J.D.'s Revenge Review
October is officially the spookiest month of the year. Just as Christmas now extends from the beginning of August all the way to the end of January, Halloween is also extended to encompass the whole first month of true autumn, and as such everything is made to be scary and spooky. A genre that I personally would never have put in the scary category is Blaxploitation. I have seen some of it before, and despite its racially charged origins it seems to have been much mired in parody and relegated to unintentional comedy rather than a serious addition to the film form.
Or at least that was until I saw a film, released on Blu-ray, by one of my favourite home video companies Arrow Video that combines Blaxploitation aesthetics and horror elements to create an experience that is wholly its own. J.D.’s Revenge directed by one of the genre’s great directors, Arthur Marks, and starring Glynn Turman. By day, Isaac Hendrix is a law student in New Orleans. He also drives a cab to support himself and girlfriend Christella (Joan Pringle). To de-stress he and some friends hit the town and Isaac is brought on stage during a hypnosis act. Following this, he becomes possessed by the vengeful spirit of J.D. (David McKnight), a violent gangster looking to get revenge on those who murdered him and his sister.
On the outside J.D.’s Revenge seems to be a typical Blaxploitation film. J.D. seeks vengeance for his murdered his sister, a crime for which was falsely accused, his spree of violent justice draws the attention of the police and other crime bosses as the mystery slowly unravels. It is shot in a way that wouldn't distinguish it from the typical Blacksploitation film either. The slightly cheap production and stilted camera movements are matched by the wooden performances of some of the actors. However, just judging this film by the surface details means that you miss the point of the film.
This is a horror film and the filmmakers use every definition of horror to scare audiences, from the horror that comes from the possession and murder to the subtler horrors of police brutality, spousal abuse and a violent past that colours your present and future; J.D.’s Revenge has hidden layers to it that makes repeated viewing a must for those looking for something that not only shocks and scares but that comments on a time and an issue still prevelant today.
The highlight of this film, however, is a master class performance from Glynn Turman. When you think of Blaxploitation acting your mind travels to the slightly stilted, over the top performances seen in parody films like Black Dynamite, and while there are still some of these issues in the performance, Turman adds something else that will leave a very distinct impression. Along the lines of Andy Serkis' award-winning performance as Gollum and Smeagol, Turman presents the psychological turmoil of an individual being taken over by a more dominant personality. The mental anguish and subsequent transformation are played deftly and marked by an obvious difference in acting style allowing audiences to easily identify the two different characters, one side modern-day Ike and the other, 40s gangster J.D.
The film is definitely dated: there are some odd and stilted performances from the supporting cast; the cinematography may not inspire much and there are some very old opinions about women that can jar a modern sensibility, but J.D.’s Revenge is a unique and important entry to the Blaxploitation genre. It has hidden depths to it that makes it something that those with an interest in Black or Political Cinema might want to pick up. It certainly places itself in a specific niche and I for one am glad that it has.
Outside of the film, Arrow has done a tremendous job in the presentation and restoration of the film. The Blu-Ray provides a 1080p version that is taken from a 2K restoration of original film elements. With 1.0 mono sound and optional subtitles for those hard of hearing, the playback on the Blu-Ray has no digital or analogue errors that I could detect that can detract from your appreciation of the film. As to the extras, Arrow has included the film’s original trailer as well as numerous interviews with cast and crew that will allow for extra insight into the making of the film.
J.D.’s Revenge is an interesting beast; a film with hidden depths beneath what would be a typical slasher revenge story. It has been carefully restored by Arrow, a company that should be well known to those with a taste for the fascinating and eclectic films. The extras that are included in the Blu-Ray release will provide an extra perspective on the film and the story behind the movie. If you are a fan of horror, Blaxploitation or Arrow Video’s other releases, J.D.’s Revenge is definitely one for you.