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Although it wasn't her first movie, Coffy (1973) was the production that made Pam Grier a star of cult cinema. It was among the first notable Blaxploitation films, and one of the first action movies featuring a strong heroine. Writer-director Jack Hill, the creator of several exploitation flicks, found enough success with this movie to spawn a Spiritual Successor, Foxy Brown (1974).Coffy is a young nurse whose sister is permanently brain damaged from having used tainted heroin. Traumatized by her sister's condition, Coffy hunts down the dealer who sold her sister the bad drug, seduces him under the pretense of needing heroin, then blows his head off.Soon afterward, Coffy hears news of her work from childhood friend Carter (William Elliott), a police officer. Carter, unlike many of the local police and politicians, is a cop with integrity who refuses to be bought out by the mob. As a result, both he and Coffy are attacked by thugs, and Carter is hospitalized in critical condition. Coffy, pushed too far, goes on a rampage of vigilante justice, working her way up the chain of drug dealers and pimps, seeking to put an end to the mob influence at the source...permanently.
This film provides examples of:
Action Girl: Coffy was among the first. She doesn't hesitate to get into a fight or to use extreme violence.
Afro Asskicker: Coffy's afro hairdo also serves as a hiding place for various weapons.
Anti-Hero: Coffy's brand of vigilante justice is one of gory and indiscriminate revenge. However, her later reactions about her antiheroic actions are played out realistically. In the beginning of the film she kills a drug dealer and a user, and later she is unable to do her job as a nurse because the sight of a patient's wounds reminds her too much of the bloodshed earlier. She even questions her friend Carter about vigilante justice, and Coffy's tone of voice and questions implied that she was fishing for Carter to give her a reason she could believe in to stop her crusade. But Carter being hospitalized finally pushed her plans forward.
Asshole Victim: Every single person Coffy kills is a complete bastard: drug runners, thugs, crooked cops, slimy politicians, and hired muscle. One might argue that in some cases, these victims are just doing their job; but the glee they take in their actions makes one cheer for Coffy one hundred percent.
Bad Ass: Coffy's attitude - and it's not just attitude.
The Bad Guys Are Cops: Not all the bad guys are cops, but all cops but one seem to be bought by the drug bosses. The chief of police is buddies with the drug lords, and two policemen actively help Vitroni's henchmen when they try to dispose of Coffy.
Bigger Is Better in Bed: Coffy herself makes several comments about the size of her lovers and soon-to-be victims throughout the film.
Coffy (to Vitroni): Ooo, my love! Are you sure you're not just a little black?
Bittersweet Ending: Coffy manages to avenge her sister and Carter as well as herself against Howard, whom she kills, but Lubelle is still brain damaged, Carter is still in a coma, and Coffy now must figure out what she can do with her life after spilling so much blood.
Blaxploitation: A typical example of the genre, except for having a female protagonist and a strong anti-drug message.
Car Fu: Coffy does make excellent use of an automobile during the movie's climax.
Contrived Clumsiness: This is what starts the aforementioned Cat Fight. Meg the call girl plays this very straight, trying to genuinely convince her audience that her act of spilling drinks on Coffy/Mistique was really an accident. One man who watched the whole thing calls her out on it.
Cynicism Catalyst: When her little sister is brain damaged from her drug use and hospitalized, Coffy takes a very cynical view of the system and starts thinking that the only solution is to kill off all the drug dealers. When her cop friend is brutally beaten — and, like her sister, brain damaged — for refusing to take bribes, she's driven to action.
Dirty Harriet: Coffy uses this tactic to work her way through the ranks of the underworld.
Drugs Are Bad: This movie had a very strong anti-drug message, which was unusual for its time. This is usually taken as a conservative message on the part of writer/director Jack Hill, although he has stated that he wasn't trying to to send a message, but simply to do the opposite of what all the other movies were doing.
Fashion Dissonance: King George's Pimp Duds in his first scenes may have been cool on a pimp in The Seventies. Today the outfilt — a skin-tight, chest-baring, orange jumpsuit with a matching cape — would raise a few eyebrows.
Faux Affably Evil: Vitroni towards Coffy. Even after she's tried to kill him, he acts nice towards her, orders his henchmen not to harm her, and then swears on his mother that as long as she tells the truth, she can go. Then he orders his henchmen to take her out and kill her.
Fin Gore: During the big Cat Fight scene, one woman grabs Coffy by her hair without realizing that she's tied razorblades into her afro. She is later shown with big bandages on her hands.
Groin Attack: Some of Coffy's gun blasts were aimed pretty low.
Show Some Leg: This is a standard method of seduction for Coffy. Of course, she shows much more than her legs...
The Seventies: It's not just the clothes that makes this film a Period Piece. The take on social issues is also typical of the decade, with the exception of its very unequivocal "drugs are bad" message.
Many of the women are obviously braless. It is The Seventies, after all.
The white dress Coffy wears as Mystique makes it quite clear that she is not wearing anything at all underneath it.
Vigilante Woman: After her first assault, Coffy contemplates the possibility of vigilante justice while talking with Carter. He discourages it, since he's a good cop who believes in the law. After the two of them are attacked for Carter's refusal to be bought out, Coffy makes her decision.
What a Drag: Poor King George. He didn't even know what he did wrong.