Trashterpiece Theater: Exploring the Strange and Unusual Side of Cinema: Blaxploitation Special

This special edition of Trashterpiece Theater takes a look at five Blaxploitation flicks.

Quadroon (1971) 

“1/4 Black 3/4 White...ALL Woman!” The term Quadroon, or Quarteron, was used in slave societies to describe someone who had one quarter African and three quarters European ancestry. This was a regional production that is set in New Orleans in 1835 and is one of several films that focused on stories set during the slave era. In this one, a young white man, Caleb (Tim Kincaid), moves from a free state to New Orleans and discovers a world where rich slave owners have two families, their white ones and their Quadroon family. There, he ends up falling in love with the Quadroon Coral (Kathy McKee), who is set to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

This was an early and lower budgeted retelling of the Southern slave tale that had gotten popular during the blaxploitation era. There is something charming and authentic about this smaller production, compared to the bigger studio films such as Mandingo (1975), Drum (1976), and Passion Plantation (1978).

McKee and Bill McGhee stand out in their respective roles, both of whom could have been used more in the film.

Quadroon is available on Blu-ray from Code Red.

Slaughter (1972) 

“Slaughter will blow your mind... clean out of your head!”. This is the biggest studio production out of the movies on this list and features memorable performances by Jim Brown and Rip Torn, terrific production values, and loads of badass action. Jim Brown plays ex-Green Beret Slaughter, a cross between Dirty Harry and James Bond, who looks to exact some revenge on some mob bad guys after they murder his parents.

Brown listed this as one of his three favorite films that he starred in, along with The Dirty Dozen and Mars Attacks!, and it’s hard not to see why, as he portrays the hard-boiled veteran who takes no shit on his way to exacting his own brand of deadly vengeance. Brown was a blaxploitation action icon and would end up reprising his role as Slaughter in Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off (1973).

Character actor Rip Torn, probably best known for appearing in the Men in Black franchise, is a delight as the villainous Dominic Hoffo, coming off as a poor man’s version of Robert DeNiro.

You can’t help but love the funky score and soundtrack, with an excellent theme song from Billy Preston. Surprisingly, the soundtrack was never was released on LP. Preston’s theme song was also featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Brian Helgeland’s Legend (2015).

Slaughter is available on Blu-ray from Olive Films.

Darktown Strutters (1974) 

“Super Sisters on Cycles”. This is definitely the strangest blaxploitation film ever made and possibly the weirdest movie that I have ever seen, which is really saying something. The story involves a group female disco looking bikers, with the main one searching for her missing mother. This picture is an unusual mix of silent era and Keystone Cops slapstick, Benny Hill, Looney Tunes, the 1966 Batman television show, the Naked Gun and Airplane type humor, and disco outfits and music.

I’m truly not sure if this movie should be considered racist or not. It’s totally out there; featuring wild three wheeler bikes, inept Keystone Cops with a cop car that has a huge siren on it, sped up fight scenes, a wild cartoonish black gang in a pink car, multiple musical and dance sequences including a blackface minstrel scene, the Klan riding around on bikes, a KFC Colonel Sanders lookalike as the villain, large joint, kung fu, walls falling off of houses, a guy dressed in a bunny costume with an oversized carrot, clowns and gorillas in jail, a ghetto alert map and nigger alarm in the police station, an undercover officer in drag and blackface who gets shot for being black, a Mr. Freeze like drug building, the colonel dressed in a pig costume with a cape, some Willy Wonka type of genetic cloning weirdness, a huge biker chase with the Klan that included a large car jump stunt, and a final battle between the Klan and a large group of black people.

George Armitage wrote the motion picture and in an interview he said that “I wrote Darktown Strutters in three days, and the script form is all one sentence, the entire script is one sentence. I just did it to have fun. I was going to direct it, but I had another script that I sold called Trophy, which was about two police departments who end up in a shooting war, and it was really a labor of love, so I asked Gene to excuse me to work on that, but it never got made, unfortunately. So Joe Viola came in to direct Darktown Strutters, but then he left the project and William Witney came in. And he was fantastic—I was an old Roy Rogers fan and he’d done so many of those… When it was done, Gene said: “You know, we could punch this up a little.” He had a screening after it was first made and was taking suggestions, and he’d invited Richard Pryor to come. And I remember about three-quarters of the way through I looked down in the aisle, and Richard was crawling out. He obviously didn’t care for the film, but was crawling up the aisle so nobody would see him, and he escaped. So he didn’t contribute much to the movie, other than giving them a reason to say: “Hm, maybe there’s some work to be done here?” Still, I enjoyed that movie, I thought Witney did a good job, and it’s a lot of fun” [1].

Darktown Strutters is available from various outlets on DVD.

Welcome Home Brother Charles (1975)

“He's done his time and now he's out - For revenge!” Part sci-fi, part revenge, all sorts of weird. While slightly confusing at times, this one is so odd that fans of blaxploitation and sci-fi need to check this out at least once. Charles is a black man who has been assaulted by dirty cops and subjected to some heinous experiments in prison. Once he’s been released, he goes about getting his vengeance on those who’ve wronged him, by using one of the most unusual murder weapons in the history of cinema.

Without spoiling anything, and it would be a BIG spoiler, the reveal ends up being well worth the wait. Directed by Jamaa Fanaka, a member of the L.A. Rebellion film movement and best known for the Penitentiary films, he manages to deliver something that is almost reminiscent of an X-Files episode.

Fanaka produces some memorable scenes in the film, notably a prison sequence that is accompanied by a distinct saxophone and drum score. Marlo Monte portrays Charles, a man who seemingly wants to reform, but is also driven by his anger and need for revenge.

Welcome Home Brother Charles is available on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome.

Emma Mae (1976) 

“Mess with her man and she'll bust your face.” Also directed by Fanaka, Emma Mae is a low budget gem that feels about as authentic as it possibly could be. Emma is a young girl who moves from the South to live with her relatives in a Los Angeles ghetto. She assimilates into the community and falls in love with a drug dealer, eventually plotting to rob a bank in order to raise bail money to get him out. It boasts a strong female character, fine performances from Jerri Hayes and Ernest Williams II, and an outstanding score and soundtrack from H.B. Barnum.

Emma Mae is far more grounded in reality compared to Fanaka’s Welcome Home Brother Charles and is focused on community, showcasing normal middle class African-Americans and not just the stereotypical tropes. While there is drug use and criminal activities that happen in the film, it also shows middle-class families that are just trying to get by. The film features an almost all-black cast and looks to question the corrupt and broken institutions, not specific individuals.

Emma Mae is available on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome.

[1] “filmcomment,” filmcomment, 9 5 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 9 5 2018].