Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Reel Bad Cinema: Black Shampoo (1976) review
BLACK SHAMPOO 1976
John Daniels (Mr. Jonathan), Tanya Boyd (Brenda), Mr. Wilson (Joe Ortiz)
Directed by Greydon Clark
***WARNING! This review contains pics of nudity***
Mr. Jonathan runs a hair salon on Sunset Drive and enjoys a rich clientele of lovely ladies that likewise enjoy his private sessions. After hiring a new secretary named Brenda, her previous employer, a mobster named Wilson, comes looking for her. Refusing to relinquish his new hired hand, the mob boss has his goons send a message to Mr. Jonathan by trashing his salon and beating up his two homosexual stylists. Now an angry hairdresser with murder on his mind, Jonathan gets Brenda back and leads the slackest gangsters of all time out into the country for a last stand of guns versus chainsaws resulting in a gruesome finish inside Jonathan's cabin getaway.
Perennial hack, Greydon Clark directs this fitfully stupid, yet mesmerizingly entertaining trash non classic. I almost couldn't finish this mind numbingly ridiculous movie, but it kept getting more and more asinine as the picture progressed and I became more curious as to just how much more awful it could get. By the time the last 15 minutes rolls around, the film takes a complete turnaround and becomes deadly serious taking a bloody and violent turn into territory you would expect a blaxploitation movie to go.
This film came within inches of being relegated to 'The Dis List', but it has a charm all its own that keeps it in good stead with bad films like PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959) and MYRA BRECKINRIDGE (1970). BLACK SHAMPOO (1976) dives head first into bad movie hell and comes ever so close to being lost in purgatory.
What saves it from being a complete and total piece of shit are the incongruous and offensive situations. The plot itself is one of the more preposterous ever for a movie while the film borders on the pornographic. The title alone sounds like the name of a blue movie. The opening credits showing Daniels big black hands caressing and shampooing a woman's head is comparative to the act of sex. The client moans and gyrates as if the simple act of washing her hair is bringing her to orgasm. And let's not forget the shot of the hose washing out the shampoo. The bulk of the movie deals mostly with sex and nudity and seldom any action or violence which doesn't come (haha) till the end.
Another riotously distasteful sequence has Jonathan going to a mansion for a "private session" with one of his customers. The woman hasn't yet arrived, but her two libidinous and seemingly underage daughters decide to take advantage of the situation. Shortly thereafter, the mother appears and tosses her two girls into the pool and then begins riding Jonathan in front of them(!) reverse cowgirl style(!!) The two girls (who surely must have been 18) even tell their mom to show them how it's done(!!!). If ever there was a WTF? moment, it's this scene. But it doesn't stop there. BLACK SHAMPOO is riddled with moments of WTF?
Then there's this totally bizarre and wacky barbecue sequence that, like so much of BLACK SHAMPOO, adds nothing of consequence to the film other than to pad the already short 84 minute running time with one increasingly nutty and absurd scene after another. The scene in question has Mr. Jonathan's fruity hairdressers try to get his mind off of the woman that spurned him by inviting him to a gay barbecue. This scene seems almost tacked on as if Greydon Clark (who was one of the writers) was intentionally coming up with the zaniest ideas to throw into the film.
In one of numerous questionable moments, the three gangster stooges return to Jonathan's salon and proceed to trash the place. Once the smooth shampoo operator returns and sees his entire shop in shambles, he decides to take a shower. Brenda, looking around at the joint in broken disarray, decides to strip off and join the big man in his bath. Later on, Brenda suddenly changes character and rejoins Mr. Big time gangster boss and hurts Jonathan's feelings. His pride hurt, he heads on over to the residence of one his clients he didn't have time for earlier and proceeds to give her the special treatment right there on her front stoop. It's at about this point the barrage of borderline porn (the film threatens to step over the line on a couple of occasions) ceases momentarily so the film can get serious as we get closer to the finish.
Jonathan takes off for the woods to a cabin to get his head straight. Meantime, Brenda snatches some important papers that can expose Mr. Wilson for the crook that he is (we never learn just what illegal activities he is into aside from Jonathan stating the IRS would love to get their hands on the papers). Wilson and his cronies go back to the salon and do a terrible number on the two fairy stylists even going so far as to ram a hot curling iron into one of their asses. This scene is pretty excruciating and probably the most seriously disturbing sequence in the whole thing. Learning where he is, the bad guys take off for the woods for the big, bloody finish.
This is where BLACK SHAMPOO truly comes (hahaha) alive and delivers some violent thrills fans of blaxploitation expect. If only some of the more serious tone had been spread more evenly throughout, BLACK SHAMPOO might have been a bit more successful. Just be prepared for a lot of hopelessly bad acting, plentiful sex scenes, nudity, gay stereotypes and disjointed nonsense till the last 15 minutes where the film turns into a violent and bloody action picture.
John Daniels as 'Mr. Jonathan' is utterly inert in his role as the sex hungry hair stylist. He seldom seems interested at what's going on around him whether it be his next prurient parlay in his back room, or doling out chainsaw mayhem on the loopiest thugs the genre has ever seen. He has a good look, but he rarely emotes beyond the same facial expression that looks for all the world like he smells something really bad, and it might be the stink emanating from the film. BLACK SHAMPOO does have a slightly irresistibly goofy charm that defies you to turn away.
I nearly shut it off about 20 minutes in, but decided to stick it out thinking it couldn't possibly get any worse. I was wrong. While it definitely is one big train wreck of a movie, Clark manages to turn this to the films advantage and Daniels manages the same with his sleep induced performance.
With all the cheesy and hopelessly hammy elements keeping this sinking shit afloat, one other item holds viewers interest....the vivacious frame of Tanya Boyd. One of the most lithe and finely toned beauties I've ever seen, she is one of the most mesmerizing actresses to appear in the blaxploitation movies and it's a shame she didn't go farther in her exploitation career. She can also be seen as one of the naked Nubian bodyguards to evil Ilsa in ILSA, HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHEIKS (1976). Nonetheless she did have a prosperous career in television.
In spite of its overt sloppiness and half assed execution, BLACK SHAMPOO is the perfect recipe for grindhouse trash. It's just the film doesn't balance all this out very well. Even still, it will likely please fans of shit cinema as that is definitely what it is, pure garbage, but fun garbage that is giving me a headache trying to decide whether I really like it, or not.
This review is representative of the VCI Entertainment special edition.