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CHICKS IN CHAINS ON THE LAM FROM A PRISON HELL!

Before her iconic turn in Coffy, Pam Grier starred alongside Margaret Markov in a grindhouse spin on Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones, fusing the Women in Prison film with the emerging Blaxploitation movement for a riotous romp of bullets, babes and blood!

Lee (Grier), a tough prostitute and Karen (Markov), a revolutionary, are admitted to a tough women’s prison where almost immediately (after some playful showering that prefigures Porky’s) they clash. Packed off to a maximum security prison, their transport is ambushed by Karen’s guerrilla friends and the two escape into the Filipino jungle. Chained together and with differing escape plans their clash intensifies as Lee wants to retrieve a stash of stolen cash to get her off the island and Karen wants to re-join her revolutionary group. Escape isn’t easy as they come up against a series of obstacles including a corrupt cop, a bounty hunter, a sadistic Drug Lord and guerrillas who threaten to turn everything upside down.

Chock full of girl fights, gun battles, nudity and humour, Black Mama White Mama, which was also known as Women in Chains and Hot, Hard and Mean, lives up to all its titles as well as featuring a brilliant Sid Haig (Spider Baby, House of 1000 Corpses) as a cowboy bounty hunter and Lynn Borden (Frogs, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry) as a lesbian guard from a script co-written by Jonathan Demme (Caged Heat) and a score sampled by Quentin Tarantino for Kill Bill.
(Taken from the official synopsis.)

Video


Arrow’s release of Black Mama, White Mama is based on an MGM-supplied transfer from a new 35mm interpositive. I’ve been consistently impressed with the quality of the material MGM affords its licensees, not least because we’re more often than not talking about older genre pictures. You only have to look at the other Pam Grier’s films in Arrow’s catalogue for examples of this and I’m pleased to say that Black Mama, White Mama is no different, offering as it does a very strong visual presentation that belies the film’s low budget origins. The level of detail on show is very impressive given the source material, while the colour palette serves to showcase the beauty of the Filipino countryside in all of its lush splendour. The bright primaries of costumes really pop against the earthy backdrops, while characters’ flesh tones are very natural. Grain is heavy but not intrusive and there are surprisingly few film artefacts, or at least few of note given the aforementioned age and budgetary constraints. Compression is also very strong.

Audio


The original mono soundtrack is the order of the day here, encoded in uncompressed LPCM. As one might expect it’s best described as serviceable, but dialogue is consistent and intelligible throughout and there’s surprisingly little in the way of the sort of distracting artefacts often associated with low budget exploitation films (distortion, echo etc.). Obviously the action scenes lack weight due to the absence of any real low end, but they are still unexpectedly effective all things considered. The ‘funky’ score sounds pretty decent as well and I’ll admit to being pleasantly surprised overall.

Extras


A reasonable selection of bonus material comparable to some of the other exploitation films in Arrow’s catalogue is included, although it’s perhaps not quite on a par with the other Grier releases. Here’s a short breakdown of what you can expect to find.

  • Audio commentary with filmmaker Andrew Leavold, director of The Search for Weng Weng
  • White Mama Unchained: An interview with star Margaret Markov
  • Sid Haig’s Filipino Adventure: An interview with star Sid Haig
  • The Mad Director of Blood Island: A previously unseen archive interview with director Eddie Romero
  • Trailer
  • Gallery featuring promotional images and the original press book
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips

Overall


As I’ve explained in my previous exploitation reviews, I’m not really in the target audience for a film like Black Mama, White Mama. With that said, I did enjoy both Foxy Brown and Coffy (and also Friday Foster, which I saw more recently), but I found those to be superior examples of the genre (or sub-genre if you will). I don’t believe that ‘superior’ is an adjective that one could employ when discussing this film, such is the amateurish nature of the acting and slapdash plot, but after a shaky opening act in which the sole attraction appears to be some (admittedly captivating) naked ladies I did find myself warming to it a little. In fact, by the third act I actually found myself quite engaged, due in no small part to the arrival if Sid Haig and the inclusion of a few surprisingly effective action sequences. With that said, although I’m glad to have finally seen the film, much like the characters portrayed by Grier and Markov Black Mama, White Mama finds itself shackled, but in this instance it’s to mediocrity.

Thankfully the same cannot be said of Arrow’s new Blu-ray release, which is possibly the most visually impressive of the label’s exploitation offerings when viewed in context. Throw in a reassuringly authentic soundtrack and a decent assortment of bonus material, the highlight of which is the thoroughly entertaining commentary track, and you have something that is perhaps greater than the sum of its parts.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the true quality of the source.

 Black Mama, White Mama
 Black Mama, White Mama
 Black Mama, White Mama
 Black Mama, White Mama
 Black Mama, White Mama
 Black Mama, White Mama
 Black Mama, White Mama
 Black Mama, White Mama
 Black Mama, White Mama
 Black Mama, White Mama


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