Coffy @50: The First Punisher!
Tagline: The Baddest One-Chick Hit-Squad that ever-hit town!
Underneath its grindhouse tropes of nudity and violence, 1973's Coffy is an exceptional blaxploitation thriller. Directed by Jack Hill and starring the “Godmother of them all,” Pam Grier as the titular vigilante, who is a nurse out for revenge after drug dealers gets her younger sister hooked on drugs resulting in irreversible brain damage.
This action thriller gains its momentum courtesy of a prologue where a pimp called "Sugarman" gives into his temptation by driving a strung-out attractive junkie to his house for fun and games, only to find out when playing with fire, you get burned as in a double sawed off shotgun blast to the face. But it doesn't stop there where Sugarman's accomplice Grover, gets jabbed with "extra strength " heroin by our heroine.
Best line goes to a scared Grover being fearful of how the spiked needle might kill him. Coffy's reaction is hysterical as fuck!
"Maybe it will and maybe it won't, but if it does, you gonna fly through them pearly gates with the biggest fucking smile St. Peter ever seen!"
Despite its runtime of 90 minutes, Coffy throws inasmuch story content within its central plot device. Her obsession of tracking the big fish goes to extremes whether it’s evading a beat down from a Stud female or posing as a Jamaican prostitute, "Mystique" who auditions for big pimping King George played by the late Robert DoQui of Robocop.
Her being bedded down by another man other than her District Counselman boyfriend, Howard Brunswick, either demonstrates Coffy’s dedication, or how sexually liberated she is but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter as what conspires during the third and final act. Coffy's trail of revenge from pushers, pimps, Mob bosses, to a very corrupt politician has standard tropes of intrigue, and betrayal. The latter refers to her lover Howard, who comes across as the "people's politician" only to be revealed as just another charlatan, who is in league with the oligarchs of criminal corruption. But hey, aren't most politicians bullshit artists?
As with most Blaxploitation films from that era, Coffy is unabashed with its political incorrectness especially when showing how blatantly racist white male antagonists are. Like Vitroni demands Coffy to crawl like the Savage nigger that she is, or Omar (Sid Haig) calling her "Darkie." Although the dialogue and acting can be janky at times, there is an interesting exchange between Coffy and her Police officer friend Carter, about justifications of vigilantism.
The action within the film itself is well balanced. If Coffin (appropriately named.) isn't blowing thugs away with her trademarked shotgun, she finds herself getting into catfights resulting in a very ingenious strategy.
The final act is where things pay off as the hunted now becomes the hunted. Coffin grabs her broomstick and enters Vitroni's "legion of doom" hideout blasting all his fellow conspirators, but prior to that, mowing down "one eyed jackoff" in a rather comical fashion.
Now cue to the icing on the cake moment where she exacts her well deserved revenge against the man behind it all, but not prior to him using his bs charm to dissuade her from blowing him apart and it almost worked, that is until an unexpected “houseguest” came looking for him! And so, Heartbroken yet vindicated after avenging her sister and Carter, our heroine walks off into the sunrise.
Cheer up Coffin, at least your movie's success went on to make a sequel..well, not really.
Although Coffy's box office reception warranted a sequel titled "Burn Coffy, Burn!" Unfortunately, the planned sequel was scrapped in favor of Foxy Brown which although a different concept, borrowed a few themes from its predecessor.
Coffy is a well-paced film with all the trimmings you might expect from the Blaxploitation genre y'know, guns, catfights, nudity, swear words, nudity and so forth.
Now regarding legacies, Coffy, along with 1973’s Gordon’s War preceded vigilante concepts within Pop Culture be it Death Wish, Taxi Driver or Marvel Comics’ The Punisher.) Roy Ayes' soundtrack has been used in other films such as Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown starring Ms. Grier which pays homage to the iconic actress and was also used in Marvel's Ant-Man.
But most importantly, this film was the trailblazer for upcoming female action leads of cinema. Hollywood owes a debt of gratitude to Jack Hill and especially Ms. Grier's outstanding contributions.