BAMF’s Blaxploitation Archive is a collection of reviews originally written in the 1990s that appeared in the pages of BadAzz MoFo. This review and many others have been reprinted and collected in BadAzz MoFo’s Book of Blaxploitation, Volume One, which is now available for purchase.
ABAR, THE FIST BLACK SUPERMAN 1977 (a.k.a. In Your Face) director: Frank Packard; starring: J. Walter Smith, Tobar Mayo
Of the over 200 movies that comprise the genre and the era of blaxploitation, there are quite a few made by filmmakers and actors who only turned out one or two films, before disappearing into total obscurity. Actors like Winston Thrash and Loye Hawkins, as well as directors like Renee Martinez and Bill Brame are all but forgotten. The sad thing is that most of the films turned out by these people, which include such craptacular garbage as The Guy from Harlem and Miss Melody Jones, don’t really warrant being remembered or even seen for that matter (trust me—I’ve seen most of ‘em). But every now and then one manages to shine through, and despite its rather questionable artistic merits or quality, keeps from being total shit. Such is the case with Abar, the First Black Superman.
You may think that Spawn and Blade were the first films to feature a super-powered black man whoopin’ ass, or that Meteor Man was cinema’s first black superhero, and you know what? You’re wrong! The first black cinematic superhero, as the film’s title indicates, is none other than John Abar (Tobar Mayo).
When black research scientist Dr. Ken Kincade (the long lost brother of gym teacher Chet Kincade?) moves his family to an all white neighborhood, the local honkys get their underwear all in a bunch. With a rabid mob of kill-crazy whiteys picketing on their front lawn, throwing garbage, and disemboweling their cat, the Kincades seem to be in dire circumstances. But all them honky muthas best look out, ‘cause ridin’ to the Kincade’s rescue, on a bunch of motorcycles, is the Black Front of Unity (BFU).
The leader of the BFU is Abar, a super badass who has pledged his life to protect the black community. Before long, Abar is hired to protect the family full time; unfortunately he ain’t able to do shit when some honky sumbitch kills the Kincade’s young son, Tommy. Now, it seems that Doc Kincade (Smith) has been working on a serum that can make a man indestructible, just like the bullet-proof rabbits that he keeps in his basement laboratory. It takes a little persuading, but when the evil crackers take a few shots at Abar, he’s more than willing to swig the doctor’s serum like a bottle of Thunderbird, thus turning him into a bullet-proof ghetto avenger. But not only is Abar now indestructible, he also has incredible psychic abilities, as well as divine powers that will allow him to battle racism. All of that from drinking a tiny vial of a liquid that looks like urine.
No, dear readers, I’m not making any of this up—what you just read is really the plot. Abar, the First Black Superman is one of the more freaky flicks I’ve ever sat through (which is saying a lot). This is the sort of film that leaves you in wide-eyed wonder saying, “Wow.”
The film gets especially crazy after Abar takes Dr. Kincade’s serum, and goes on what can only be described as a super powered holy mission to destroy racism. Seriously. It’s so crazy—not to mention poorly executed—that it becomes a treat just to watch for its sheer insanity and ineptitude. You find yourself wondering how this movie got made. And even more unbelievable is the fact that you’re watching it.
Despite its freaky nature and an absurd premise, Abar is a fun film, not to mention very political. This little gem offers up a great concept, with some profound and provocative dialog that at times borders on brilliance. What’s really deep is the notion that it takes a black man with increased mental and physical strength, to battle the evil ways of whitey. Of course the profound nature of the story, and the smatterings of choice dialog are all marred by some of the worst (and I do mean worst) acting you will ever see. And let’s not forget inept directing, lighting, editing, story structure, soundtrack, and every other technical and aesthetic element you can think of. This is a film where pretty much everything that can be done poorly is done poorly, making Abar a series of great and interesting ideas, drowning in a vast ocean of cinematic ineptitude.
But all the vast hindrances that would destroy any other crappy film simply can’t keep this movie down. There is just a bit too much goodness, buried deep beneath all the junk, for this film to actually suck. There are even a few moments that make my jigaboo heart swell with pride, like when the BFU first ride up on their motorcycles, chase off the evil whiteys, and place an African flag on the Kincade’s front lawn. I cried like a baby. And I love the dream sequence when Kincade’s son dreams the family is back in the old west facing down a group of white vigilantes. Black cowboy Deadwood Dick (Abar, as the real life gunslinger Nat “Deadwood Dick” Love) rides to the rescue, and blasts the vile honky vermin away; declaring, “My friends call me Deadwood Dick; but my enemies call me Smart Black Nigger.”
From what I can tell, nearly every person involved with this movie was never involved with another film—which should clue you in as to the quality of work involved. Neither director Frank Packard nor screenwriter James Smalley appears to have ever made another film. In fact, Tobar Mayo seems to be the only person with any sort of career either before or after Abar. Mayo, who looks like the love child of Ji-Tu Cumbuka and Doug E. Fresh, and who may or may not be related to Whitman Mayo (Grady on Sanford & Son), also appeared in Charles Barnett’s brilliant Killer of Sheep, the crappy Big Time, as well as a handful of television shows, including The Jeffersons and Mannix. He was also in Panama Red, directed by Bob Chinn, who is best known for his work in porno, and as creator of the Johnny Wadd series starring John Holmes. Mayo is also listed in the credits of Escape from New York, and even though I’ve seen that film a hundred times, it seems I keep blinking whenever my main man is on the screen. Although he’s not the best actor in the world, Mayo is Shakespearean in comparison to the other cast members of Abar, who really stink up the screen in a way that is both appalling and endearing, making this film a special kind of classic.