Friday, September 19, 2014

Black Shampoo (1976)



          Apparently, making a cheap blaxploitation rip-off of the risqué Warren Beatty hit Shampoo (1975) was a more challenging endeavor than one might have expected. To be fair, Shampoo is only nominally about a straight hairdresser who lets other men think he’s gay so he can discreetly screw his female clients, since the complex movie’s real themes are related to ambition, male identity, and politics. Nonetheless, throwing the word “black” in front of the previous film’s title would seem to give Black Shampoo cowriter-director Greydon Clark license to tell a simple story about a black stud who wields a blow dryer while servicing rich white ladies. And, for a while, it seems as if that’s exactly the picture Clark is making. The first 30 minutes of Black Shampoo comprise pure softcore, with abundant full-frontal nudity and many feeble attempts at raunchy humor. Muscular John Daniels stars as “Mr. Jonathan,” a black Beverly Hills hairdresser who leaves his clients satisfied with more than their coiffures.
          When the movie’s “plot” kicks into gear, however, the tone of the picture abruptly changes. Mr. Jonathan’s beautiful receptionist, Brenda (Tanya Boyd), used to be romantically involved with a gangster, so the gangster sends thugs to Mr. Jonathan’s shop and intimidates Brenda into returning to him. Yet Brenda actually loves Mr. Jonathan, so she steals an incriminating ledger from the gangster, sparking a war between the gangster and the hairdresser. (And if any of this is meant to be satirical, the nuance got lost somewhere along the way.) By the time the movie lurches to a conclusion 83 sluggish minutes after it began, Black Shampoo has inexplicably transformed from a would-be sex comedy to an ultraviolent action picture. During the finale, Mr. Jonathan impales a dude with a chainsaw, skewers another fellow with a billiard cue, and watches as one of his sidekicks takes out a villain with an axe to the chest. Blood spurts as freely in these scenes as sudsy water does in the earlier scenes. Oh, and in one particularly gruesome moment, a poor guy gets a red-hot curling iron jammed up his—well, you get the idea.
          Adding to the disjointed nature of the picture is the fact that Clark’s directorial style seems to completely shift midway through Black Shampoo. The first half is borderline incompetent, with inept actors fumbling through pointless scenes—there’s a long romantic montage filled with clichéd images, as well as a long montage of Mr. Jonathan driving around Los Angeles while he looks for Brenda, and the film periodically uses solarized freeze-frames as transitions because Clark obviously forgot to shoot proper in-camera edit points. Yet once the bullets start flying, Clark reveals a minor skill for staging action, and flashes of real humor slip into the mix. (For instance, a flamboyantly gay hairdresser rebounds from an injury by wearing a chic scarf around his gigantic neck brace.) All of this is enough to give any viewer whiplash, and the only reason Black Shampoo doesn’t feel like a fever dream of gore and nudity and sex is that the movie’s pacing is laboriously slow.

Black Shampoo: FREAKY

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