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Four Blaxploitation Films Off the Beaten Path

Four Blaxploitation Films Off the Beaten Path (photo)

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By this point, we’re all familiar with “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” and “Superfly” and “Shaft,” we know all about Pam Greer and Fred Williamson and Jim Brown. But the 1970s produced dozens and dozens of blaxploitation films beyond the handful that have come to stand-in for the entire genre. Many were formulaic, some were downright terrible, but a lot were a cut above. These four uniquely superb blaxploitation films, largely forgotten to history, deserve rediscovery by new audiences and fresh eyes.

“Across 110th Street” (1972)
Directed by Barry Shear

Some 30 years before the groundbreaking crime series “The Wire,” an unassuming blaxploitation picture covered similar territory with much the same complexity, albeit on a much smaller scale and with significantly fewer critical accolades. Both were shot in real locations with local actors; both draw parallels between the structure and politics of the underworld and the police force. Often in “Across 110th Street,” the former feeds into the latter. One scene between two men who’ve stolen from the mob is shot at a low angle that exposes the big fluorescent lights illuminating the room; in the next scene, the two detectives on their tail are shot from the same angle in a room lit exactly the same way. These men, both cops and criminals, share one world and one attitude: clinging to the dreams of escape tempered by the knowledge that once you go across 110th Street, you rarely go anywhere else.

Racist whites are a staple of blaxploitation movies, but “Across 110th Street” has two characters who add complexity to the stereotype: mid-level Mafioso Nick D’Salvio (Anthony Franciosa), who projects his self-loathing onto the African-Americans he pushes around, and Capt. Mattelli (Anthony Quinn), who fashions himself something of a community hero but can’t see the bigotry ingrained in his very soul. These characters, too, reflect on one another: in one scene, D’Salvio beats a black man while repeatedly insulting him by calling him “boy.” In the next, Mattelli tries to comfort the dying man and coax information out of him; he, too, calls him “boy.”

The movie is uncompromisingly brutal in suggesting the bleakness of life in New York City in the early 1970s and the movie does not shy away from depicting the horrific nature of the Mafia’s violence (D’Salvio’s victim has his eyes cut out and that’s only the second worst thing done to his body). In “The Wire,” the drug trade is often referred to as “the game.” When you see the toll it takes on the lives of the people in “Across 110th Street,” you understand why they call it “a war.”

02122009_TruckTurner.jpg“Truck Turner” (1974)
Directed by Jonathan Kaplan

Here’s a great example of a movie that has its cake and eats it too; it fulfills all the conventions of its genre while sending them up at the same time. “Truck Turner” features all the hallmarks of a blaxploitation movie — a badass hero, gangsters, fist fights, shootouts — but it keeps poking holes in its own macho image. Its hero, bail bondsman Mack “Truck” Turner (Isaac Hayes), is such a tough guy he sleeps with his gun holster on, but he still wakes up in the morning to a shirt covered in cat piss (classy guy that he is, he wears it anyway). Like a lot of blaxploitation movies, the villains are a collection of pimps, but here they mostly exist to make fun of the way pimps are portrayed in a lot of blaxploitation movies: when Turner kills one of their number, the others come out to his funeral dressed not in somber black, but in their most outlandish outfits (one has a bedazzled eye-patch).

Most blaxploitation films were not made glamorously. Many look like rush jobs produced in a no-frills style to get the shot, make the day, and finish the picture. “Truck Turner,” though, has some panache: director Jonathan Kaplan, who has gone on to direct shows like “ER” and “Without a Trace” nowadays, knows his way around a camera, and regularly spices up the frame with interesting camera placements and good P.O.V. shots (Yaphet Kotto, as the most heinous of Truck’s nemeses, has a good one where he spits on someone and loogies right into the camera lens).

Kaplan also gives “Truck Turner” a doozy of a car chase. Hot on the heels of a bail jumper, Truck and his partner knock over a shopping cart, a flower cart, an oil drum and a fire hydrant, then get out of their car and chase the guy on foot. When he steals their car and gets away, they hijack some poor guy’s car and follow him to a bar, where the guy pays everybody inside to kick the crap out of Truck Turner, whereupon the chase scene spontaneously morphs into a bar fight. Kaplan’s comedic touch reminds you this is a chase scene — and a rather obviously satirical one at that — but with the tight editing, nice camera work and funky soundtrack by Hayes, damn if it isn’t exciting all the same.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.