He's bad, he's mean, he's a lovin' machine! When he's mad, he's mean, he's a killing machine!
So states the tagline of Greydon Clark's 1976 blaxploitation film, Black Shampoo. This one differs from your standard 'formula' blaxploitation movie. Rather than portray the main protagonist as a pimp or a private eye or a dope dealer or some sort of street tough, this time out he's a successful businessman. In fact, Mr. Jonathan (played by John Daniels of Candy Tangerine Man and Flesh Eating Mothers) is a hairdresser. That's right, he's a hairdresser. But not just any hairdresser. You see the secret to Mr. Jonathan's success isn't due so much to his skills with a blow-dryer and a comb so much as it has to do with his skills below the waist if you know what I mean and I think you do, you randy cat.
At any rate, Mr. Jonathan's new secretary, Brenda St. John (the foxy Tanya Boyd of Roots, Black Heat, and Ilsa – Harem Keeper Of The Oil Sheiks!), has found herself in some hot water. Her former employer decides he wants her back. He sends a few thugs over to mess with Mr. Jonathan's shop and rough up his employees a little bit. Soon, after Brenda and Mr. Jonathan have made sweet, sweet love together, those same thugs bust up the salon and good. Brenda decides to go back to her former boss so that he'll leave Mr. Jonathan and his employees alone.
Obviously, Mr. Jonathan is a little worked up over this so he heads on up to his shanty-town cabin in the woods to shoot some pool (?). Eventually Brenda heads on up that way to reunite with her one true love but the bad guys follow her and she leads them right to Mr. Jonathan's weekend getaway. He's no sissy though, and he fires up his chainsaw to take care of business and show those SOB's what happens when you push a hairdresser one step too far.
Wow. Is this movie ever silly. Within the first half hour of the film, studly Mr. Jonathan has made it with five different women and by this point you're kind of wanting the movie to get one with it as it's not really working out so well as a sexploitation film. Once Brenda heads on out though and our heroic hairstylist moves up to his mountain hideaway, the action gets turned up a few serious notches and things turn around in a big way.
For an obviously very low budget movie, director Greydon Clark doesn't do a bad job of making it look like it cost a whole lot more. He was able to secure some fancy sets to shoot on and he shot the Sunset Strip footage without permits (they didn't have the money for them) to give the film a more upscale look, adding to Mr. Jonathan's swanky image. Daniels does a great job on the lead. Even if he shows about as much emotion as Dolph Lundgren is capable of, he certainly looks the part and he really does do quite well in the action scenes. He's big enough and tough enough looking that you can believe he'd be able to kick as much ass as he does in the film's blood soaked finale. He's able to deliver the ham fisted dialogue with a straight face, which leads to a few moments of humor throughout the film – whether or not it was intentional or not is hard to say, but it is there.
So while it takes a while to get going, the film has enough seventies swagger and enough action in the last half hour of the film to make this one well worth a look for those who enjoy the oddball factor that low budget blaxploitation movies were somehow able to deliver back in the decadant decade of disco.
VCI's 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of Black Shampoo is actually very impressive. The colors are rich and bold, the black levels are strong and cool, and there are no mpeg compression issues at all. While there are a few scenes that have a bit of edge enhancement, it doesn't dominate the entire film. Print damage is noticeable in a couple of scenes but when you do see it, it's only in the form of specks and a little bit of dirt – there are no major defects with the image at all on this transfer and it looks far, far better than I expected it to look.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono track isn't going to blow you away but it works. Dialogue is fine, and groovy soundtrack kicks in with an appropriate amount of punch, and the sound effects come through loud and clear but never so loud or so clear as to overshadow what the characters are saying in the film. There's some mild hiss in the background and in the higher end of the mix but it's really minor. Overall this mix sounds nice and clean.
Here's where VCI's disc really surprised me – there are a load of supplements on this release! First up is a full length running commentary track with director Greydon Clark. The director mentions that he hasn't seen the movie since it played theatrically when it was first released but that doesn't stop him from trying his best. Sadly, there are quite a few moments when there are long stretches of silence on the track. When he's talkative though, he's an interesting person to listen to. Clark covers quite a bit of factual information about the film, how it was shot over two weeks for $50,000.00 and how it was edited and put together very quickly. He talks about how the cast and crew had to eat peanut butter sandwiches for lunch as they didn't have any money for better meals, and how the script was changed a few times as the production moved along to make the most of some budget issues and to work a few nice sets that they lucked into in the screenplay.
After that, there's an audio interview conducted over the phone with star John Daniels. Mr. Daniel's has good a pretty sharp memory and he's never at a loss for words as he discusses his work on this movie. He talks about how he wasn't so much playing a character as he was playing himself pretending to be in various situations and he covers some details about how he did his own stunts and provided his own wardrobe for the film. Considering the styles on display in the film, he must have had a pretty interesting closet.
There are also text interviews provided with director Greydon Clark, star John Daniels, and star Tanya Boyd, all of which originally appeared in the Cashiers Du Cinemart magazine. The writer of the magazine also provides the liner notes which detail why it's his personal favorite blaxploitation film.
Rounding out the extra features are a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other VCI releases, five deleted scenes that don't add much to the film and are presented without any sound, and a behind the scenes photo gallery.
All in all, not a bad selection of extra features for an obscure little low budget blaxploitation film. There's also an Easter Egg that can be found by highlighting the pick comb on the hairdo of the woman on the right hand side of Mr. Johnson on the main menu screen.
VCI has gone above and beyond the call of duty with their release of Black Shampoo. Audio and video quality are really nice and there are plenty of extra features on here as well. Blaxploitation fans should eat this release up and it comes recommended for fans of the genre.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.