Sunday, December 8, 2013

Slaughter (1972) & Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off (1973)

          For various reasons, it’s not entirely accurate to call the 1972 Jim Brown movie Slaughter a blaxploitation flick. After all, ex-football player Brown was already a movie star before the blaxploitation genre emerged; he’s nearly the only actor of color in the movie; the story takes place outside the urban milieu normally associated with the genre; and certain tropes in Slaughter, such as the lead character’s sexual appeal to white women, had been present in Brown’s cinematic output since the late ’60s. That said, even if Slaughter wasn’t conceived as a blaxploitation movie, it was completed and marketed as one—the funky Billy Preston theme song and the “stickin’ it to the man” vibe of promotional materials reflect the influence of films including Shaft (1971). Anyway, if all this quibbling about categories seems tangential to the movie itself, that’s because Slaughter is so vapid that there’s not much to discuss in the way of actual content.
          Brown stars as Slaughter, an ex-Green Beret whose parents are murdered by mobsters. After killing two functionaries in reprisal, Slaughter is offered amnesty by the Feds so long as he travels to South America and takes out higher-level mobsters. That puts Slaughter into the orbit of crooks including Hoffo (Rip Torn), whose girl, Ann (Stella Stevens), is assigned to seduce Slaughter. (Torn lends a fair measure of weirdness, and Stevens mostly parades around in various states of undress.) A romantic triangle emerges, and everything leads, inevitably to a big showdown. Director Jack Starrett fills Slaughter with car chases, fistfights, shoot-outs, and nudity—Stevens’ topless appearance is probably the most memorable scene in the movie—but it’s all quite crude and routine. Brown holds the thing together, more or less, with his casual cool, and it’s a kick to hear Slaughter describe himself as “the baddest cat that ever walked the earth.” Thankfully, costar Don Gordon livens things up by providing comic relief as Slaughter’s unlikely sidekick; as is true for every other actor in the picture, however, he’s forced to make the best of clichéd dramatic situations.
          When the Slaughter character returned to movie screens a year later, in Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off, a new creative team was in place, led by director Gordon Douglas, and their mandate was clearly to make a full-on blaxploitation joint. Unlike its predecessor, Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off is filled with hookers, pimps, slang, terrible clothes, and white women who can’t get enough of Slaughter—played, once more, by Brown. Deepening its blaxploitation bona fides, the sequel even boasts a high-octane funk score by the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown. The story is diffuse, because even though the plot kicks off with another murder/revenge scenario, the narrative gets mired in convoluted underworld machinations. Furthermore, there’s zero urgency in the story until the very end, so Slaughter spends lots of time driving around, enjoying meals, and getting laid. Plus, in lieu of the previous film’s Rip Torn, the sequel’s main villain is played by Ed McMahon, better known as Johnny Carson’s second banana. McMahon does competent work, but he hardly makes a formidable opponent for “the baddest cat that ever walked the earth” (a line reprised in the sequel). Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off also loses points for a narrative predicated on wildly incompetent assassins, seeing as how the lead character survives a crazy number of attempts on his life. Neither of the Slaughter films is genuinely awful, but neither of them is anything special, either.

Slaughter: FUNKY
Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off: FUNKY

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