Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; we blame the schools. This is the weekly movie column that shines a more favorable light on China’s plan to censor the internet. Every Friday I thrust a nice big bit of schlock in your face and expect you to smile as I wave it around with all its faults. Not to be labeled as someone with taste, I will then describe exactly why I love the terrible movie in question. To cap it all off, just before your lengthy and expensive therapy regimen begins, I will offer a tasty snack inspired by the film. This week we wrap up another successful, if borderline offensive, Blaxploitation History Month with one of my all time favorites: Slaughter.
What Makes It Bad?
Slaughter stars former NFL running back Jim Brown in the titular role. As much as I adore Jim Brown, he’s not what you might call a “good actor.” Much like many of the cult stars of the 70s, Brown relies more on his machismo and natural swagger to compensate for a lack of technical training or proficiency. Much like his character, Jim Brown is a blunt instrument that bullies the attention of the audience while mistaking reserve of speech for finesse. Though honestly, I think it serves the story well and it’s hard not to like him. But when listing the great performances of the 70s…from black performers…in blaxploitation…Jim would not find distinction. He does however wield one of the most awe-inspiring mustache/afro combos in cinema history. Seriously, that stache is like a furry little sex-a-pillar on his upper lip. Mind blown.
Again not unique among blaxploitation films, Slaughter is not particularly well shot. There has been something I’ve always noticed about the genre but never been able to fully articulate until my brilliant wife, Mrs. Junkood, brought it into sharp focus. In almost every blaxploitation film I have ever seen, particularly in the indoor shots, the lighting is intensified to enhance the features of the black performers. This is not without reason as it accommodates their naturally darker complexions. But what happens is that all the white characters end up entirely washed out and all look as though they just woke up in a New Jersey jail cell after having spent a decade drinking bourbon and mainlining chicken grease. That would be forgivable if not for the completely absurd choice the cinematographer made to film certain scenes with an extremely wide, fish-eye lens. It will honestly make you think something is wrong with the aspect ratio. But I suppose it is handy if you’ve ever found yourself pondering what a fist fight between two men in a hotel room looks like from inside the television set. Oh and don’t forget about the nearly imperceptible shaking during certain scenes. And by “nearly imperceptible,” I mean it looks like it was shot by an 8-year-old who just consumed 30lbs of pixie sticks.
Very strange assortment of baddies in Slaughter. As you can guess, the commonality between all the villains in the film is that they are all hopelessly Caucasian. The head mafioso, really progressive and avant-garde of the screenwriter to make the Italian mob the villains in this blaxploitation film, is…orange. He apparently got a 74 for 1 deal at a spray tan facility and the result is the world’s tallest, most ethnically-insensitive oompa loompa. It doesn’t help his already anti-human appearance that he is also wearing a small mammal on his head in lieu of having actual hair. His henchman? Only a very skinny, very racist Rip Torn! He’s really…Jack Nicholson looking. That’s all I can really say for him.
Why I Love It!
Slaughter is the definitive blaxploitation James Bond. Where other entries into the genre have flailed violently and impotently in the direction of capturing the spirit of a James Bond film (That Man Bolt for example), often only being able to capture fleeting glimpses of them, Slaughter nails it right down to the bone. Not only does our hero sport a tux, treat women like sex toys, and patronize casinos as part of his secret mission, but the very structure of the plot rings true to Bond. He interviews a witness, she dies. He enters his room, someone is hiding in his bathroom. He stalks a henchman, a car/plane chase ensues. Exotic locales, women in bikinis, and detailed scenes of him checking into hotel rooms? Someone did their 007-ology homework. The only difference is that, true to the genre, Slaughter is not a spy because an agent recognized by the government is therefore respected by the government. Instead, he is blackmailed into the mission by the oppressive white law enforcement; would we accept anything else?
Theme songs have become common criterion for judging blaxploitation because, quite frankly, they are often better than the films themselves. Of all the films I’ve covered in two years worth of Blaxploitation History Month, Slaughter‘s theme is the absolute best. It out shafts Shaft and tells Turner to go Truck himself. It explodes with a tinny electric guitar blasting two powerful notes before the familiar electric organ pipes in. Finally, the soulful lyrics warn us that Slaughter’s gonna blow our minds but also that he is reserved enough to take his time. The theme song is so good that, much like pretty much ever aspect of every exploitation film ever made, it was creatively “borrowed” by Quentin Tarantino to serve as the intro music for one Mr. Hugo Stiglitz in Inglourious Basterds. The intro visuals that accompany the music hearken once again to the Maurice Binder title sequences from early Bond.
I dig the action sequences in Slaughter. I mentioned it in passing a moment ago, but the encounter between the grounded airplane and Slaughter’s ride is phenomenal. Not only is it well choreographed and effective, but it’s the first action scene in the film; talking about kicking things off right! But honestly, it’s the varying levels of action within the action scenes populating the film that make me so happy. In a Bond film, not every encounter is a tank chase through the streets of Russia or a genital-aimed laser sequence. Sometimes you have to have Bond nonchalantly dodging a speeding car to ground the film and make your hero seem more suited to the task. The simple moment wherein Slaughter dives into a doorway to avoid a car hoping to flatten him is just as well done as any of the car chases or casino shootouts.
Junkfood Pairing: Tootsie Pop
This week’s junkfood pairing is inspired by Slaughter‘s incredible theme song. For you see, the tootsie pop, a magical hybrid of the tootsie roll and the lollipop should, by all rights, blow your mind. Not only that, but if there’s one thing cartoon woodland critters have taught me is that the number of licks necessary to get to the center are a matter of some debate. Therefore, it is also a snack that takes its time. The fact that there is a delicious chocolate hunk in the middle should not be interpreted as any kind of intended metaphor. Although that mustache does haunt my dreams.