“He’s bad… He’s mean… He’s a lovin’ machine!”
Black Shampoo is a 1976 blaxploitation film from actor, writer, producer, and director Greydon Clark. Some readers may not recognize Clark’s name, but between 1969’s biker flick Satan’s Sadist (directed by exploitation maestro Al Adamson), the mostly comedic Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977), the alien terror of 1980’s Without Warning (my personal favorite of his films), 1985’s Joe Don Baker-starring Final Justice (later featured in a MST3K fan-favorite episode), 1987’s killer cat flick Uninvited, and 1992’s Robert Englund “vehicle” Dance Macabre, there’s a very good chance that you’ve seen at least one of his films. Clark also directed the 1990 film The Forbidden Dance, an attempt to cash-in on the Lambada dance craze that lasted shorter than the movie itself. I hope you haven’t watched that one.
POSSIBLE TRIVIA: It’s reported that Black Shampoo was later re-released as “Sex at the Salon“, but I have been unable to find anything to verify this.
Like any respectable exploitation film (which might be an oxymoron), Black Shampoo was conceived as an attempt to capitalize on the success of another film, 1975’s Shampoo, starring Warren Beatty. While not a direct copy of that film, Black Shampoo takes the core idea of a successful, straight male hairdresser who has sexual relationships with multiple clients. Former songwriter, club owner, and “The Dating Game” contestant John Daniels (The Candy Tangerine Man, Flesh Eating Mothers) takes the lead role here, but manages to capture only a small fraction of the charisma that made Beatty not only a bonafide movie star, but also an undeniable sex symbol of the era. Then again, Daniels has since admitted that acting was never his passion, and it does somewhat show.
Mr. Jonathan (Daniels) is a highly successful hairstylist, owning and operating his own beauty salon. However, despite his talents with scissors and a blow dryer, Mr. Jonathan real ticket to fame is that he’s allegedly hung like a horse and giving the ol’ “Hi-yo, Silver” (or would that be Long Dong Silver?) to numerous clients, many of whom tend to be the bored white wives of rich men. In fact, the film opens to find Mr. Jonathan “servicing” one of these clients, with others basically lining up to be next.
When one particular woman refuses to wait for Mr. Jonathan to become available, she requests a house call. Upon arriving at the home, he is basically molested by the woman’s two incredibly promiscuous teenage daughters. To be fair, he doesn’t exactly put up much of a fight. The sequence ends with the mother whipping her naked daughters with a belt before mounting Mr. Jonathan herself on a pool chair while the younger girls watch. It’s worth pointing out that Mr. Jonathan never really appears to be enjoying these sexual escapades quite as much as one might assume.
While on his “house/booty call”, a small gang of thugs visits his salon to speak with the new receptionist, Brenda (Tanya Boyd – Roots, “Days of Our Lives“); the former lover of a white crime boss, Mr. Wilson (Joseph Carlo, whose only other acting credit would seem to be Satan’s Cheerleaders). The men advise the young woman that it would be in her best interest if she returned back to that role. To ensure that she understands, the men also knock over a few shelves, as well as rough up Mr. Jonathan’s two homosexual assistants.
Mr. J isn’t too upset by the events at his salon, more concerned about Brenda’s well-being. It quickly becomes apparent that Mr. J has a romantic interest in Brenda, presumably because a seemingly stable black woman is much less stressful than all these crazy white hoes that he deals with on a daily basis. This budding romance is demonstrated with a lengthy montage featuring a walk in the park, as well as a pedalboat ride for two, all set to a rather cheesy and somewhat annoying song called “Can You Feel the Love?”. I would recommend getting used to this song early on as you’ll be hearing it multiple times throughout the film’s runtime.
Unconvinced that Brenda got his “message”, Wilson once again sends his goons to trash Mr. Jonathan’s salon. No mention is made of how these men managed to enter a closed business, but as they are criminals, we will just assume that they broke in. Mr. Jonathan and Brenda return to the salon and find the damage, which understandably angers them both. Knowing that this is (indirectly) her fault, Brenda flees from the salon, but quickly returns to strip off her clothes and join Mr. Jonathan for a shower and some sweet, sweet lovin’. While Mr. J naps, Brenda once again leaves the salon and returns to her former lover in the hopes of sparing the hairdresser any more strife.
To ensure his compliance, Wilson’s men once again visit the salon, requesting that Mr. Jonathan join them for a trip to visit the young woman. He is led to Wilson’s mansion, where he is paid for the damages to his salon (and then some) before Brenda appears to inform him that she is quite happy back with the much older Wilson and that his presence is no longer required. Somewhat dismayed by this turn of events, Mr. Jonathan agrees to leave, but not before dissing the girl’s new hairdo and punching a couple of Wilson’s goons.
It’s clear that Mr. Jonathan is upset at the loss of this potential romance. So much so that he immediately nails another rich, married white woman (Anne Gaybis, who despite portraying numerous harlots, hookers, and succubi may be best known to horror film fans as the cashier in Friday the 13th Part III), forcing himself on the woman and damned near ripping her clothes off before they’ve even made it off the woman’s front porch.
REVIEWER’S NOTE: Seriously…. take a look at Gaybis’s IMDB credits before taking any offense at the seemingly derogatory titles that I just attributed to her film roles. That’s what those characters are actually listed as.
Black Shampoo does hit a bit of a lull after this, although there is one particularly bizarre and fairly insignificant sequence that soon follows that finds Mr. Jonathan joining his gay assistants, Artie (Skip E. Lowe, who had uncredited roles in Crazy Mama and Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks) and Richard (Gary Allen, whose only other film credits seems to be a short film from the late 60s) for a Wild West-themed barbeque. Now, I don’t claim to know much about the Wild West, but what I do know is BBQ… and this specific event is unlike any BBQ that I’ve ever seen. I can honestly say that I’ve never been to a BBQ that featured ballerinas, a swap meet, and numerous bared breasts (and possibly an exposed penis), but as the vast majority of BBQs that I’ve either attended or thrown myself were generally for family and close friends, these elements presumably would have made the occasion quite awkward. Plus, as a “pro tip”, I find that exposed flesh usually doesn’t mix well with open flames and dripping meat grease. That’s how you burn your tip, pro!
Needing a break, Mr. J retreats to his secluded cottage in the woods, which is really nothing more than a fairly rundown shack in a sparsely wooded area. At the same time, Brenda finds an opportunity to steal a ledger from Wilson that contains notes of his criminal activities, and once again returns to the salon. After receiving directions from Artie, she finds her way to the cottage and shows Mr. Jonathan what she has uncovered. Unfortunately, Wilson’s men also learn of the cottage’s location after brutally assaulting both Artie and Richard, including one horrific incident involving a hot curling iron.
Wilson and his men arrive at the cottage, where Mr. Jonathan is forced to make a final stand… armed with a chainsaw!!! While somewhat mindless and a tad bit rushed, the film’s climax is just action-filled and silly enough to make up for some of the film’s slower moments, helping Black Shampoo end on a satisfactory note… even if the final scene does feel somewhat abrupt.
Black Shampoo does feature a few plot holes and gaps in logic, as well as generally sub-par acting by the majority of the cast. While aspects such as these may hurt some films, here they play a large role in giving Black Shampoo some of its, albeit flawed, charm. While the film does feature a few fuzzy shots, overall, the camera work tends to be more polished and professional than many of its counterparts and contemporaries. This is probably due to the fact that Dean Cundey (of Halloween fame) served as the film’s director of photography, one of his earliest works in that capacity. This fact alone may make some seek out the film.
One thing that I felt stood out about Black Shampoo, especially in regards to blaxsploitation and exploitation films of the 1970s as a whole, was the treatment of its homosexual characters. Mr. Jonathan is truly kind and caring towards Artie (who, really, steals the vast majority of scenes in which he’s featured) and Richard, never once treating them with anything less than love, respect, and friendship. As homosexual characters are usually treated quite poorly in films such as these, this approach is somewhat unique and may help the film stand out amongst its peers. That said, they are still treated quite poorly by modern standards (not that we always treat them so well in modern films); somewhat stereotyped, often cartoonishly flamboyant, and (in Black Shampoo‘s case) the target of harsh, often anal-related, violence. However, in all honesty, the women in this film tend to be treated as more of a lower-class citizen, which is frequently the case in machoism-driven films. If these things are likely to offend you, stay away!
Black Shampoo is currently free to watch on Tubi, as well as on DVD and Blu-ray from VCI Entertainment. It’s most certainly not one that I’d recommend to all audiences, but I surely won’t tell people not to give it a shot either. It’s also surely not the most influential blaxploitation film of the era, nor the most action-packed or comedic, but it definitely has it own personality. That alone helps keep it entertaining.