Sunday, July 7, 2013

Blu-ray Review: FOXY BROWN (1974)


Region Code: B
Rating: 18 Certificate 
Duration: 91 Minutes 
Audio: English LPCM with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Cast: Pam Grier, Antonio Fargas, Sid Haig, Antonio Fargas, Peter Brown, Kathryn Loder
Director: Jack Hill

Tagline: She's the meanest chick in town!

I must confess that pre-Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown (1997) I knew very little about the 70's Blaxploitation era of cinema, having only the most vague knowledge of Richard Roundtree's Shaft (1971) film and it's sequels I had not even heard of director Jack Hill at that point.  However, after taking in Pam Grier's return to prominence starring role in Jackie Brown and the many Tarantino interviews that accompanied the film I went straight to Foxy Brown (1974) to see what this Jack Hill 70's exploitation classic was all about, and it was a pretty fantastic watch from the get-go. 

In reality director Jack Hill initially set out to film a sequel to the successful Pam Grier vehicle Coffy (1973) but when distributor American International Pictures opted not to go the sequel route re-purposed the ebony revenger and gave us Grier as the smoking-hot, street-smart Foxy Brown who kicks  major amounts of corrupt white ass when her DEA boyfriend is gunned down by an heroin dealing escort service run by villainous lovers Steve Elias (Peter Brown) and Miss Katherine (Kathryn Loder, The Big Doll House). 

Street Smart and Lethal!
It turns out that Foxy's very own dip shit brother Link (TV's Antonio 'Huggy Bear' Fargas) is a coke dealing delinquent and when his debt with Miss Katherine comes due he wins her favor by revealing the whereabouts of Foxy's DEA boyfriend resulting in his murder. Double-crossed Link ends up dead at the business end of a shotgun at the hands of Elias, while his coked-up girlfriend gets her throat slit. The murder of both her lover and fuck-up brother sends Foxy off the deep end and into full-on revenge mode. Foxy sets out to infiltrate the whores-den as a prostitute decked out in some super sweet 70's outfits that are tight in all the right places if you know what I mean - WOW - Grier is a stunning women here with a knockout physique and those skintight outfits are superbly revealing. Link at one point says Foxy is a "whole lotta woman" and he ain't lying, she's definitely an eyeful! 

Oh, Foxy Foxy! 
Foxy enlists the help of a vigilante group to reap her revenge but when they successfully start to shake things up for the whore mongering heroin dealers they get smart and catch onto Foxy's true identity. Now captured Foxy winds up tied to a bed with heroin needle jabbed in her arm.  Miss Katherine's diabolical scheme is to get Foxy hooked on smack and then pimp her out before sending her off to a slave-farm in Haiti - but you just know Foxy Brown ain't going out like that, not a chance!

Jack Hill regular Sid Haig (The Big Bird Cage) arrives on scene as a pervy pilot in the service of the drug cartel, it's great to see him with Grier onscreen, there's an undeniable chemistry and they make for quite a duo, even if the couplings short lived. The casting of the film is awesome, Antonio Fargas of TV's Starsky and Hutch as Foxy's wise-cracking brother is quite entertaining. Kathryn Loder's weird, sexed-up baddie plays well and Brown's Elias is perfect, love his comeuppance, a dong-slicing shocker and the way it's carried through is quite wonderful.

Foxy Brown is an entertaining actioner chock full of 70's kitsch, black on white revenge, memorable dialogue and a sweet villainous duo, definitely one of my favorite of the 70's Blaxploitation classics, though admittedly there's a lot I have yet to see. If you're not familiar with director Jack Hill's Spider Baby! (1968), Coffy (1973) or his Filipino exploitation women-in-prison films you need to check 'em out! 

Main Menu
Blu-ray: Jack Hill's Foxy Brown (1974) makes it's hi-def debut on Blu-ray from the UK's Arrow Video, it's region-b locked so if you have not gone region-FREE yet you definitely should, if not you are missing out on some great edition of beloved genre favorites from Arrow, Second Sight, Umbrella Entertainment and Shameless Screen Entertainment! The 1080p widescreen (1.85;1) transfer is wonderful, sourced from a very fine print the colors are vivid, contrast is sharp and there's a nice layer of film grain intact - there's nothing to complain about here, it's a solid image with some nice fine detail, a very nice remastering of the film and an attractive visual presentation. 

The English LPCM  audio track is very solid as well. Dialogue, effects and score sound come through clean and free of snap, crackle and pops while Willie Hutch's score probably benefits the most, it's a nice score if not super remarkable, it's pretty standard for the genre in my opinion, not anywhere near Curtis Mayfield's iconic scoring of Gordon Parks Jr.'s Super Fy (1972). 

On to the bonus content we have the audio commentary by director Jack Hill from the previous DVD edition, he's very honest in his appreciation of the film, stating his distaste for the 007-esque title sequence and his belief that Coffy (1973) was a superior film. We have three excellent featurettes from High Rising Productions beginning with From Black and White to Blaxploitation (19:52) featuring actor Sid Haig speaking at length about friendship with Jack Hill beginning with working on his short-subject student film The Host and his first feature length project, the cult-classic Spider Baby! (1968), the Filipino exploitation stuff, being enamored with Grier from the start and some fun anecdotes. Haig is always an entertaining figure, I could listen to him for hours, for more of him on-camera I recommend Arrow's Spider-Baby Blu-ray which features some great extras with Haig including a commentary and Mark Hartley's Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010), fantastic watches. 

Reversible Artwork
Up next is Back to Black (25:06) featuring interviews with legendary actors Fred “The Hammer” Williamson (Black Caesar) and Austin Stoker (Sheba Baby, Assault on Precinct 13), alongside Rosanne Katon (Ebony, Ivory, and Jade) and film scholar Howard S. Berger whom each speak about the beginning of and the legacy of  genre. Williamson is great as always, quite a presence and the discussion from all are quite thoughtful and introspective. 

The last of the featurettes is A Not So Minor Influence (18:57) with Bob Minor, the first African-American member of the Stuntman’s Association, whom played a member of the Black Panther-esque vigilante group named "Oscar" in the film. He speaks about breaking into the business, being hired by Jack Hill to help make Grier into an "action queen", the various stunts in the film, Grier's stunt double Jadie David and his favorite scene. 

Also on the disc are an image gallery and a Jack Hill Trailer Reel featuring Spider Baby! (1968), Pit Stop (1969), The Big Doll House (1971), The Big Bird Cage (1972), Coffy (1973), Foxy Brown (1974), The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974), Switchblade Sisters (1975) and Sorceress (1982). This is a fantastic edition from Arrow Video, good to see the UK love for Jack Hill with Blu-rays of this film and Spider Baby, hope to see more Arrow Blaxploitation titles very soon. 

Limited Edition Steelbook Edition
I was sent a screener sans packaging so I cannot comment on the non-disc extras but should you purchase the retail version, and I highly recommend you do, there's a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring newly commissioned artwork by The Red Dress and a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Josiah Howard, author of Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide, a new interview with Pam Grier by Jack Hill biographer Calum Waddell, illustrated with original archive stills and posters. Also available is a limited edition steelbook version of the film with the same features, this is a very sweet edition with over-an-hour of new featurettes, it's been a great year from Arrow Video and outstanding special edition releases.

Blu-ray Special Features:
- Audio commentary with director Jack Hill
- From Black and White to Blaxploitation – Actor Sid Haig speaks about his long and influential friendship with Jack Hill (19:52)
- A Not So Minor Influence – An Interview with Bob Minor, the first African-American member of the Stuntman’s Association, and co-star of Foxy Brown (18:57)
- Back to Black – Legendary actors Fred “The Hammer” Williamson (Black Caesar) and Austin Stoker (Sheba Baby, Assault on Precinct 13), alongside Rosanne Katon (Ebony, Ivory, and Jade) and film scholar Howard S. Berger speak about the enduring popularity of the Blaxploitation film (25:06)
- Photo gallery of behind-the-scenes and publicity images
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Trailer Reel – Trailers for all the major works by Jack Hill including Foxy Brown, Coffy and Switchblade Sisters

Verdict: Foxy Brown (1974) is an essential slice of seedy 70's cinema. Pam Grier's stunning and her street smart and lethal alter ego Foxy Brown make for an entertaining Afro-centric actioner that's loaded with kitschy 70's fashions and gritty urban action, fun stuff and a definite recommend. 3.5 Outta 5