J.D.'S REVENGE (1976) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Arthur Marks
Arrow Video USA

With ABBY still demonically oppressed by Warner Bros., get your Blaxploitation possession fix with J.D.'S REVENGE, on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Arrow Video.

Playing college football, studying to be a lawyer, and driving a cab by night, hard-working student Isaac Hendricks (Glynn Turman, GREMLINS) is burning the candle at both ends and is pushed into a night on the town by girlfriend Christella (Joan Pringle, BEST FRIENDS) for the anniversary of doctor friend Tony (Carl W. Crudup, THE GAMBLER) and his wife Sheryl (Barbara Tasker, HARD TARGET). Volunteering in the stage act of Sara Divine, the "hip hypnotist" (Jo Anne Meredith, THE PSYCHO LOVER) opens Isaac's mind to the vengeful spirit of straight razor-wielding 1940s mobster J.D. Walker (David McKnight, HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE) who was set up for the murder of his sister Betty Jo (Alice Jubert) who was carrying the child of his Elija Bliss (Lou Gossett Jr., ENEMY MINE) and gunned down by Elija's brother Theotis (Fred Pinkard, ROCKY II). Under J.D.'s influence, Isaac's personality changes from common, sissified wimp to abusive pimp who rapes and beats Christella before taking to the street with his razor. Unable to remember his actions, Isaac starts to believe that he is going insane when a doctor recommended by Tony can find nothing physically wrong with him (he advises him to meditate and smoke some weed). Christella's cop ex-husband Carl (Julian Christopher, BLACK GUNN) tries to convince her to press charges but she, Tony, and Sheryl are starting to believe that something else is responsible for Isaac's behavior. Meanwhile, Isaac has ingratiated himself with Elija – who has become the righteous "Reverend Elija Bliss" – and his daughter Roberta (also Jubert), in order to inveigle those responsible for J.D.'s murder to a reunion on "the killing floor."

One of the few Blaxploitation possession pictures, J.D.'S REVENGE is no mere EXORCIST rip-off, having more in common with supernatural revenge pictures like SUGAR HILL, and possessing some interesting subtext about what it means to accepted as an upwardly mobile and respectable black man, even if means tamping down and repressing feelings of injustice and any other emotions and behaviors that would be looked down upon as reflecting negatively on black men as a whole. While the film clearly abhors the behavior exhibited by Isaac under the influence of J.D., it presents other complex characterizations of its black male characters: cop Carl being almost a mirror image of possessed Isaac with his desire to take the law into his own hands even though Christella – while exhibiting the behavior of an abused partner – clearly resents his attempt not to help her as to take charge of the situation, while Tony minimizes what he know of Isaac's actions by suggesting that the latter is repressed and that women want to be shown where the line is, Elija has seemingly come to buy into his own new persona while Teotis is there to remind him who they really are. McNight's performance as J.D. is largely relegated to sepia flashbacks and some middling optical effects appearances, but Turman seems to be having a grand time in the J.D. persona, cackling and spinning around like a razor-wielding whirling dervish during the climax as he turns brother against brother. The pacing lacks immediacy, taking forever for Isaac to even meet up with Elija, his daughter, and Teotis, and the "happy" coda feels rather lopsided, with Joseph Green's end title song "I Will Never Let You Go" being inappropriately romantic with any possible double meaning to the title under-exploited. The supporting cast features Stephanie Faulkner (DEATH JOURNEY), stuntman Bob Minor (ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK), Earl Billings (STAKEOUT), and Fuddle Bagley (DARKTOWN STRUTTERS).

Released theatrically by American International Pictures, J.D.'S REVENGE went unreleased on VHS until the AIP titles became part of the Orion library, and MGM's 2001 "Soul Cinema Collection" DVD featured anamorphic widescreen and fullscreen versions. Arrow Video's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray looks rather flat and soft throughout, but that is due to the diffused photography and some soft focus in the location photography of Harry May – who worked exclusively in television apart from the four films he shot for director Arthur Marks (CLASS OF '74) of which J.D.'S REVENGE was the last – in concert with the grainy opticals that transition between the color story proper and the sepia-tinted flashbacks (a few of the shots seem to go full monochrome before returning to color) with blacks that range from bottomless to grainy and underexposed. The LPCM 1.0 track features clear dialogue and scoring throughout, and optional English SDH subtitles are also provided.

The major extra is "Killing Floor" (46:03) which features new interviews with screenwriter Jaison Starkes (THE FISH THAT SAVED PITTSBURGH), director Marks, editor George Folsey Jr. (THE BLUES BROTHERS) and actor Turman. Folsey and Starkes recall working together on the independent film GLASS HOUSES before indirectly collaborating on J.D.'S REVENGE as screenwriter and editor while Marks recalls wanting to produce and direct Starkes' screenplay (originally titled "The Killing Floor") for his own General Film Corporation only to be offered a three-picture deal by AIP on the strength of his earlier Blaxploitation film BUCKTOWN that comprised FRIDAY FOSTER, J.D.'S REVENGE, and MONKEY HU$TLE. Turman made an impression on Samuel Arkoff in COOLEY HIGH and was offered the lead in J.D.'S REVENGE personally (Turman does a wonderful impression of cigar-chomping Arkoff), and also recalls working with Gossett on the stage production of "A Raisin in the Sun" on which Gossett also served as his tutor while the show was touring. While Starkes discusses the underlying themes of the script (referring to artists like himself as part of the "post-Emmett Till generation"), Turman recalls how his performance of J.D. Walker was ultimately shaped by McKnight's even though he has the greater amount of screen time in that persona, while Marks and Folsey recall having creative freedom during the shooting and editing only to have their work overruled by the marketing department who did not understand the structure and the movement between past and present denoted by the use of color and sepia because they watched it on a black and white dupe print (even though Folsey had offered his own workprint for their usage).

"Here Lies J.D. Walker" (17:42) is an audio interview with actor McKnight who recalls endeavoring to scare the producers (and particularly Turman) during his audition to land the role, shooting in New Orleans, working with Turman and Gossett, and his feelings about his billing. He also discusses a few scenes he shot that were not used in the film, including a period morgue scene, and his entrance into Elija's church (which is replaced with a take featuring Turman instead). Extras are rounded out by a stills gallery (1:05), a theatrical trailer (2:07) and radio spots (1:49) narrated by Adolph Caesar (THE COLOR PURPLE), and an "Arthur Marks Trailer Reel" featuring trailers for BONNIE'S KIDS (available from Dark Sky Blu-ray), BUCKTOWN (on MGM manufactured-on-demand DVD-R), A WOMAN FOR ALL MEN (on Dark Sky Blu-ray in a double feature with Marks' THE ROOMMATES), FRIDAY FOSTER (on Blu-ray from Olive Films), and MONKEY HU$TLE (on DVD from MGM). The first pressing comes with a collector’s booklet containing new writing by Kim Newman. (Eric Cotenas)