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Monday, May 3, 2010

J.D.'s Revenge (1976) review

J.D.'s REVENGE 1976

Glynn Turman (Ike Hendricks), Louis Gossett Jr. (Reverend Elija Bliss), Joan Pringle (Christella), Carl Crudup (Tony), James Watkins (Carl), Fred Pinkard (Theotis Bliss), Jo Anne Meredith (Sara Divine), Alice Jubert (Roberta Bliss) David McKnight (J.D. Walker)

Directed by Arthur Marks

Note the image of J.D. in the mirror behind Ike

During a hypnotism act on Bourbon Street, Ike Hendricks, a law student working as a cabbie, is unwittingly possessed by the spirit of a dead gangster named J.D. Walker. The violent racketeer wants revenge on those that killed both he and his sister over thirty years before. Former boxer turned preacher, Elija Bliss and his brother, Theotis are at the center of J.D.'s revenge.

This is a fascinating and intriguing blaxploitation horror movie/psychological thriller with two exemplary performances by two damn fine actors, Glynn Turman and Louis Gossett Jr. Some fans might be put off by the lesser amount of violence versus the care given to the characters. It's to the films advantage, but that's not to say the film is without its trashy merits. There's a misogynistic slant that some might find offensive, but J.D.'s REVENGE is one of the finest examples of the black oriented films of the 1970's.

Ike, under the influence of J.D. Walker, goes to meet his enemies

Director Arthur Marks helmed some excellent 70's trash including BONNIE'S KIDS (1973), the racially charged DETROIT 9000 (1973) and BUCKTOWN (1975). He also directed a couple of other late blooming, but playfully innocent blaxploitation flicks by the names of FRIDAY FOSTER (1975) and THE MONKEY HU$TLE (1976).

The real J.D. Walker during a flashback

All of Mark's blax flicks are different from one to the other. One is a mostly serious take on racism and the politically dangerous underbelly of a city in panic. Another is standard blaxploitation fare, one is a lighter toned Pam Grier vehicle that's a departure from the norm, another is an all out comedy and then we have J.D.'s REVENGE. It's one of a handful of black action movies with a horror thriller slant. But where other films like BLACULA (1972), SUGAR HILL (1974) and DR. BLACK & MR. HYDE (1976) which had a humorous touch to them, J.D.'s REVENGE is serious from start to finish.

"I think it's a good thing to go up side of a woman's head when she starts handin' you lip. I mean, believe it, or not, they like that! Hey, man...honest to God, you have GOT to go into your nigga' act on'em every once in a while. They gonna push ya' till you do!"

Christella is about to make the mistake of asking just what has happened to Ike's hair

Glynn Turman totally steals the show as Ike and the possessed soul brother of the damned, J.D. Walker. Actor, Turman is excellent utilizing his commanding presence whenever he's onscreen playing host to the dead gangster. It's an incredibly scary performance. Towards the end, the dead mobsters spirit takes over with Ike possessing (haha) a complete makeover. His hairstyle has changed as well as his dress. At this time, Ike ceases to exist leaving only J.D. Walker. It's an intensely terrifying portrayal.

Ike in full on J.D. Walker mode, "The craziest nigga' you ever did meet!"

There's a great scene where Ike/J.D. picks up a woman in a club and takes her back home for some bedroom gymnastics. The woman's husband comes home early and plans to bruise up Ike only to receive several bloody slashes from J.D.'s weapon of choice, a barber's razor. Playing the husband is notable stuntman, the great Bob Minor. Appearing in a plethora of movies, Minor has contributed stunt work do dozens upon dozens of great and grand movies from the 70's onward. Seeing Minor onscreen always brings a smile to my face and it's a shame he didn't get his own series of movies during this prosperous time period populated with the charismatic likes of Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Pam Grier.

"You're starting to believe your own jive sermons, brother. You're pimping God's consciousness like some kind of fat whore. You're just selling cheap feel good thrills to a bunch of sucka's looking for the second coming of Jesus, or some such shit. Just keep in mind what you really do, Elija...and I'll keep the show running...smoothly."

Louis Gossett Jr. is feelin' the spirit

Louis Gossett Jr. is likewise amazing as the excitable preacher, Elija Bliss. Both actors form the crux of the film and both are amazing at maintaining viewer interest although the bulk of that interest lies at the feet of Turman. Gossett gives it his all in capturing the spirit (haha). There's also some subtext that Bliss's Jesus fest is all a big scam. It's an added element that's welcome amongst the horror angle.

The violence is sporadic, but effective. The most vicious scenes are when Ike brutalizes his girlfriend, Christella after being taken over by J.D. Walker. There are two such scenes with the second one being the most severe. He berates her, attempts to rape her and finally when she gets away after hitting him with a vase and escaping to the bathroom, he threatens her with death.

The possession angle will no doubt bring to mind THE EXORCIST (1973), but J.D.'s REVENGE (1976) apparently was influential in itself. Curtis Harrington directed pretty much the same movie the following year with RUBY (1977), but with a stronger horror presence. I'm not sure if both movies were in production at the same time and AIP got their's out first, but it's interesting that both share pretty much the same storyline, but one it's a male whose possessed and in the other it's a female who is taken over by a vengeful spirit.

Wow, whatever happened to Alice Jubert?

J.D.'s REVENGE, while being an AIP effort, is lacking in the usual extreme violence found in their catalog of black themed movies. Mark's movie has a lot of sleaze appeal mostly with the abundant nudity and several dream sequences featuring a cow being slaughtered, but it doesn't have the level of violence found in so many other movies of the genre. This is predominantly a character study and all the better for it. It's one of the best, if not the best representations of blax-horror 'soul'ey (haha) due to the aggressive performance of Glynn Turman.

This review is representative of the MGM DVD


Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to Alice Jubert, indeed? Based on her IMdB page, she's only got a few credits to her name -- all in the '70s.

Upon sitting down to watch J.D., I must say that I was eagerly anticipating her obligatory B-movie titty shot. And it did not disappoint, that's for sure.

venoms5 said...

Hi, Scott, thanks for commenting! Jubert was quite alluring then, wasn't she? A shame this movie remains fairly obscure and seldom discussed. Some fine performances with some suitably OTT moments.

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