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.
‘Black Mama, White Mama’ is a Roger Corman produced riff on Stanley Kramer’s film, ‘The Defiant Ones” starring blaxploitation icon Pam Grier. Veteran Filipino director Eddie Romero helms the film from a story by future ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ director Jonathan Demme. ‘Black Mama, White Mama’ is a rare exploitation film that balances action, humor, violence, and sleaze extremely well. Combine this with Arrow Video’s stellar presentation and you’ve got an impressive Pam Grier package!
The film opens on a bus carrying women into a rehabilitation center in an unnamed country. On board is Lee Daniels (Grier), a tough as nails hooker and Karen (Markove), a revolutionary with connections to a local guerrilla force. Inside the compound the vicious main guard, Densmore, takes more than a passing interest in Karen. Fans of cult cinema will recognize Densmore as actress Lynn Borden from ‘Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.’ After the “guests” check in a guard calls out, “Okay, strip ‘em and get ‘em wet”. *Cue playful shower scene*
Densmore likes to ‘mix business with pleasure’, but when Lee refuses her advances it’s Karen that succumbs to the guard’s ‘demands’. After a day spent in ‘the oven’ together sweating it out, Lee and Karen realize that even though they don’t agree on much, they can agree on finding a way out of the prison camp. Surprisingly, both women are set up for a transfer to a maximum security prison in the city. It’s revealed that Karen is near the top of her revolutionary organization and that Lee’s drug lord pimp is the biggest dealer on the island. (They’re on a island?) These women are in the clink for more than just parking tickets and loitering.
Thus far ‘Black Mama, White Mama’ has maintained a true “Women-In-Prison” setup with the introduction of our captive women, establishing the predatory lesbian guard, and concluding with an unapologetic shower scene crucial to exploitation cinema. Director Eddie Romero is no stranger to this style of film. Responsible for many great Filipino action films, Romero doesn’t cut corners with his movies, but he doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel either. Too often nudity can carry an entire scene and sometimes entire films. In my opinion Romero never “cashes in” on the nudity here. He keeps the camera moving without lingering too long on the actresses.
Now chained together, Lee and Karen board the transport bus. Enroute a firefight erupts killing the guards. On the hilltop we see Karen’s guerilla friends firing away. The women escape into the jungle leaving bloodied bodies behind them. Tracking Lee and Karen are a corrupt cop, a drug lord pimp, and a flamboyant cowboy bounty hunter played by the legendary Sid Haig. If you closely watch the scenes with Sid Haig you can see that Romero let’s him “direct” the scene to keep the action moving with the amateur local actors. Brilliant stuff! Fans of Filipino action cinema will instantly recognize druglord “Vic” as veteran actor Vic Diaz! What a crew!
As Lee and Karen flee across the island they butt heads at every turn. You’ve got the idealist revolutionary versus the self-centered hooker out to collect her money and run. Karen tries to make Lee understand her cause by shouting, “We’re trying to set this island free. You’re black! You understand, don’t you?”
*obligatory girl fight with slapping, hair pulling, and rolling in the dirt*
I wasn’t familiar with ‘Black Mama, White Mama’ other than a passing glance at the VHS artwork some years ago. It’s rarely mentioned in the Pam Grier canon with the same esteem as Coffy and Foxy Brown. I should’ve picked up that VHS because an exotic locale, gunfights, humor, and sleaze makes this a perfect exploitation film for longtime fans and those new to the genre. Though the film admittedly has a paper thin plot, I think the cast of characters make for an exciting and funny action film that never stops! Those looking to discover a great 70’s cult film need to look no further than ‘Black Mama, White Mama.’
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘Black Mama, White Mama’ escapes onto Region A/B Blu-ray thanks to Arrow Video. Housed in a clear case along with a reversible artwork sleeve and booklet is a Region 1 DVD version of the film. The disc opens to the Arrow Video logo before arriving at the Main Menu. When you hear the funky groove you’ve made it, Mama!
The Blu-ray presentation for ‘Black Mama, White Mama’ is a remarkably clean 1080p transfer with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Detail is very strong especially in outdoor sequences with natural light. Colors really pop in this film especially reds, yellows, and greens. The heavy use of these bright colors provides a dynamic presentation worth seeing in HD. Fine film grain is present throughout adding to the already striking patina established with the transfer. The HD transfer of ‘Black Mama, White Mama’ provided by Arrow Video is possibly the best visual presentation of this film since it’s production. Outstanding!
The original LPCM Mono track is the only audio option on the Blu-ray. For a low budget action film this audio track does really well. From gunfire to dialogue the film sounds incredible with this original mono track! The music score by Harry Betts provides a funky groove throughout the feature that never gets muddled or overpowering. Sound levels are consistent throughout with no pops or hisses present. English SDH subtitles are offered on the Blu-ray. This reviewer found that some of the “local” actors were hard to understand so the subtitles became necessary.
Audio Commentary: Documentary Filmmaker Andrew Leavold is practically a scholar on this type of film. His films ‘Machete Maidens Unleashed’ and ‘The Search for Weng Weng’ are essential histories of the jungle action film segment. Andrew’s stories about the production and the Filipino film industry are interesting and very funny at times. Those looking for a true insight into the film need to check this out!
White Mama Unchained: (HD 14:01) An Interview with Margaret Markov detailing her acting career. Shot for Arrow Video in 2015.
Sid Haig’s Filipino Adventures: (HD 15:51) An interview with Sid Haig about the string of exploitation films he made in the Philippines. Those interested in hearing colorful stories from the sets of his films will enjoy this featurette. Shot for Arrow Video in 2015.
The Mad Director of Blood Island: (HD 14:38) A previously unseen archival interview with director Eddie Romero who passed away in 2013. This featurette is a very interesting retrospective not only on Romero’s career, but also the Filipino film industry.
Trailer: (HD 1:54)
Photo Gallery: 26 Images ranging from production stills to poster artwork.
As a fan of exploitation films it’s hard to really appreciate the work put into them for so little money. ‘Black Mama, White Mama’ has humor, over-the-top characters, and Peckinpah-inspired effects from start to finish. Quite an amazing feat for such a film! With a stellar 1080p transfer and a slew of special features Arrow Video has put together an impressive package for this underappreciated cult action film. Highly recommended!