j.d.'s revenge | arthur marks | jaison starkes | glynn turman | louis gossett jr. | joan pringle | action | thriller | united states | blaxploitation | ghost | possession | possessed | carl w. crudup | julian christopher | fred pinkard | jo anne meredith | alice jubert
Film: J.D.’s Revenge
Director: Arthur Marks
Writer: Jaison Starkes
Starring: Glynn Turman, Louis Gossett Jr. and Joan Pringle
This was a movie that I never actually of heard until Duncan over on The Podcast Under the Stairs selected this as Movie Club Challenge for September 2020. I did happen to see a couple of blaxploitation films back in February for Journey with a Cinephile: A Horror Movie Podcast and learned a bit more about them from the documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. I was excited as the ones that I had seen I enjoyed. The synopsis is a docile black law student is possessed by a 1940’s mobster in mid 1970s New Orleans, Louisiana. The mobster seeks revenge upon the people who killed him and his sister.
We start this film back in 1942. We’re in New Orleans where we see Betty Jo (Alice Jubert) fighting with someone. They’re in a slaughterhouse where they store the cows before they are butchered. Betty Jo threatens to reveal the truth of their child to Elija and this upsets the male. He takes out a knife and slits her throat. While this is happening, we see J.D. Walker (David McKnight) sneaking through the hanging cows. He is too late and someone calls him a murderer. He is then shot.
The movie then shifts us to what is present day of 1976. Isaac (Glynn Turman) is playing football along with his best friend Tony (Carl W. Crudup). Watching on are their girlfriends who are also best friends. Christella (Joan Pringle) is seeing Ike. Ike is a law student who also drives a cab. He is quite busy, but still makes time for those he cares about. Chris is quizzing Ike and she convinces him to come out along with their friends. One of the places they end up is with a hypnotist by the name of Sara Divine (Jo Anne Meredith). Ike is taken on stage and we see her starts to sweat bad as he gets images of what happened of J.D. 30 years ago.
From then on Ike goes through some changes. He has bad headaches. He goes to a doctor who just tells him it is stress and that he’s doing too much. Ike does get violent with Chris who starts to question her relationship with him. Her parents learn of what happened and call in her ex-husband, Carl (Julian Christopher), who is a police officer. The changes with Ike though also bring him to a fascination with Rev. Elija Bliss (Louis Gossett Jr.). It appears that he knew J.D. and that J.D. might be possessing Ike. Ike is haunted by the images and acts like this gangster from the past. The truth of what happened to J.D. and Betty Jo will lead him to Rev. Bliss along with his brother Theotis (Fred Pinkdar) and daughter Roberta (Jubert).
Now that’s where I want to leave my recap as to avoid spoiling things. As I was saying though, I had never heard of this film so when Duncan selected this, I was intrigued. Blaxploitation is interesting to me as at first I thought it was mocking them and were bad movies. That is not the case, but movies that were made with predominately black casts and for them. My first foray was through Blacula and its sequel. Since then I’ve seen a handful that I really enjoy.
This movie is interesting to me as it feels like the film Abby, which is another blaxploitation film. That one was a knock off of The Exorcist, where this movie is different with a male and his body being taken over. Stir of Echoes comes to mind with how this happens, so I do wonder if aspects of the novel were borrowed here since that movie came out in 1999. I feel bad for Ike though. He didn’t do anything wrong and everything with J.D. is ruining his life. Not that it matters, but Ike seems like a great guy who is just doing what he can to better himself. I think that is really interesting to make the stakes so high for him and having him possessed by this gangster.
What I like though here is that they don’t go religious with it for the most part. We never learn what Ike’s religion is and it doesn’t matter. He is hypnotized which not everyone believes in, but it does make sense that for certain people it can open up their mind. The only religion we get is from Rev. Bliss. What I love here is that he’s a former gangster and that he is doing this now as his ‘racket’. I’m not here to criticize religion, but I have my issues with it for people like we get here.
That’s not to say that I like everything in this movie though. I did have some issues with the acceptance of things. Now I have the benefit of seeing this with 2020 eyes for the first time. I hate the justification of the misogyny in this movie though. Chris knows what Ike is doing is wrong when he is hitting her. Now I don’t blame Ike, he’s possessed by a bad man. She told Carl that she doesn’t like rough guys and he wants to stop Ike. She justifies it to him over lunch though and ends up taking Ike back. He did promise to never do it again though, but that is a classic line from abusive significant others. To add here, Tony tells Ike that sometimes you have to get rough with your girl and they like it. The flawed thinking here bothered me. Again, I won’t hold this against the movie too much though.
The other aspect I didn’t love was how quickly Chris buys in that Ike is possessed. She states she knows there has to be something up. I can chalk this up to her possible being religious and the 1970’s. Something that did work is Carl bringing up to his boss about Ike and Capt. Turner (Earl Billings) stating J.D. Walker has been dead all this time. That was cool to have it off-hand said to an older officer who can give us more of the story to characters.
I’ll take this next to the acting. One thing I will give credit to this movement of films is the normalizing black people in important roles. Turman’s performance as Ike is good and I like the bad version when possessed by J.D. as well. He made me hate him, which is what you need. Back to my previous statement, he’s a law student trying to be a lawyer and he’s working his ass off to get there. There is also Crudup who is a med student. He has some lines I don’t like, but he was good. It was fun to see a younger Gossett than I’m used to. I liked him playing this ‘snake oil salesman’ running for mayor. Pringle’s performance is fine where again; my issue with her is with the writing and the acceptance of things. Aside from that, McKnight, Jubert, Pinkard and the rest of the cast were fine for what was needed. I should also drop here pretty much everyone woman is at least topless in the movie if that sways you to check this out.
The last thing to go over would be the effects. There aren’t a lot if I’m honest, but I think they do well with the cinematographer to show us when we’re getting a vision or a dream sequence. The blood is a bit orange, but I won’t fault the movie there. I did like their use of mirrors. It starts early in the movie and then when Ike is possessed, we see J.D. in them. It isn’t the greatest effect you’ve ever seen, but it works for me.
Now with that said, I do have a fond spot for exploitation cinema. It is an interesting time capsule. This movie is one that doesn’t do anything crazy, but I think its strength comes from the characters. The performances are good aside from the built in misogyny. Aside from that, I like the concepts they’re playing with here. The effects aren’t great, but for the 70’s, I don’t have any issues there. The soundtrack doesn’t necessarily stand out to me, but it fit for what the movie needed. I’d rate this as an above average movie.
My Rating: 6.5 out of 10