J.D.’s Revenge (1976)

Close to 10 years ago, when Netflix streaming was still new, I was able to watch a bunch of “blaxploitation” films on the service. I watched classics like Bucktown, Coffy, Friday Foster, Black Caesar, and more, including JD’s Revenge. It was a fun time in streaming history and I watched all that I could. Much like the superior Across 101st Street, JD’s Revenge doesn’t really fit in with what one typically categorizes as “blaxploitation.”

Taking place in New Olreans, J.D.’s Revenge begins in the 1940’s. We meet JD Walker, a street walking tough guy who witnesses the murder of his sister in a meat locker. Her through is slashed by another man and JD rushes to her in shock, covering his hands with blood. In walks Elijah who assumes JD is the murderer. The real murderer shoots JD, protecting his secret. Fast forward to 1976 and we meet Ike. He’s a hard working man going through law school and driving a cab. One night, he and his girlfriend and some other friends take a night on the town. They stop at a club and Ike participates in a stage show involving hypnotism. He awakens to find his head splitting and flashes of memories that don’t belong to him. As the film progresses Ike begins to be taken over by the spirit of JD who is out for revenge against the men involved in his sister’s death, and his own. This of course turns Ike’s life upside down because JD is one bad dude.

When many people think of blaxploitation they think of a macho story line involving lots of action, shooting, racism, a funky soundtrack, and lots of cursing. JD’s Revenge doesn’t have those things. It’s a genuinely well acted, well filmed, drama/horror about a man losing himself to a very negative spirit. There’s an earnestness about the story that is rarely seen in your typical exploitation fare. One key element in traditional blaxploitation is that if the main character’s race were to be changed, the whole film would cease to make sense. In this case the story could have been played by any actor from any race, it just happens to be a predominately African American cast. This helps to keep the film from turning into a racist cartoon. The characters all feel real and not just dick swinging macho guys. It’s a shame that this film gets lumped in with films like The Mack and Super Fly. Those films are a lot of fun but they lack the honest emotional core that JD’s Revenge has. It’s a film worth seeking out for horror fans looking for something less over-the-top. It’s a well told ghost story that happens to star African American actors.

The film has never looked better. Again, Arrow has released a film in the best possible quality. The picture is perfect as is the sound. The Blu features a 46 minute documentary about the making of the film with interviews with the cast and crew, additional interview supplements, and a trailer reel for the director. It’s great to hear the stories behind films like this that have been traditionally ignored.

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