Retro-review: New on Special Edition Bluray from Arrow Films & MVD VIsual!

J.D.’S REVENGE (1976)

Directed by Arthur Marks
Written by Jaison Starkes
Starring Glynn Turman, Louis Gossett Jr, Joan Pringle, Carl W. Crudup, Julian Christopher, Fred Pinkard, Jo Anne Meredith, Alice Jubert, David McKnight, Stephanie Faulkner, Fuddle Bagley, Earl Billings, Paul Galloway, Barbara Tasker, Tom Alden,

Sprinkling in a little paranormal reincarnation and possession and setting it against an urban backdrop is all that is needed to make JD’S REVENGE standout as a mix of blacksploitation and horror that works.

Glynn Thurman plays Isaac, a cab driver working his way through law school and maintaining a steady relationship with his main gal Christella (Joan Pringle). But when a night on the town ends with a hypnosis show, the spirit of a dead gangster named JD enters Isaac’s body and begins seeking out the other toughs who killed him ages ago.

Thurman is amazing as he basically acts out a Jekyll and Hyde/split personality scenario struggling between mild mannered Isaac and the brutish and murderous JD and wrecking both his and Christella’s life in the process. Thurman is able to transform himself pretty effectively by deepening the tone of his voice, changing his posture, and facial expressions. Later, a wig is used when Isaac straightens his hair through JD’s influence, but this transformation is all up to Thurman to convey and doesn’t rely on makeup. Thurman also plays with the conflict in a fascinating way as he struggles like a schizophrenic person, often speaking in word salad and only parts of sentences as his mind frays. The rest of the cast, including Louis Gossett Jr. playing an overzealous preacher reformed from his gangster days, are all good, but Thurman really shines here with his struggle being the center of the tale.

One thing that will probably make most people uncomfortable is the amount of violence that goes on in JD’S REVENGE. While there is the typical violence as JD takes on any dude who crosses his path with his two fists and a straight razor, it’s the sexual abuse and violence Joan Pringle has to endure as Christella that made me squirm. Not only does he push her to the brink, switching back and forth between the abusive JD and the tender Isaac, but he attacks and rapes her in more than one scene, getting extremely graphic with torn clothes and blows thrown. In this sensitive age, it feels like this is something that wouldn’t be touched in a modern film. But here it seems to show just how far off the deep end Isaac is and how much he has to work to fix things once his personality takes control again. The film even deals with this thematically as Isaac’s friend tries to rationalize his behavior, saying that “Every now and then, you have to show them you’re still a n-word and slap a girl around to show them who’s boss.” This film seems to want to deal with the duality of man—in this case, a black man, who occasionally has to not be so nice and conform to modern societies rules. This theme also comes up as Louis Gossett Jr. character once had a darker side as a gangster in the past, and he still struggles with it today, trying to atone as a preacher.

JD’S REVENGE has all of the typical blacksploitation parts working. There’s nudity, forced sex, macho attitude, groovy musical interludes, and a power dynamic that works in favor of African Americans in a time when that really wasn’t the case in the real world. The film handles the horror pretty well, slipping back into some graphic scenes of a real slaughter house as Isaac struggles with his sanity. And while the film has its rough edges, it does serve as another fascinating film about man struggling with his wild and dangerous side.

This special edition of JD’S REVENGE from Arrow presents a brand new interview with producer-director Arthur Marks, interviews with the cast and crew, original theatrical trailer, and an Arthur Marks trailer reel.