J.D.’s Revenge

| November 15, 2017

Blaxploitation cinema’s emphasis on the social issues facing African American communities in the 1970’s found filmmakers working in the movement predominantly producing action films, dramas, and even a fair number of comedic films. The reasons Blaxploitation filmmakers worked primarily in those genres are numerous, not the least of which are budgetary restraints and the tendency of these films to be understandably rooted in a lot of anger toward the systemic oppression facing African Americans—hence there were a lot of Blaxploitation action films. Very rarely, then, did Blaxploitation veer into the realm of horror apart from a handful of exceptions. Most notable of course are Blacula (1972), its sequel Scream Blacula Scream (1973), and the yes, very real Blackenstein (1973), with fewer people still immediately recognizing the title Abby (1974) as “the black Exorcist.”

As someone who’s both studied Blaxploitation cinema extensively and is also a horror hound, I treasure these rare horror outings immensely and am always hoping to add more to my Blu-ray collection. Yet somehow I’d never seen the Blaxploitation possession/vengeful ghost story, J.D.’s Revenge until it was released on Blu-ray/DVD this week by Arrow Video US. It’s not that I didn’t want to; it just somehow passed me by. Having now seen the film, I recognize what a glaring gap in my knowledge of Blaxploitation cinema my lack of familiarity with J.D.’s Revenge had been!

Not only does the film star Glynn Turman of the classic Cooley High (1975)—and later thing like Gremlins and The Wire—alongside Louis Gossett Jr., but it was also directed by Arthur Marks, who had already helmed Detroit 9000 (1973) and the Pam Grier vehicle, Friday Foster (1975). So J.D.’s Revenge has some serious Blaxploitation credentials attached to it, in addition to being a rare Blaxploitation horror film!

That said, J.D.’s Revenge isn’t a traditional horror film in the sense that it’s apt to scare you. Perhaps “supernatural thriller” would be a more appropriate label. Most of the film is centered on a respectable law student Isaac (Turman), whose body is slowly taken over by the spirit of straight razor-wielding gangster J.D. Walker. Once Isaac loses the battle and J.D. fully takes hold in the final act, J.D. seeks revenge for the murder of himself and his sister 30 years earlier.

Though Turman’s performance as the J.D.-possessed Isaac during the climax is indeed immensely entertaining, the film is also terribly upsetting to that point, as any worthwhile horror film ought to be. This stems from watching Isaac struggle against the influence of the abusive, womanizing J.D. It threatens Isaac’s job, his relationships, and even his education, all of which he’s worked very, very hard to maintain. Here the social commentary of Blaxploitation cinema takes hold as the film presents us with the real possibility that everything Isaac’s earned might be denied to him in the end by some outside force.

Why Isaac? What did he ever do to deserve having his life ruined? We’re never given a rational answer, just as people in the real world who are denied rights and opportunities are never given rational justification for what is ultimately their oppression. It’s powerful stuff and it’s, again, all loaded into what is otherwise a supernatural revenge thriller.

J.D.’s Revenge is currently available in a dual format, Blu-ray/DVD release from Arrow Video US. The 2-disc set boasts a brand new 2K restoration from original film elements, produced by Arrow Films exclusively for this release, as well as a number of special features including:

– “The Killing Floor,” a retrospective featurette including interviews with director Arthur Marks, screenwriter Jaison Starkes, editor George Folsey Jr., and star Glynn Turman
– An audio interview with actor David McKnight, who played J.D. Walker
– Photo gallery
– Original theatrical trailer
– Radio spots
– Arthur Marks trailer reel
– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet containing new writing by Kim Newman, author of Nightmare Movies

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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