brother’s bar open, he calls in for reinforcements…including Pam Grier.

Willie Dynamite: Roscoe Ormond is a name you probably don’t recognize, though later be was Gordon on Sesame Street!  Seeing Ormond playing a pimp who tosses dynamite at his enemies is simply amazing…and the film is surprisingly well done.

Slaughter’s Big Rip OffJim Brown  plays the title character and this is a rare case where the sequel is better than the original (Slaughter).  After almost being murdered, Slaughter goes in search of the man who arranged the hit.

Gordon’s War: Paul Winfield, Carl Lee, David Downing and Tony King play four Vietnam Vets who go to war against the pimps and drug dealers in Harlem.  This is one of the very best Blaxploitation films and was the inspiration for the comedy I’m Gonna Git You Sucka!

Unfortunately, while there are a lot of great Blaxploitation films, there are probably more that are just bad.  My list of awful ones would be pretty long.  Instead, however, I am mentioning three that are horrible…but also so unintentionally funny that you just have to see them!

Blackenstein: Just what it sounds like, a black version of Frankenstein.  This could have worked but laughable makeup and ineptitude in every possible way make this a laugh riot!  Have you ever heard of the actor Joe De Sue (the guy who plays the monster)?  No? Well, this film is the reason why!  I wasn’t sure whether to list this or Abby (a Blaxploitation ripoff of The Exorcist) …and I think Blackenstein was slightly more ridiculous….slightly.

Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde: I picked this one because it actually stars an excellent actor, the ex-football player, Bernie Casey.  Despite a long string of very respectable films, Casey somehow chose to appear in this dull and utterly ridiculous movie.

J.D.’s Revenge: Glynn Turman is a fine actor and I’ve enjoyed him on many TV shows and films.  However, his performance as Isaac, a man possessed by the spirit of a dead 1940s mobster, is just god-awful and is something you just need to see to believe.  It’s possibly the funniest film of the 1970s…and was never intended as a comedy!!

If any of you Blaxploitation fans out there have any suggestions, films you would have included or cannot believe I included, please let me know.  No one can possibly see every film ever made and I could easily have missed a few.  I really would love to hear what you think. Right on!