If there’s a subgenre of the exploitation film that was tailor-made for the movie trailer, it’s got to be blaxploitation. These films not only were often filled with action, wild plotting and eye-popping threads, they also lent themselves a groovy treatment highlighted by funky narration and even funkier music. Truck Turner, the debut starring vehicle for erstwhile soul music genius Isaac Hayes, offers a memorable example of how a good trailer could distill a blaxploitation film into two minutes of soul-inflected excitement.
The first thirty seconds of Truck Turner hit the screen at full swagger to establish Isaac
Hayes as a marquee attraction: over a tense wah-wah guitar riff, a narrator
affecting a streetwise tone warns us: “Hide
yo mamas… big brother is coming…” His words play out over a
montage of Hayes, sometimes shirtless, punching dudes and brandishing a Dirty Harry-style firearm. In a
memorable moment, he hits a guy in a phone booth so hard he goes flying right
through the glass. Hayes gets his own solo title card and his titular character
name also gets one after he tells the unruly patrons of a bar post-brawl: “Tell ’em you’ve been hit by a truck:
Mack ‘Truck’ Turner.”
The next forty seconds or so is a sales pitch extolling
the bonafides of Hayes and his character.
We see him as a man of romance, wooing his girlfriend with a six-pack of
beer as he picks her up from the bus stop. The narrator explains to us that
Mack is a bounty hunter (“makin’ a
healthy livin’… by makin’ livin’ unhealthy”). We see plenty more of
him shooting and beating up criminals.
Most importantly, we learn the criminal underworld is
out to get him when he see Nichelle Nichols, who has traded her Star Trek uniform for superfly madam
threads as she shouts “I want that
bastard Truck Turner and I want him dead!” Turner has to dodge many would-be assassins,
including an attacker who shoots at him while he’s carrying groceries – this
makes a carton of milk erupt like an albino squib when hit.
Nichols is fantastic in this film: not only is her
wardrobe heart-stopping but she handles her villainous role with wicked aplomb.
The trailer editor recognized this and devotes the next twenty seconds of the
trailer entirely to her as she shows off the girls in her bordello (“$238,000 worth of dynamite. It’s Fort
Knox in panties!”) to a gang of criminal players. She closes with a
sales-pitch: “The man who kills him
gets my broads.”
The balance of the trailer returns to Hayes as its main
focus. After a few quiet seconds where he vows to “collect” on the
criminals threatening his life, the final 45 seconds of the trailer unleashes
one last barrage of action. Fifteen of those seconds are devoted to a wild
shootout in a hospital between Mack and the hired goons. In one unforgettable
shot, an injured colleague of Mack’s rises up from his bed and starts blasting
away with a revolver. If you’ve ever had the good fortune of seeing this
trailer in a theater with a full house, that moment always brings the house
The trailer winds to a close with highlights from a big
car chase scene than runs around ten minutes in the film itself. It’s all
exciting, imaginatively shot stuff from the days when such stunts all had to be
done live in front of the camera. In the trailer, it’s used as a thrilling
backdrop for the narrator to complete his pitch for how the film represents
Hayes’ transition from your stereo to the movie screen. There’s also a quick
pitch for the double-album soundtrack, composed by Hayes. Said album is a must
for funk fans and the epic cue for the car chase scene is one of its
highlights. After an exploding car and one more gunshot, the trailer stops on a
Truck Turner arrived early in what would be a twenty-five year acting career than ran parallel to Hayes’ prolific recording career. Truck Turner is one of his best credits and this trailer captures its appeal: director Jonathan Kaplan’s flamboyant visual sense, the copious action, the plush orchestral funk score and, best of all, Hayes’ charismatic screen presence. Both the film and the trailer do a great job of displaying why the blaxploitation genre inspires such loyalty in its fans.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Truck Turner, click here.