Pam Grier

WiHM: Pam Grier

WiHM: Pam Grier

Pam Grier, Women in Horror Month
When you first think of Women in Horror, you might not think of Pam Grier. Pam is more famous for her early career in exploitation cinema than in horror. However, she has had roles in several horror movies and is well known to most horror fans. February is not only Women in Horror Month, it is also Black History Month, so it seemed the perfect time shine a spotlight on Pam.
Pam's career started in the early 70s when she was cast by Jack Hill in two “women in prison” films. The 70s were the time of exploitation films, and the women in prison film was a sleazy and popular subgenre. These films lead to a long association with director Jack Hill and exploitation films, including two of her more famous early films, Coffy and Foxy Brown. It also lead to sharing the screen on multiple occasions with horror icon and all around great guy Sid Haig.
Pam Grier in Jackie Brown
Exploitation films of the era were controversial in about every way possible. The women in prison films were criticized for their portrayal of women and the violence against women. It's hard to argue that the films generally presented women characters in a good light. However with Pam Grier, the genre found a strong woman, cable of going toe to toe with men and even headline her own films. With Coffy in 1973 Pan became the first African American, female lead in an action film.
More films in the blackspolitation genre followed, they were all controversial at the time for perpetuating black stereotypes. While a lot, if not all of that is true, it also gave rise, and jobs to many black actors and directors who otherwise might not have found jobs. Still the criticism almost certainly hurt and limited Pam's career at the time. However today many look back more favorably on Pam's early career. They see her as a strong female, willing to do what it takes, and fully able of kicking ass on her own.
It was also in 1973 that Pam made her horror debut in Scream Blacula Scream. This was a sequel to the popular film Blacula, and part of the genre that has been dubbed Blackspolitaion horror. While still displaying some unfortunate black and gay stereotypes, Blacula was listed by it's lead William Marshall, and is considered one of the better films of the genre. In Scream Blacula Scream, the titular bloodsucker is revived and quickly falls in love with voodoo queen Pam Grier. I can't say I blame him.. Blacula and it's sequel have attained cult status, and Scream Blacula Scream put Pam squarely into the hearts of true horror fans.
Ms. Grier spends most of the rest of the 70s making exploitation films such as Foxy Brownand Friday Foster. In the 80s she delves again into the horror genre, with films like The Vindicator, (very) loosely based on the Frankenstein story, and an adaptation of Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. Exploitation cinema is rapidly winding down and Pam finds work in more mainstream film and television, including a recurring role on Miami Vice. Her roles, even though more mainstream, aren't as high profile.
The 90s saw a major revival for Pam, with roles in genre favorites Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, Mars Attacks, and John Carpenter's Escape from LA. While none of them are strictly horror films, they put her back in front of horror fans. In 2001, she teamed with Carpenter again for Ghosts of Mars, a sci fi/horror re-imagining of his classic Assault on Precinct 13. That same year she also appeared in the urban horror film Bonesalongside rapper Snoop Dogg and a young Katharine Isabelle.
Pam Grier is still active today although she hasn't appeared in a horror film since the early 2000s. She now holds two honorary PhDs and is still the strong beautiful woman her fans remember from the 70s. Those films – and Pam's characters – may be controversial, but she was a role model for all women and for black women especially. Horror and exploitation films have a history of treating women with little or no respect. More often than not they are consigned as the victim, or just to provide sex appeal by appearing nude on film. While Pam did do her share of nude scenes, she was never the helpless victim. She fought back, against men and women, many times along. Foxy Brown, Coffy, and Friday Fosterwere strong women who did what they had to do to survive and to protect their loved ones. But Pam was more than just someone who played a strong character on screen. In real life she was just as strong.
In 1988 Pam was diagnosed with Stage Four Cancer. She was reportedly given only 18 months to live, but like Coffy and Foxy, she didn't give up. She fought and survived and is now cancer free. She credits eastern medicines, but how much had to simply be her will to fight on?
In 2011 she released a memoir, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts. In it Pam reveals that she was raped as a child of six years old and again at age 18. She was assaulted a third time but managed to fight off her attacker. From being victimized as a child, she rose to become the epitome of a strong woman on screen because Pam Grier was a strong woman in real life. She survived rape, she survived cancer, and her career survived the downfall of the blacksploitation film craze. I am proud to call myself a Pam Grier fan and honored to do this humble spotlight on her for Women in Horror Month.
Posted by Allen Alberson in TRIBUTE, WOMEN IN HORROR, 0 comments