Monday, November 29, 2010

Black Shampoo (1976)

Directed by Greydon Clark 
Starring John Daniels, Tanya Boyd
Rated R 
USA

"Is this shit for real?"

A late entry in the 70's blaxploitation cycle, Black Shampoo takes the notion of the sex-mad urban black superhero to cartoony new heights, presenting us with a helmet-fro'd slugger so masculine he even makes hairdressing look tough. Mr. Jonathon (full name: Jonathon Knight, although you wouldn't know that unless you scanned the final credits) is a peace-loving, open-minded stud who operates a successful hair salon staffed by two stereotypically swishy gadflies who Jonathon, generously, treats as equals. When he's not cutting hair, he's having sex with his customers in the back room. Life's pretty sweet for Mr. J until he gets mixed up in the personal life of his mob-moll new receptionist. Then things get heavy for this righteous dude.

Greydon Clark, the 70's trash auteur responsible for classic exploiters like Bad Bunch and Satan's Cheerleaders, delivers one of the most iconic characters of 70's sleaze cinema in this unforgettable drive-in classic.

Black Shampoo opens with Mr Jonathon (John Daniels) giving some blonde chick the sexiest shampoo of her life while the chikka-chikka theme song plays.Unable to resist, the blonde yanks on his zipper and gratifies him orally while he stares hard into the camera. This opener is probably the most porn-y scene of any non-porn film ever. It's breathtakingly sleazy.


Cut to: another busy day inside Jonathon's beauty salon. Jon's in the backroom banging the blonde, while another blonde, Mrs. Simpson, waits for her appointment.  When she finds out the first blonde is a friend of hers, she makes a hasty exit, and asks for a house call. Why not? Jon takes the gig.


After he's finished servicing his client, Jon strolls out to see what's up in the salon. Besides Jon, Richard (Gary Allen) and Artie (Skip E Lowe) - two seriously flouncy fellas - cut the hair. The girls would all much rather have Jonathan, naturally, but he's usually too busy boning to actually do his job.


Jon heads out for his house call, and as soon as he splits, some thugs show up to fetch Jon's new receptionist Brenda (Tanya Boyd), who appears to be on the run from some gangster type. Artie tries to defend her, but they manhandle him!


Meanwhile, Jon shows up at Mrs. Simpson's house and is greeted by her two horny teenage daughters.


Naturally, he begins to have has his way with them, until Mrs Simpson shows up and beats them with a belt. And then, to teach them a lesson, she bones him, right in front of them. It's a pretty wild scene, man.


Jon comes back and finds that everybody's gone home, since they were all shook up over the gangster incident. Brenda doesn't want any trouble, so she tries to quit, but Jon wants to hear the whole story first. Seems as though her last boyfriend was some kinda mobster type, and when things got too weird for her, she split. Unfortunately, leaving this dude ain't so easy.


Mr Jonathon doesn't scare that easy though, so they have dinner and then we are treated to a budding relationship montage, complete with a paddle boat sequence and a horrible soft-soul song called "Can You Feel the Love?"

Meanwhile, the boss orders his goons to tear up Jon's place. Which they do, in a pretty half-hearted orgy of destruction. When Jonathon finds out he's pissed, but he's gonna deal with it, man. Artie and Richard take it a lot worse. Also, Artie wears a scarf over his neck brace. Chic!


And then Brenda gets super-naked, and they make sweet 70's blaxploitation love in the shower. So that's good.


Then Brenda goes missing. Jonathon looks all around town, but can't find her. The goons show up at his still-ruined salon and tell them they've got her, so he goes along to see what's up. They head over the boss's place. Brenda's there - with a sweet new hairdo, and not by Jonathon! - and she's suddenly ice-cool to Mr. J. She tells him to beat it. The boss gives even gives him some dough to fix up his salon. And so, what can he do? The cat splits. But he doesn't go without a fight! He fucks everybody up on his way out!



Then, Jon goes back to the salon to mope, but Artie and Richard invite him to a gay BBQ, and that pretty much cheers everybody up. And, indeed, that fuckin' barbeque is amazing! Boobs, vagina, horses, chili, dudes in afros selling belt buckles, a middle-aged drag queen, nudists,  gratuitous ballet dancers, the works. Also, the teacher from Satan's Cheerleaders shows up and asks for Brenda's job. Artie gives it to her. Sweet!


Still, even with all this fun and frolic, Mr Jonathon still feels out-of-sorts, so he zooms up to his cabin in the woods to get his head together, man. Meanwhile, Brenda steals the boss's address book when he's not looking. So something's up there. Also meanwhile, Mr Jonathan chainsaws firewood with his shirt off, wearing skin-tight Levis and cowboy boots. Seems inappropriate for the job. Brenda shows up at the salon looking for Jonathon. She has a heart to heart with Artie, and he sends her off to the woods.


And then the thugs show up again and beat up Richard and Artie. Jonathon's not gonna like that.


Then Brenda and Jonathon reunite! She tells him what's really going on. He's ok with it. Slow, soulful lovemaking ensues.


Meanwhile, they torture poor Artie with a hair curler! Ouch!


After the lovin', Mr Jonathon decides it's time to get revenge on the boss. But before he can take the book to the cops, Mr. Big and his thugs show up the cabin and run over Jonathon's best bud/handyman! Outnumbered and outgunned, he picks up a chainsaw, and he and Brenda take off into the woods. Bloody mayhem ensues. Will Mr. Jonathon live to bang his customers another day?


Of course he will. He's got a lot to live for. And a chainsaw. And an axe! And a pool cue! Things get pretty gruesome at the end.


Black Shampoo is a crowd-pleasing stew of exploitation staples that hits every major 70's B-flick trope along the way: hot girls, cool hero, sniveling bad guys, ludicrous dialogue, a groovy soundtrack, a gratuitous love story, graphic violence, and, in Mr. Jonathon's open-minded hiring policy, a sniff of social relevance. In the hands of a less able director, Black Shampoo's third act could be a deal breaker, as the film's light, goofy, horny tone is suddenly tossed aside for a pretty audacious climactic orgy of bloody violence. However, Clark makes all the chainsaw hacking and leaky gut-wounds seem like the logical conclusion to a week or so of poolside balling and gay rodeos. In Mr Jonathon, he created perhaps the ultimate 70's superhero, a socially hip, sexually potent working-man so bad-ass he can cut a woman's hair, take a casual paddleboat ride in the park with his girlfriend, and then go and kill a bunch of motherfuckers, pretty much all in one afternoon. Effortlessly entertaining and compulsively watchable, Black Shampoo is highly recommended for sleaze-beasts, cheap-thrill seekers, and aspiring hairstylists-slash macho men alike.



- Ken McIntyre

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