WTFW: J.D.'s Revenge (1976)

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

WTFW: J.D.'s Revenge (1976)

Let the hate mail begin!

Blaxploitation or blacksploitation is a film genre that emerged in the United States in the 1970s.  It is considered an ethnic subgenre of the general category of exploitation films1.  Blaxploitation films were originally made specifically for an urban black audience, although the genre's audience appeal soon broadened across racial and ethnic lines.  The term itself is a portmanteau of the words "black" and "exploitation," following upon the briefly-common use "sexploitation" for porn-inflected films, and was coined in the early 1970s by the Los Angeles National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) head, and ex-film publicist Junius Griffin.  Blaxploitation films were the first to regularly feature soundtracks of funk and soul music as well as primarily black casts.  Variety credited Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, released in 1971, with the invention of the blaxploitation genre while others argue that the Hollywood-financed film Shaft, also released in 1971, is closer to being a blaxploitation piece and thus is more likely to have begun the trend.

Defining qualities of the genre:

When set in the Northeast or West Coast, blaxploitation films are mainly set in poor neighborhoods.  Ethnic slurs against white characters, such as "crackers" and "honky", and other derogatory names are common plot and or character elements.  Blaxploitation films set in the South often deal with slavery and miscegenation2.

Blaxploitation includes several subtypes of films including crime (Foxy Brown), action/martial arts (Three the Hard Way), horror (Abby / Blacula), comedy (Uptown Saturday Night), nostalgia (Five on the Black Hand Side), coming-of-Age/courtroom drama (Cooley High / Cornbread, Earl and Me), and musical (Sparkle).  Note to self: check out Abby for exploratory research.

Following the example set by Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, many blaxploitation films feature funk and soul jazz soundtracks with heavy bass, funky beats, and wah-wah guitars.  These soundtracks are notable for a degree of complexity that was not common to the radio-friendly funk tracks of the 1970s, and a rich orchestration which included instruments rarely used in funk or soul such as the flute and the violin.

Following the popularity of blaxploitation films in the 1970s, films within other genres began to feature black characters with stereotypical blaxploitation characteristics, such as the Harlem underworld characters in Live and Let Die (1973), Jim Kelly's character in Enter the Dragon (1973), and Fred Williamson's character in The Inglorious Bastards (1978).


J.D.'s Revenge (1976)

  • Original Title: The Reincarnation of J.D. Walker
  • Genre: Action – Horror – Thriller
  • Directed: Arthur Marks
  • Produced:
    • Arthur Marks 
    • Robert E. Schultz
  • Written: 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
  • Music: Robert Prince
  • Cinematography: Harry J. May
  • Editing: George Folsey Jr.
  • Studio: American International Pictures
  • Distributed:
    • American International Pictures  
    • Ambassador Film Distributors  
    • MGM/UA Home Entertainment  
    • Orion Home Video
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 25 August 1976 (USA)
  • Running Time: 95 minutes
  • Country: USA
  • Language: English

J. D.'s Revenge is a blaxploitation horror film released in 1976.  It starred Glynn Turman and Lou Gossett Jr..  The main character becomes an unwilling host for the restless spirit of J.D. Walker, a hustler killed 30 years earlier when he was wrongfully accused of killing his sister.

The story centers around Isaac Hendrix, a young college student studying law and a taxi-cab driver in New Orleans.  While out on a night of fun with his friends and wife, Christella during a hypnosis act, he becomes an unwilling host for the restless spirit of J.D Walker, a hustler killed during the 40s.  Over the course of the film "Ike" finds his own personality gradually being taken over by the sociopathic Walker, even eventually going so far as to adopt his hair and fashion style, mannerisms, and psychotic tendencies (including an attempted rape on his wife after she mocked his J.D. haircut).

With the spirit of J.D. in complete control he turns his attention toward wreaking vengeance against the man responsible for killing his sister, Theotis Bliss.  Ike commits havoc all over town along the way before making his way to the church where Theotis' brother works as a preacher, where he finally reveals himself and instructs Elijah to tell Theotis to meet him "on the killin' ground".  Ike's wife has meanwhile gone to her ex-husband, a cop who is out for Ike's blood believing him to be a simple psycho hiding behind a false persona--until he mentions to the Chief that Ike claimed his name was J.D. Walker, a man who was not only real, but had died over 30 years ago.  J.D. was a hustler who ran numbers during World War II as well as a black-market meat plant where he was murdered by Theotis Bliss after witnessing the murder of his own sister, Betty Jo, at his hands because of her derisive chiding of him and threatening to expose the secret she held about her baby daughter. After being discovered over Betty Jo's lifeless body with her blood on his hand, Elijah Bliss, Betty Jo's husband and the believed father of her child (and younger, submissive brother of Theotis), accused J.D of being the killer and J.D was gunned down on the spot by Theotis to cover up the event.

Following Theotis to the old factory, Elijah finally learns the truth before getting into a struggle with Theotis for his gun, during which the weapon discharges and kills Theotis while Ike watches and laughs maniacally as the event plays out.  His business complete, J.D. appears to leave Ike's body and thanks to Elijah's testimony, he is allowed to go free to rejoin his wife and friends waiting for him outside.

What makes the movie work, to the degree that it does, are the performances by Turman, Lou Gossett and Joan Pringle.  Turman, in particular, has fun transforming himself from the mild-mannered law student to the zoot-suited 1940s two-bit gangster that J.D. used to be, complete with straight razor.  The transformation gets under way when he's strangely drawn to a 1940-style snap-brim straw fedora in an antique-clothes shop.  It's like nothing he's ever worn, but it seems uncannily right, somehow, and he shrugs off people's rude remarks about it.

The movie's ending turns out to be satisfactorily complicated, with all sorts of mistaken identities, close calls, emotional reunions and poetic justice.  The ploy's a little like Ross Macdonald novel, in fact, where the mysterious events of today draw us inexorably back toward an almost-forgotten crime in the past.  And Glynn Turman finally frees himself from J.D.'s spell, is forgiven by his girl (who is remarkably understanding, under the circumstances), goes back to law school and, presumably, prepares himself for the day when he can file suit for damages against that hypnotist.


 

Notes:

1.  Exploitation film is an informal label which may be applied to any film which is generally considered to be low budget, and therefore apparently attempting to gain financial success by "exploiting" a current trend or a niche genre or a base desire for lurid subject matter.  The term "exploitation" is common in film marketing for promotion or advertising in any type of film.  These films then need something to exploit, such as sex, violence, or romance.  An "exploitation film", however, due to its low budget, relies more heavily than usual on "exploitation".  Very often, exploitation films are widely considered to be of low quality, and are generally "B movies".  Even so, they sometimes attract critical attention and cult followings.  Some films which might readily be labeled as "exploitation films" have become trend setters and of historical importance in their own right, such as Night of the Living Dead (1968).  Some films also might be advertised by the producers themselves as "exploitation films" in order to pique the interest of those who seek out films of this type.  There are many types of sub-genres within the Exploitation film umbrella, many described at the related article link that is actually an interesting read.

2.  The term miscegenation has been used since the 19th century to refer to interracial marriage and interracial sexual relations, and more generally to the process of genetic admixture (something formed by mixing), which has taken place since ancient history.  Historically, the term has been used in the context of laws banning interracial marriage and sex, known as anti-miscegenation laws.  The term entered historical records during European colonialism and the Age of Discovery, but societies such as China and Japan also had restrictions on marrying with peoples whom they considered to be of a different race.

 

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