Sheba Baby (1975/Blu-ray/Arrow Video)

William Girdler’s SHEBA, BABY is almost like a sister film to Jack Hill’s FOXY BROWN, which itself was a sister film to the immensely entertaining COFFY. These three films were intended as vehicles for the then-up-and-coming Blaxploitation starlet Pam Grier, with the latter of the three being the most genuine whereas the other two are essentially merely products of its wake. Although they differ in quality, this is ultimately what connects the first two: they attempted to push Grier further into the spotlight. But does this money-minded decision pay off or backfire horribly? Let’s jump into the autopsy and find out.

Grier stars as Sheba Shayne, a Chicago PD who returns home from Kentucky to discover that a local gang has been threatening her father and his business, clearly trying to force him into early retirement. Sheba and a former lover embark on a wild goose chase to find out who is behind her old man’s plight, which leads them into the underbelly of crime as well as the evil lurking on the surface. It really is as simple as that – yet another revenge tale in which Grier is kicking ass and taking names and no one can be trusted.

Unfortunately, after a few films, this formula tends to get repetitive unless it’s spiced up a bit…and in this case, it’s not. Though Girdler is able to produce a few engaging sequences, his approach to the material on a whole is sorely lacking; not just in final delivery but also in energy, imagination, and motivation. The essentials of a good Blaxploitation film are simply not in-tact, and I feel SHEBA suffers for it. It trudges through its own accumulative muck for what feels like an eternity, through one poorly edited action set-piece to the next. It’s just stale, plain and simple.

One of many reasons for this might be the very PG-13 ambience of the picture. I think that a family-friendly Pam Grier outing could easily be arranged in better form than this, but the lack of high-octane thrills just makes the proceedings even less enjoyable. The film is in a constant need of an energy boost, and though Grier tries her best to keep it afloat, even her best efforts can’t inspire some life into the thing. Along with her mostly game performance, the only other positive to be derived from the experience is the groovy soundtrack.

Luckily, Arrow Films delivers as per usual with their release. Things kick off with a trailer and production stills gallery, and then we are presented with a couple of featurettes which take a look at Pam Grier’s AIP years, a couple of audio commentaries, and a booklet featuring an essay by Patty Breen. Clearly they didn’t exactly go all out for this one, and it’s easy to see why once one has seen the film itself, but I suspect there are fans of SHEBA, BABY out there – somewhere – in spite of its shortcomings and they will surely get a kick out of the disc. I for one found it to be a lifeless bore, and can only really recommend it to the Pam Grier/Blaxploitation completest. It’s a shame, but that’s what happens when you don’t let Mr. Hill take care of business.

-Ryan Marshall