The 1976 film, Black Shampoo, tells the story of Mr, Jonathan (played by an expressionless actor named John Daniels). Mr. Jonathan is the hottest hairstylist on the Sunset Strip. Rich women flock to his salon so that Mr. Jonathan can do their hair and, as the first scene in the film makes clear, do a lot more as well. Black Shampoo begins with a wash and rinse that soon leads to Mr. Jonathan’s client saying, “It is bigger and better!” while the singers on the film’s funk-heavy soundtrack tell us that, “He’s a real man.”
Mr. Jonathan is so popular that the women who come into his salon are visibly upset if they’re told that their hair will be done by Mr. Jonathan’s two associates, Artie and Richard. “Artie doesn’t have the right equipment!” one woman exclaims while another complains, “My hair’s a mess …. I haven’t had my hair done in over a month.” Fortunately, helping to keep the place running is Mr. Jonathan’s new administrative assistant, Brenda St. John (Tanya Boyd). In fact, Mr. Jonathan could even see himself settling down with Brenda.
Unfortunately, Brenda is the ex-girlfriend of a white gangster named Mr. Wilson (Joe Ortiz). And Mr. Wilson is determined to get Brenda back, even if it means sending two of his thugs down to Mr. Jonathan’s and messing the place up. It’s easy for them to vandalize the salon and to harass Artie and Richard because Mr. Jonathan hardly ever seems to be there. He’s always either visiting a client at home or taking part in a falling in love montage with Brenda. When Brenda is kidnapped, Mr. Jonathan falls into a deep depression. Eventually, though, Mr. Jonathan realizes that he has to rescue Brenda and retrieve the black book that proves that Mr. Wilson is a crime lord. Fortunately, Mr. Jonathan is as handy with a chainsaw as he is with a hair blower.
Ugh. This film …. I mean, to be honest, the movie seems like it’s going to be fun when it starts. Yes, the acting is terrible and the dialogue is risible but it’s such a 70s film that I assumed it would be kind of fun. And there are some enjoyably silly moments, like the whole falling in love montage. But, as the film progresses, the violence and the film’s overall tone just gets uglier and uglier. That, in itself, is not a problem. In fact, you could argue that violence should be ugly because it’s violence. But, in the case of Black Shampoo, too much of that ugly violence is played for titillation. When Mr. Wilson threatens to sodomize a character with a curling iron, the film seems to take a certain delight in Mr. Wilson’s sadism. The film is certainly not on the side of the poor guy who is being threatened. Instead, it feels like the film is saying, “Do you think will show this happen or do you think will cut to another scene? Keep watching to find out!” It’s gross.
It would help if Mr. Jonathan were himself an engaging character but John Daniels’s performance in painfully dull. He has a definite physical presence, though he definitely looks a lot better on the film’s poster than he does in the actual movie. But, when he has to deliver dialogue or show emotion, he’s so awkward that it’s like staring at a brick wall and waiting for it to do something. As a character, Mr. Jonathan should be someone who moves with a certain confidence and swagger. John Daniels usually seems like he’s more busy trying not to look straight at the camera.
On the plus side, everyone’s hair looks beautiful.
For me, the blaxploitation genre got its start by focusing on empowered black characters, and films like “Cleopatra Jones”, “Super Fly” and “Foxy Brown” celebrated that…then, as with current superhero films, too much flooded the marketplace and the quality suffered…still, an interesting example of a different time in cinema….
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