A Blaxploitation Film Set in South America? Jim Brown is SLAUGHTER (1972)

Slaughter hit Blu-ray on Sept 22 From Olive Films.

In contrast to other blaxploitation legends, Jim Brown was never a match for the energy or charisma of similar performers like friends and sometime co-stars Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly. But his different acting style delivered enough charm for his performances to attain stoic gravitas rather than devolving into woodenness. Brown’s “strong, silent” type is front and center in Slaughter, a 1972 action classic directed by Jack Starret, who also helmed Cleopatra Jones and one of my absolute favorites, Race With The Devil.

When his parents are murdered by a car bomb, Slaughter –presumably his last name; it’s the only name we ever hear– tracks the gangsters responsible all the way to South America (the role of South America in the film is played by Mexico). Slaughter is a Vietnam vet, though unlike the highly charged social criticisms of films like Brotherhood Of Death, this aspect of his character seems to be more about explaining his combat skills than any sort of political statement. He stalks and harasses his prey, daring them to fight back. Brown is at his best here, playing the role with cool intelligence and brash courage. In one scene, he crashes the bad guys’ casino-like private party, menacingly daring them to retaliate while exuding James Bond levels of cool in a sharp suit and even sharper smirk.

Buoying the film are several great supporting characters. The bad guys are led by aging but dapper old-school gangster Mario Felice (Norman Alfe), a level-headed and somewhat honorable leader who strives to maintain the status quo and even empathizes with Slaughter’s loss. It’s his out-of-control enforcer, Dominic Hoffo (Rip Torn), who was involved in killing Slaughter’s parents and serves as the primary nemesis. For modern audiences who only know Rip Torn as Agent Zed barking at Will Smith in the Men In Black films (or for getting arrested and jailed for constant drunk driving), his performance here may be a startling revelation. In the 70s, Torn was a rage-fueled maniac, and while he was by many accounts a horrible actor to work with, his manic energy in Slaughter cannot be denied.

Key to the characters’ moves and countermoves is buxom beauty Ann (Stella Stevens), Hoffo’s reluctant trophy “girlfriend” who serves at his pleasure. The gangsters attempt to use Ann to honeypot Slaughter, but his better treatment quickly endears him to her and she switches sides, making the racist and jealous Hoffo even angrier. A quick line of dialogue points out that Slaughter, a black man, has liberated a white woman from bondage. This theme isn’t expounded upon any further, but it serves up a thoughtful idea for the audience to ponder.

Another factor that makes Slaughter unique among similar genre fare is its South American setting. By trading in grubby urban environs for a sunlit land of hotels and haciendas, the film has more of the foreign flavor one might more readily associate with the aforementioned James Bond than a blaxploitation hero. (And although Starret did not direct, this particular trick was ridden to its most absurd conclusion with the absolutely bonkers, China-set kung-fu-blaxploitation sequel Cleopatra Jones and The Casino Of Gold).

I don’t know if Slaughter was a direct or indirect influence on the original Mad Max, but I noticed that both films share a similar third act with some very striking resemblances. To avoid spoilage I won’t highlight the specifics, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye out for as you watch this highly entertaining film.

The Package

Like most Olive catalogue titles, this one features beautiful original poster art on the cover, but the disc itself is a bit sparse. They did include the original trailer, though, presented in HD.

Special Features and Extras

Theatrical Trailer (2:44)

A/V Out.

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