Automatically calling Arthur Marks’ J.D.’s Revenge a mere “blaxsploitation” film before viewing the end result actually puts it in the wrong category because it works a bit more outside that box you’ve put it in. Sure, it’s got a mostly black cast, some violent bits, blood and some nudity to draw in genre fans. But it’s also a supernatural revenge flick that kind of makes sense despite a few plot elements that fall on their faces. I wouldn’t call it a “pure” horror film per se, but I can see some folks who tend to freak out over mysticism in their movies falling for the film’s attempts to frighten them whenever it gets the opportunity.
That said, you do have to feel sorry for poor Isaac Hendrix (Glynn Turman), a law student in New Orleans who ends up getting hypnotized while out on a night of fun with his wife Christella (Joan Pringle) and another couple. That hypnosis somehow summons up the spirit of the late J.D. Walker (David McKnight), a not so nice street hustler type with a scar on his face and a penchant for straight razors as a means of protection. J.D. wants in on Ike’s scrawny body so he can finally take revenge on the man who killed him and his sister, Betty Jo. Naturally, vengeful spirits tend to not care much about collateral damage, so Christella is the first victim to Ike’s possessed form as she’s in the wrong place when J.D. materializes and takes over.
Both Turman and Pringle sell their parts well in scenes that will make you wince as you watch. That said, the film blunders into even more wince-worthy territory when Ike’s doctor friend tells him it’s fine that he went and smacked his woman around because they sometimes like or need that treatment. Yikes. Christella leaves Ike after round two and Ike thinks he’s losing his mind because he doesn’t recall hitting or assaulting his wife. Toss in Christella’s ex-husband entering the scene (he’s a cop who wants Ike’s head on a pike for hitting his ex-wife) and Ike finally going full J.D. and you get an interesting situation that leads to a somewhat low-key but kind of satisfying finale.
Well, there’s also a great turn by Louis Gossett Jr. as Reverend Elijah Bliss, a preacher related to the man who killed J.D. who’s running his own game on his loyal sheeple at the church he runs. Ike visits and later pops in as J.D. to set up the film’s conclusion. Gossett Jr. steals his scenes, interacting with the church’s actual congregation and putting on quite a show in the process. As J.D., McKnight also does a superb job here even though he’s consigned mostly to flashback scenes and visual effects shots where he shows up as Ike’s reflection. Turman takes on J.D.’s tics and traits as the film progresses, down to dressing like him (an awful process “conk” wig makes one scene too funny before things get worse for Christella) and carrying a straight razor he uses too effectively in one scene.
The actual body count is quite small as most of the dying happens in the past and even J.D.’s spirit using Ike only slices some poor sap up pretty badly after the guy comes home too early after his wife has a tryst with the smooth criminal (eee-hee!). Still, it’s a memorable film overall because it’s smarter than you’d think it would be and better for it. The special features include a great interview with Glynn Turman and a few of the others behind the film including screenwriter Jaison Starkes who says about 80 to 85 percent of what he wrote made it on film even with some studio interference (they thought the initial cut of the film would be too hard for black audiences to follow!). There’s also an audio interview with David McKnight where he notes despite his major role, he’s not credited properly thanks in part to some foolishness with his agent at the time.
Overall, this is another fine restoration from Arrow Video and while it might not be the first film that springs to mind if you’re a fan of these films, it’s worth checking out with a few friends if you’re into being mildly to moderately surprised at films that were primarily made to be a lot less dimensional.
Score: B+ (85%)
Review copy provided by the publisher