As composer Roy Ayers’ silky lounge-jazz score comes in during the credits and that era-specific funky typeface fills the screen, you’re more than aware of what’s in store for you with 1973’s Coffy. This is a blaxploitation offering with all the wonderful chintzy seventies trappings, lashing of scuzzy violence (including one particularly horrific comeuppance) and a villain sporting the greatest pimp get-up ever to grace the screen. Coffy’s avenging angel/vigilante storyline was rehashed by director Jack Hill the following year for Foxy Brown, and everything here is pretty much touched upon in that subsequent film, be it the racial and social politics or that uneasy mix of female empowerment and objectification.
The two films also feature genre goddess Pam Grier in the titular role. Here she plays a mild- mannered nurse who has ventured into the criminal underworld and is in the midst of slowly taking out the variety of dealers and lowlifes who has contributed towards the hospitalisation of her younger sister through drug addiction. Her mission kicks up a notch when her old flame, an honest, law-abiding beat cop, is viciously attacked by a couple of thugs. Focusing her energies on infiltrating the high-end prostitute ring owed by a pimp named King George (Robert DoQui), matter are complicated when Coffy’s councillor boyfriend who has aspirations of running for Congress (Booker Bradshaw), might be caught up in the very ring she’s trying to smash.
Hill, schooled in the Corman maxim of ensuring everything is up there on screen, certainly makes his meagre budget stretch, but his most prized possession is undoubtedly Grier. She’s a true force of nature, diving into proceeds with a fierce and unreserved passion. Her willingness to go the whole nine yards more than makes up for any shortcomings in the acting department (the Jamaican accept she adapts whilst posing undercover as one of King George’s girls is endearingly awful). Once again, Arrow Films have done a terrific job on the transfer here, and the extensive and illuminating supplementary material they’ve pulled together offers some nice contextual weight to the film itself (in one interview Grier reveals she modelled the central character on her own mother, a nurse who would often have to tend to her neighbour’s ailments in a segregated community). Like many of the films from that era, Coffy hasn’t aged particularly well, but it’s still an entertaining snapshot of the shifting sociological changes of that time wrapped up in crowd- pleasing B-movie.