When requested by American International Pictures to produce a female-led blaxploitation movie, writer/director Jack Hill realised that Pam Grier would be perfect for such a role and wrote Coffy with her specifically in mind. Thankfully AIP agreed with Jack Hill's choice and Pam Grier appeared in what was to prove a signature role.
Coffy is a young nurse whose 11 year-old sister, LuBelle, is in a comatose state after becoming addicted to heroin. Outraged that police corruption ensures that the drug dealers responsible walk free, Coffy decides to take the law into her own hands and goes undercover as a hooker to infiltrate the dealer's organisation and extract her own personal revenge.
It's almost tempting to write two reviews for Coffy - one that takes the film seriously and another that doesn't. The first would discuss the films significance in the blaxploitation genre, the social significance, the racial politics, the ahead-of-its-time references to child drug addiction and the genre's influence on Quentin Tarentino. Frankly, however, it's difficult to imagine that anybody living in the 21st century could possibly take the film seriously given the outrageous 70s fashions, over-ripe dialogue and weak acting that are on display here.
That's not to say the film is without its charms, in fact those three factors just mentioned could be considered as such. The whole thing is so wildly over-the-top its hard to believe the film isn't a spoof and viewers could be forgiven for expecting Leslie Nielson to turn up at any minute.
Any preconceptions that the film was radically feminist at the time of release because of the presence of a butt-kicking female protagonist are quickly lost in the face of such scenes as Coffy getting into a catfight with a group of hookers in which, yes, everybody's clothes are ripped off, at least down to the waist, while a group of male hoods and pimps look on appreciatively.
Apart from the unintentional humour, the main attraction of Coffy is that it gives the opportunity to see Pam Grier toting a shotgun and spouting dialogue like 'you want me to crawl, white motherf***er? You wanna spit on me and make me crawl? I'm gonna p*ss on your grave tomorrow!'
They don't make 'em like this anymore. They wouldn't be allowed.
Part of MGM’s Soul Cinema series, the DVD is a single-layer DVD-5 encoded for Regions 2 and 4.
The film is definitely showing its age. There is film grain present throughout and also a continuous fireworks display of print flecks. Shadow detail is non-existent and blacks are often dark grey instead. Vertical lines also make an unwelcome appearance at one point. Some may be disappointed that no digital restoration has been performed, but in this case a clear, blemish-free transfer just wouldn't seem appropriate. Unlike the US release, the UK version benefits from an anamorphic transfer.
The soundtrack provided is the original mono and is adequate if unimpressive, which is a shame given that arguably the only quality aspect of the film is Roy Ayer's jazz-funk score. The funky dialogue is clear and the gunshots are as meaty as the limitations of a 70s mono soundtrack allow. For added amusement, the film can be watched in one of the optional French, German or Italian dub versions.
Sadly the Jack Hill commentary track on the US release doesn't make it to this side of the Atlantic and the only extra on the UK release is the theatrical trailer. The trailer is atypically understated for the genre and is really just the film condensed into two minutes, complete with spoilers.
Coffy is certainly not a piece of quality film-making, but it partially makes up for this with unashamed exploitation flick exuberance, unintentional humour and scenes that go so far beyond the bounds of political correctness as to be jaw-dropping.
The film cannot really be recommended to anybody but ardent fans of retro-exploitation and B-movie trash and they face a difficult choice between the UK release with its anamorphic transfer and the US release with its commentary track from writer/director Jack Hill.