Black Shampoo (1976)
By: Stuart Giesel on October 28, 2012 | Comments
VCI | All Regions, NTSC | 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English Dolby Digital 2.0 | 84 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Greydon Clark
Starring: John Daniels, Tanya Boyd, Skip E Lowe, Joe Ortiz
Screenplay: Alvin L Fast, Greydon Clark
Country: USA
External Links
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Black Shampoo is to Warren Beatty's Shampoo what Scary Movie is to Scream; it aims to be a parody of the more famous film it's lampooning, but winds up being the joke itself. Black Shampoo is dreadful from beginning to end. It's filled with some of the most atrocious acting not seen until Tommy Wiseau proclaimed that a certain girlfriend was tearing him apart in legendary shitfest The Room. Black Shampoo does almost nothing right. It's cheap, lazy, stereotyped, predictable and, towards the end, bonkers. It's also quite brilliant with a six-pack of beer.

If Plan 9 From Outer Space is widely acknowledged as the Citizen Kane of bad movies, and The Room as the more modern Raging Bull equivalent, then Black Shampoo surely has to be a lesser classic in the pantheon of bad movies, a Silence of the Lambs if you will. With one deliciously idiotic scene after another, it's a glorious cavalcade of craptacular entertainment.

The plot is napkin-thin. Jonathan Knight (John Daniels) runs his own successful hair salon and spends as much time servicing the female customers as he does washing their hair. His secretary Brenda (Tanya Boyd) used to work for a mafia boss, who wants her back. The boss' goons smash up the salon and beat up Jonathan's employees, and Jonathan seeks revenge in order to protect Brenda, who has stolen a book that can give away the boss's entire operation.

John Daniels may have screen presence in a physical sense - the white suit he wears is impressively, and hideously, tight - but whenever he has to open his mouth it provides howlingly funny results. You get the feeling that the director insisted on only one take per scene, regardless of the outcome; Daniels clearly flubs his lines in one scene. But as with the dubious cinematic qualities of The Room, that's what makes Black Shampoo so deliciously, ludicrously watchable. Daniels and the entire cast are spectacularly wooden, with each scene more retarded than the last. A bearded bad guy threatens Jonathan's secretary utilising some of the most stilted acting this side of Ed Wood. Witness the awkward 'seduction' poolside scene between two nubile girls and Daniels and, eventually, the girls' mother. Daniels' lines are priceless, delivered so deadpan that you'd swear it was intentional (I'm sure it wasn't). Even on the brink of orgasm, Daniels plays it smooth and cool like every other scene, wearing a perpetual lip-curl like he's on the brink of learning that he's meant to be a Bond villain. Other characters are either grotesque stereotypes (the two male barbers at Jonathan's other than Jonathan himself are flamboyantly gay), stupefyingly lame or virtual nonentities. Tanya Boyd is probably the standout if I had to pick one from the cast; she's certainly very attractive (and spends probably half of her screentime naked) and her acting isn't quite as wincingly awful as some of her co-stars.

God, there are so many moments to cherish that it'd take all day to list them: the love montage set to a hideous fusion of simpering love song and synth; one of the male barbers being literally picked up by a bad guy and lobbed at the other; the destruction of the salon set to stupid comic music - watch the big black guy hit the overhead light and then topple a chair - GOD NO!; Jonathan's reaction to the mess ("what in the fuck happened here?") and the cut straight after his cursing and mumbling to a scene playing the song "Can You Feel The Love"; a weird scene where Jonathan practically forces himself on a customer (all the time holding her pet poodle) complete with odd editing and poor dubbing; the "gay and straight" western-themed barbeque which sees some decidedly non-western costumes, such as a tu-tu; how Jonathan is able to determine the mob boss's entire operation from a few pages of cryptic code that looks like utter bullshit. And there's so much more crud to savour. Ah, joy.

And then we get to the pièce de résistance when Black Shampoo turns gleefully violent, and the tipping point between silliness and utter farce is reached thanks to the creative use of a curling iron and, later on, a chainsaw, axe and pool cue. But the violence is staged so ineptly, and the bad guys are about as threatening as lukewarm pizza, that there's about as much impact as your average episode of Home & Away.  Thank you God.

If we're looking at the film critically - and I mean compared to most normal films - then Black Shampoo is an amateurish mess. However it's rarely dull, even though the love scenes, like those in The Room, almost stop the film dead. For the most part Black Shampoo is immensely entertaining, and there's copious amounts of blood and nudity to keep lovers of Z-grade crap enthralled. I have no doubt that parts of it were made deliberately tongue-in-cheek, but the overtly "humourous" scenes are quite lame compared to the unintentional humour the rest of the film provides.

Bad movie lovers, I've found your new God.
Video
Black Shampoo's video quality, like the quality of the film itself, is decidedly below average. The picture is hazy and some scenes have a serious case of the "jaggies". Apparently it's an anamorphic picture, according to the case, but you wouldn't know it to look at it. For an ultra low-budget picture you shouldn't expect miracles, I know, but there have been far better looking pictures from the same period that I would figure were as cheap to make as Black Shampoo, and look much better in their DVD incarnations.
Audio
Black Shampoo is blessed with an atrocious musical score - from wildly inappropriate comedic music to piano cues that I could have written even if I'd had my eardrums ruptured, and the DVD's mono track does little to improve on it. Some of the film's sound effects are pretty dodgy too - one scene has Jonathan pounding on a door that suddenly sounds like something out of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. However this only adds to the film's charm.
Extra Features
The VCI disc is packed with features; sadly they're all fairly lightweight. The audio commentary by director and co-writer Greydon Clark is so-so, and filled with plenty of dead moments - there were a couple of times where I forgot I was listening to the commentary because Clark hadn't said anything for five minutes or so. There's a text interview with Greydon Clark and a bio. For fans of John Daniels, the man provides a half-hour phone interview (recorded in 2005) which is probably the best feature on the disc - Daniels is an articulate speaker and provides a lot of background on the filming of Black Shampoo, working with the actors and crew such as cinematographer Dean Cundey (who has since gone on to much, much better things), and juggling a film career with a music management career. There are also text interviews with Daniels and co-star Tanya Boyd. The disc also contains five deleted scenes, but unfortunately none of them have any audio. Most of the scenes relate to the western-themed barbeque, so no great loss. Rounding out the extras is a photo gallery, a trailer for Black Shampoo and trailers for other exploitation films.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Black Shampoo is awful. It's a ridiculous piece of shit with stilted acting that approaches legendary status. I fucking love this movie.

Mind the score for this one: on a bad movie scale it's an easy 4; on an actual proper movie scale it's more like a 1.5. So please don't mistake this rating of 4 as meaning that Black Shampoo is as good as Coffy. It isn't.

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