I was quick to defend Russ Meyer’s first supposed foray into territory outside the “sex film”, The Seven Minutes, but I’m afraid the good vibes died a horrific death as soon as the director’s next picture. Hollywood success may have clouded Meyer’s already inflated hubris when he struck it big with his camp masterpiece Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, (mis)leading the director to believe he had the capability within him to command complexly nuanced, important films about issues like slavery & institutional racism. He was miserably mistaken. Black Snake cost Russ Meyer hundreds of thousands of dollars, a lot of it his own money now that he was back operating outside the studio system, and stands as his worst picture since at least the wildly misogynistic Motorpsycho!. Meyer should’ve known better than to tackle a period piece about slavery and, yet, Blacksnake somehow exists, adding nothing of value to the world but unwatchably dull stretches of wretched dialogue and as yet undiscovered, fresh ways to create corrosively racist art in the guise of enlightened progressivism.
Ever since the pointlessly racist rants in Vixen!, Meyer’s films had gradually escalated the respectability of their black characters. Starting with adding the first black actress to Meyer’s bevy of babes in Cherry, Harry, and Raquel! (a small step, that), the director went on to cast feature roles for black actors in both Beyond the Valley of the Dolls & The Seven Minutes, a huge improvement on the lack of diversity in his back catalog. All of that goodwill goes out the window as soon as Blacksnake‘s opening credits, which features slaves on a plantation being beaten to the sound of playfully swanky music, racial slurs, and cracking whip sound effects (the film’s title itself refers to the shape of a whip) in an assault of unwelcome irreverence. It isn’t very often that I hate a film before its first proper scene, but Blacksnake is instantly recognizable as vile garbage.
It doesn’t get much better from there. Sexual relations between slaves & their owners are played as comical instead of rape. There’s a perverse amount of whippings & racial epitaphs to the point where it feels like they’re supposed to be a source of entertainment, which is pretty much a worst-case scenario. The worst part is that the slave revolt that concludes the film is excessive in its violence to the point that it plays as if you’re supposed to feel bad for the slave-owners being hung & whipped to death (for a change). While making the film, Meyer was quoted as saying, “Sex is out, violence is in. This film will have every conceivable death you can think of – death by hanging, by double-barreled shotgun, by whipping, by machete, by crucifixion and by shark.” The problem is that the violence in the film plays as nihilistic at best, and deeply, subliminally racist at worst.
With Blacksnake, Meyer had tried to make a Big Issue film & failed miserably. Even his wild rants about the wicked nature of women & heterosexual romance in past works were more nuanced & insightful than his supposedly anti-racist sentiments in Blacksnake. If anything good at all came out of this dumpster fire, it’s that the film’s failure & resulting financial ruin drove Meyer back into the open arms & comforting bosoms of the nudie pic. Meyer may have been done with the sex film, but the sex film was far from done with him, He had no other available recourse but to return to sexploitation in his next picture, Supervixens, having fallen from grace in his two sole self-serious dramas.