Mr Jonathan (John Daniels) is a ladies' hairdresser who attends to his clients in more ways than coiffing their hair, as today when after washing his latest customer's crowning glory she is so relaxed about the situation that she proceeds to perform oral sex on him. He may have a reputation as one of the best in the business, but for many of his rich clientele it's his proficiency with making love that has brought them lining up at his salon, where he sees to their needs in the back room. One new customer arrives and is dismayed to find the woman who is being serviced at the moment is the friend who recommended the place, so she arranges for Mr Jonathan to visit her at home, but his new receptionist, Brenda St John (Tanya Boyd) seems distracted...
Where there's a hit there's a rip-off, and Black Shampoo, as you may have guessed, was a Blaxploitation version of the Warren Beatty comedy drama which may have been a commentary on society's attitudes to politics, or maybe that was an excuse to have the audience believe the movie was smarter than it was. Nobody would be pondering that here, as director and co-writer Greydon Clark was determined to keep things free of any other thoughts in its head other than getting from one scene of exploitation to the next, meaning sex and violence would alternate throughout the running time until he felt we had seen enough and the picture broke off from the action abruptly after eighty-four minutes.
There were undoubtedly many in the audience who would not have wished this any longer than it was, so dunderheaded an enterprise did it turn out to be, without even the saving grace of irony or even a decent sense of humour, it pretty much ground away hitting the marks better movies had achieved before, both in the Blaxploitation field and the more sophisticated efforts Clark was attempting to copy. Take the scene early on patently inspired by Carrie Fisher's debut in Shampoo, which ended in a blunt punchline but went no further as far as imagery went; here, however, Mr Jonathan is waylaid by not one but two teenage girls who before you know what is happening have stripped off their bikinis to avail themselves of our bamboozled hero.
But that wasn't enough, so their mother (who doesn't look particularly middle aged - well preserved?) herds them into the swimming pool and lowers herself onto Mr Jonathan to show her daughters how it's done. If you're thinking, I say, that's a bit sleazy, you don't know the half of it, as time and again this confounded any expectations of good taste with softcore sex and hardcore violence. Naturally, fans of the super seventies, or more exactly the lower rent end of the trash spectrum, will be entertained, and while there was some diversion in watching Clark go as far as he did, it was offered up with such a lack of self-awareness, with such focus on treating its characters with a kind of contempt it may have had for the paying customer too, that unless you could chuckle at its excesses the nasty streak would negate the fun.
Of course, for its adherents that nastiness was the ideal reason for watching, even if those involved didn't have much good to say about what for them was supposed to be forgotten once it had made its profits and disappeared from the grindhouse circuit. With nudity and bloodshed equally gratuitous, it did strike you after a while that setting a gangland thriller in the environment of a ladies' hair salon had a certain wacky appeal, an entirely inappropriate marriage of two then-recent cinematic trends where in lieu of the director seeking nuance, he went straight for the stereotype. The white guys are all mafia men, the salon's assistants are screaming homosexuals (literally when they get beaten up or have a hot tong shoved up their arse), the women need nothing but a damn good seeing to from the hero, the black stud of their dreams (Daniels was presented as nude as his clients were, which was something. Not sure what). When Brenda had to be saved by Mr Jonathan (who previously had been avoiding the action almost deliberately) it was an excuse to turn him into a chainsaw wielding maniac who is so strong he can push a pool cue straight through a man. If you could tolerate it, Black Shampoo was, uh, memorable. Music by Gerald Lee ("Mr Jonathan... He's a real man!").