J.D.'s Revenge (1976)
By: Stuart Giesel on May 4, 2013 | Comments
MGM (USA) | Region 1, NTSC | 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 1.0 | 96 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Arthur Marks
Starring: Glynn Turman, Louis Gossett Jr., Joan Pringle, Carl Crudup, James Louis Watkins
Screenplay: Jaison Starkes
Country: USA
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The title and cover suggest a straightforward blaxploitation revenge film, but what you get is anything but. In truth, J.D.'s Revenge is a weird hybrid of possession movie, exploitation flick and urban crime drama.

The film gets off to a rip-roaring start in the 1940's as a petty gangster named J.D. Walker (David McKnight) witnesses the brutal killing of his sister, Betty Jo, and is mistaken for her killer. He's subsequently shot and killed. We cut to present day (well, present day 1976, I guess) and a young law student Ike (Glynn Turman), his girlfriend Christella (Joan Pringle) and friends attend a nightclub where Ike gets on stage to perform in a hypnosis show. However this lighthearted show has serious ramifications. It turns out a side effect of the hypnosis is that Ike slowly gets taken over by the vengeful spirit of J.D. Walker. It happens slowly at first, but gets worse and worse; Ike sees a different man in the mirror (a man with a nasty facial scar), turns against his friends, starts treating Christella badly, and ends up loathing his cab driving job. He feels everything is beneath him, especially when all he wants is to take revenge for the murder of his sister. By chance, he ties the huckster Reverend Elijah Bliss (Louis Gossett Jr) and his brother to the murder, and soon his opportunity for revenge overtakes all considerations for anything else, and Ike becomes more J.D. Walker than Ike.

His friends aren't much help; when Ike confesses he has beaten his girlfriend, his buddy - the worst professional doctor in the world by all accounts, who at one stage prescribes marijuana to help with anxiety - explains that it's good to smack around women every so often when they give lip because they "like that". Pretty soon Ike is running around town dressed like a gangster, talking like Walker, and treating everyone like shit.

The silly hypnosis gag upon which J.D.'s Revenge rests suggests a film that is deliberately tongue-in-cheek, self-aware and light-hearted. In reality, J.D.'s Revenge proves to be a far different beast, surprisingly serious, sombre and brutal. As Ike turns increasingly towards his new darker side, he winds up terrorising and injuring his cab passengers, raping his girlfriend (in a rather shocking scene that goes from tender to sour pretty quickly) before beating her up, and having no qualms about fucking around with other mens' wives and cutting up the husbands when they get in the way. And then things get really dark. Hell, at times it feels as much about an abusive relationship as Raging Bull did, which for those who have seen it can certainly appreciate that film's lack of cheeriness. Some may label J.D.'s Revenge as misogynistic, because most of the women end up being abused or violated in some way. But, let's face it, almost no one in J.D.'s Revenge walks away unscathed.

J.D.'s Revenge may sound like pure exploitation - after all, you have the usual lurid settings, graphic violence, gratuitous nudity - but it's better acted and filmed than many. Turman does extremely well flipping between the mild-mannered Ike and the brutal, take-no-shit Walker. It's only right at the end when he's fully engaged in Walker mode that Turman goes completely over-the-top, to the film's detriment. With solid support from Gossett Jr (here credited as Lou Gossett) and Pringle as Ike's suffering girlfriend, J.D.'s Revenge relies more on characterisation than cheap thrills and shocks. That's not to say that it doesn't have exploitative elements - this is a brutal film, despite the lack of carnage - that almost feels like a horror film at times. The blood (other than that from a dead cow in a frequently seen slaughterhouse flashback) is gloriously, cartoonishly red, the sort of absurd crayon-red blood you saw in Romero's Dawn of the Dead. But it's the physical and emotional violence that Ike/J.D. unleashes upon the people close to him and the people who dare to come near him that makes the most impact.

The only major downside is the anticlimactic ending. After playing on the body-swapping theme and building up the tension for so long, the understated final showdown proves to be something of a disappointment. And the less said about the lax attitude of the police when the dust settles, the better.

An underappreciated blaxploitation gem, J.D.'s Revenge at least attempts something a little different compared to the deluge of black-themed crime/gangster pics from this era, and mostly succeeds thanks to a committed cast and its hard, brutal, edge.
The Disc
J.D.'s Revenge is par for the course as far as video and sound quality go. Like other MGM blaxploitation releases, the picture and sound quality are satisfactory and nothing more. The anamorphic picture is grainy and lacks detail and black levels are washed out in certain scenes, but it's hardly a dealbreaker. The mono track is certainly nothing to write home about. Feature-wise, there's only a trailer. Annoyingly, the disc is a flipper - the A side is the widescreen anamorphic transfer, and the B side is the shitty 1.33 transfer.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Part possession, part gangster, part urban drama. J.D.'s Revenge is more than the sum of its parts thanks to commanding performances from Glynn Turman and Louis Gossett Jr. It's got a healthy streak of meanness, some heavy violence when it's called for, and feels better made than many of the blaxploitation films of its period, despite its weak denouement and the occasional moment of overacting.
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