“Slaughter’s gonna blow your mind! Slaughter does not waste his time!” So sings keyboard ace Billy Preston, getting Slaughter off to a cracking start. Among the most absurdly enjoyable blaxploitation films of the Seventies, this opens as the titular tough ex-Green Beret (Jim Brown) loses his parents in an exploding car orchestrated by the Mob. Slaughter’s revenge spree ends with a high body count but his prime target: mob enforcer Dominic Hoffo (Rip Torn) escapes to South America, which is where racist treasury agent A.W. Price (Cameron Mitchell) sends our hero to smash the secret crime syndicate. Mafia boss Mario Felice (Norman Alfe) has Hoffo’s sexy girlfriend, Ann (Stella Stevens), cosy up to Slaughter to set him up for a fall, but she falls for the big lug instead. Needless to say, this does not please Hoffo at all. Numerous punch-ups, shootouts and sex scenes ensue, though wisely not all at the same time.
Unlike many of the black action heroes launched by the blaxploitation craze, Jim Brown was already an established star. A former pro-footballer widely regarded as the greatest NFL player of all time, Brown debuted in the western Rio Conchos (1964), had a notable role in the classic war film The Dirty Dozen (1967), shared Hollywood’s first interracial screen kiss with Raquel Welch in 100 Rifles (1969) and headlined his own star vehicles from Year of the Cricket (1967) to El Condor (1970) and the unjustly unheralded tick... tick... tick... (1970). One could make a case for Brown being the most enduring of all black action icons given he went on to make a memorable appearance in the intense drama Fingers (1978), written and directed by his former flatmate James Toback, parodied his onscreen persona in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), gave a performance of surprising pathos whilst punching out alien invaders in Mars Attacks! (1996), staged an impressive comeback alongside a whole host of blaxploitation veterans in Original Gangstas (1996), and played an exploitation legend in Oliver Stone’s football drama Any Given Sunday (1999). Overall a pretty impressive career.
After Shaft (1971) got the blaxploitation ball rolling, drive-in kings American International signed Brown for this non-stop slug-fest. As Slaughter, the surly hero with - let’s face it - a silly name, Brown takes the whole shoot first, ask questions later ethos popularised by Shaft and Dirty Harry (1971) to ludicrous levels. Barely a moment goes by without him bashing, kicking or manhandling someone, even friends like sidekick Harry (Don Gordon), whose hapless attempts to get laid provide tepid comic relief. Brown plays Slaughter as someone who seemingly relishes any chance to beat the tar out of anyone. He is even unfazed upon learning he shot dead an innocent man! No doubt his take-no-guff-from-whitey attitude endeared him to an urban audience, though in retrospect paved the way for angry black man caricatures like B.A. Baracus on The A-Team, many episodes of which were also helmed by actor-director Jack Starrett.
Brown’s role is admittedly one-note though his muscular presence befits what proves to be a comic book parody laced with an amusing amount of ghoulish humour. His interracial romance with Stella Stevens adds some welcome tenderness, to say nothing of some racy scenes revealing more of both stars than fans would expect, with wry subtext as Slaughter sees the irony in emancipating an enslaved white woman. Stevens steams up the screen in an array of revealing outfits and proves a vivacious presence, even though the stock sex kitten role is a slight waste of her considerable acting talent. On the other hand, poor Marlene Clark draws the short straw, saddled with a soppy sidekick role. Her character remains ill-defined and suffers the indignity of being tossed naked out of Slaughter’s hotel room (“Get your skinny ass out of here!”).
Starrett, whose exploitation output tends towards the patchy, has an oddly inconsistent directing style, alternating from slick sequences to mise-en-scene right out of a daytime soap opera and further afflicted by dodgy sound recording and occasionally confusing editing. Despite his disorientating tendency to opt for extreme fisheye lenses throughout several action scenes, the set-pieces, including a climactic, rip-roaring car chase, ensure this film is far livelier than Shaft. If it’s action you’re after, Slaughter delivers. If it’s logic and nuance, look elsewhere. Let’s leave the last word to Billy Preston: “My advice to you is this. If you shoot at him, brother, do not miss!” Right on.