Director: Jamaa Fanaka
Director: John Evans
Director: Jamaa Fanaka
Xenon Home Video

Xenon Home Video, better known for their low-budget urban action movies and the DOLEMITE collection, has dipped into their blaxploitation library to unearth three obscure drive-in perennials for DVD release. Surprisingly, one of them (SOUL VENGEANCE) was believed to be in Rhino's library; I'm glad this brainmelter has hit DVD from anybody!!

Drug dealer and part-time pimp Charles is busted before a big cocaine purchase and is thrown into the slammer for an extended stay before finally being released a changed man. He finds his girlfriend has shacked up with his former partner and best friend, who escaped the police's clutches by running towards a cop and screaming at the top of his lungs (!!!), and sets about avenging his "wrongful" incarceration by murdering the judges, lawyers, and cops that ruined his life.

On the surface, SOUL VENGEANCE is your typical low-budget all-black revenge drama. But just underneath that familiar veneer is an incredibly sordid sleaze classic with one amazing scene that has gone down in the history books of cult film viewing, and easily makes the Top 10 list of scenes you'll need to rewind almost immediately to confirm you just witnessed what you think you did!! That scene, of course, is the magical penis-growing sequence, culminating in one of the most hilarious death scenes ever filmed. Words cannot do justice to seeing this celluloid mindwarper yourself. Other than this one scene, there is still plenty to recommend about SOUL VENGEANCE (original title: WELCOME HOME, BROTHER CHARLES). A white racist cop captures Charles and almost castrates him in the back of his cop car (his hatred for blacks stems from his wife cheating on him because of his tiny dick!), there's a bizarre irritating musical score, Charles hypnotizes white women and makes them his love slaves, and the requisite funky music and beautiful dancing women appear frequently.

As great as this movie is, Xenon's "Special Edition" unfortunately only presents the film in fullscreen, in an ugly dark transfer, with no other extras, not even a trailer. The mono audio is OK, but does suffer from pops and crackles at times. If Rhino had released it, I'm sure it would have looked at least a bit better.

The blaxploitation craze of the 70s spawned some amazing cult titles that were often better than the films they were attached to: BLACKENSTEIN, BLACK HOOKER, THE BLACK SIX, to name just a few. BLACK GODFATHER is one of these: a great title, implying an action-packed all-black version of Francis Ford Coppola's mobster classic, but instead delivers a talky, uneventful piece of crap. Smalltime crook J.J. and his friend try to pull one over on mobster Tony Burton, leaving his sidekick dead and J.J. pissed off. He joins forces with Burton's competition, Nate Williams, and seeks to take control of Burton's turf and his drug-dealing business. But J.J. doesn't count on his nemesis having friends in high places, namely a crooked cop (Duncan McLeod, "Porter Hall" in BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS!!) with dirt on everybody. This is without a doubt the weakest of the three Xenon releases; the film itself is a guaranteed cure for insomnia, with little to no exploitation elements other than the cool title, and the transfer is nothing to shout home about, either. It's clear enough, but is grainy, very dark, and has no definition or clarity. Mono audio is acceptable.

Opening with a trademark Jamaa Fanaka glimpse into black life in 1970s L.A., BLACK SISTER'S REVENGE (original title: EMMA MAE) is a truly original blaxploitation curio. Fanaka is probably one of the unsung heroes of the black film movement of the 70s; not only was his SOUL VENGEANCE one of the more eye-opening entries in the subgenre, but it too featured a superb look at urban ghetto life in Watts. Here, he combines intentional comedy, unlikely romance, and of course some pretty mind-reeling action sequences to create an experience like no other.

Big-toothed country cousin Emma Mae (arriving in L.A. with her aunt, wearing garish ugly heels that kill her feet) is a fish out of water in her new inner-city neighborhood. Going to live with her streetwise cousins who figure she's a geek, she proves them wrong by wielding her fists like nobody's business when bullies rear their ugly heads. She even calls one schmuck a "doodlebug" while beating the tear out of him! Emma falls head over heels for a suave, but dangerous pill-addicted criminal named Jesse, who is finally thrown into jail for his nasty habits. She remains faithful to him, however, and tries to pay his bail with a car wash and then a bank robbery (!). In-between the excitement, she gets her hair done by her beautician aunt and talks to her cousin about her breast size!

OK, so this ain't COFFY. This black sister's revenge is nowhere near as cool as Pam Grier kicking major ass and blowing away bastards with a shotgun, but the film is really more of an in-depth look at living in the slums of L.A. in the 70s. At this, Fanaka succeeds, with some superb color on-location photography shot on the streets of Watts and amateurish, but believable actors who seem as if they were cast from the local street corner. Don't get me wrong, this is no lost classic, the script is thrown out the window a few too many times, but it does make a good attempt to be more than your standard exploitation film. It sure doesn't skimp on the cheese, though: there are some ridiculous dance sequences, incredible dialogue and insults ("Twat face!"), awkward nudity by star Jerri Hayes, and some very good stunt work by both men and women!

Xenon has never been known to deliver good-looking transfers, and despite the "Special Edition" tag on the cover (and on all of their three recent blaxploitation DVD releases), there is nothing special about the BLACK SISTER'S REVENGE disc whatsoever. The fullscreen transfer is colorful in some spots and is the best-looking of the trio, with little grain and a few white lines and blemishes on the print. The mono audio does the job well, but sometimes dialogue is much quieter than the bad music.

While this group of blaxploitation discs aren't stellar presentations and the films can be a mixed bag, Xenon's price is right and they're all essential in completing your cult film collection. SOUL VENGEANCE is required viewing for the film aficionado and the remaining two films are at least worth a rental for curiosity's sake. (Casey Scott)