Starring: Pam Grier, Antonio Fargas, Peter Brown, Sid Haig
U.K.-based Arrow Video follows up their line of excellent cult film Blu-rays with Jack Hill’s blaxploitation classic Foxy Brown (1974), hot on the heels of their release of Hill’s first feature film, Spider Baby (1968). Though Hill is known for a number of well-regarded exploitation films, including Foxy Brown’s progenitor Coffy (1973), as well as The Big Doll House (1972), The Big Bird Cage (1972), and my personal favorite, Switchblade Sisters (1975), Foxy Brown represents some of the best elements of blaxploitation cinema: sex, violence, drugs, revenge, and outrageous ‘70s style. The film looks better than ever on Arrow’s newly remastered Blu-ray.
Foxy Brown (Pam Grier), “a whole lot of woman,” sets out to get revenge after her boyfriend, a government agent, is shot and killed by a drug gang. She infiltrates the gang by posing as a prostitute and soon discovers their connection to a local modeling agency with some dark secrets. On her path to vengeance Foxy kicks a lot of ass, kills a number of people, and even castrates someone, but things lead to a place she did not quite expect.
Important for its depiction of a strong female character, which was almost nonexistent in blaxploitation cinema at the time, Foxy Brown was intended to be a sequel to Hill’s first film with Grier, Coffy. Due to studio interference, Burn, Coffy, Burn was canned and turned into Foxy Brown. Bearing some similar plot elements, but with a much sloppier script, Foxy Brown is essentially a more violent, mean-spirited version of Coffy. There is a particularly unpleasant scene where Foxy is drugged and raped by a few rednecks, oddly adding a rape revenge plot inside of the larger revenge story. In typical exploitation fashion, she gets bloody (and fiery) revenge, fortunately making this more satisfying than films that fit solely in the rape revenge genre films of the period like I Spit on Your Grave (1978).
As with all exploitation films, the performances in Foxy Brown vary and most are over the top, though no one is really able to steal the show from Grier. It’s impossible to deny that she kicks a lot of ass in this film and looks great doing it. Antonio Fargas (Starsky & Hutch) puts in a good turn as Foxy’s brother Link and Kathryn Loder (The Big Doll House) is memorable as the villainess of the film, Katherine. I think it’s important that Hill (who wrote the film) diversifies the villains. They are not merely African American pimps, gang members, and drug dealers, but one of Foxy’s main adversaries is a white woman motivated by greed. Horror fans should also keep an eye out for Russ Grieve (The Hills Have Eyes) and Hill regular Sid Haig (Spider Baby, House of 1000 Corpses).
The direction and pace are lively, but the power here is really in the visuals. Between Grier’s sexiness and her outrageous wardrobe, the James Bond-like opening titles, and other interesting set pieces, Foxy Brown is certainly a product of its time. If you approach the film expecting a dynamic script and well-developed characters, you are going to be disappointed. Foxy Brown is one of my favorite exploitation films and is a fun ride if you know what to expect. It is all about sex, violence, and over the top revenge. Genre newcomers should be prepared by the recent slew of exploitation throwback films, such as Black Dynamite (2009), Machete (2010), Django Unchained (2012) and Tarantino’s earlier Jackie Brown (1997), which is a love letter to Grier and Foxy Brown.
Supervised by Jack Hill himself, Arrow’s Blu-ray transfer looks excellent, but manages to incorporate a level of graininess expected from a ‘70s film. The colors in particular pop, which is important considering the psychedelic set design and Grier’s outrageous outfits. The transfer is a remastered HD 1080p print from a MPEG-4 AVC codec with the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. There are some very minor age issues, such as some slight flecks, but overall Foxy Brown looks clear and colorful and is a marked improvement over the previous DVD release from MGM.
In keeping with the rest of their recent Blu-ray releases, particularly Jack Hill’s first film, Spider Baby, Arrow has compiled an impressive number of extras for Foxy Brown. The main attraction is an audio commentary with Jack Hill, though there are a number of featurettes included. From Black and White to Blaxploitation is an interview with actor and Jack Hill-regular Sid Haig, who discusses their friendship and working relationship. A Not So Minor Influence features an interview with Bob Minor, an actor in Foxy Brown and the first African American man in the Stuntman’s Association. Back to Black is a discussion about Blaxploitation cinema and includes interviews with actors Fred Williamson (Black Caesar), Austin Stoker (Sheba Baby), and Rosanne Katon, as well as film scholar Howard S. Berger. There is also a trailer reel with trailers for most of Jack Hill’s films and a collector’s booklet with an essay from Josiah Howard (author of Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide) and new interviews with Pam Grier and Calum Waddell, Hill’s biographer. The release includes original stills and posters and is also available in a limited edition SteelBook case with new artwork.
One of the most memorable and beloved blaxploitation films of all time looks wonderful on Arrow’s reverential Blu-ray, which comes highly recommended. U.S. fans should be forewarned that this is a region B Blu-ray release, which means it can only be played on a multi-region or region B Blu-ray player. If you haven’t picked up a multi-region player yet, now is the time to do so, as there is no news of U.S./region 1 Blu-ray release of Foxy Brown planned for anytime soon.