Release Date(s)1976 (November 14, 2017)
Studio(s)American International Pictures/Orion Pictures/MGM (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
Made in the midst of the black exploitation fervor of the 1970s, J.D.’s Revenge was a shot in the arm to the genre, playing faster and looser with its style and storytelling. Although received well by its primary audience, it was eventually lumped in with a grouping of which it was trying to rise above. Directed by Arthur Marks of Detroit 9000 and Friday Foster, it’s essentially a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” story about a murdered gangster who spiritually inhabits the body of a straight-laced young man through possession, seeking vengeance against those who killed him and his sister, including a neighborhood hoodlum and his Bible-thumping brother.
Today, J.D.’s Revenge is sometimes viewed as a movie with “so bad it’s good” qualities, which is completely understandable. Glynn Turman’s manic performance as the titular antagonist is definitely over the top at times. However, I would argue against that viewpoint as I often found him to be riveting. Besides Turman, there are also great supporting performances from Louis Gossett, Jr. and Joan Pringle, both of whom receive their fair share of screen time. The ending, which I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen it, is a little hard to swallow, but the film has a compelling quality despite the initial setup that could lose certain audiences.
I also believe that the title J.D.’s Revenge is slightly misleading as it gives one the wrong impression about what kind of movie it is before seeing it. Truth be told, it’s a little better than that. It’s not akin to something like T.N.T. Jackson or Black Belt Jones, in which you can just sit back and have fun with it – far from it. It can be unpleasant to watch at times, particularly during moments of abuse and rape towards women. Yet if you can manage to give it a chance, J.D.’s Revenge has more to offer than any surface level qualities it may or may not contain.
Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of the film features a presentation sourced from a 2K restoration of the original 35mm interpositive element. It’s definitely an organic presentation, but is slightly varied in quality. Grain levels aren’t thoroughly even, and given much of the film’s softer qualities, detail can be limited at times as well. The color palette isn’t overly remarkable, but does have occasional moments of richness to it. Skin tones look good while black levels aren’t altogether deep. Overall brightness and contrast are good, but there’s some leftover damage (despite Arrow’s best efforts), including occasional instability and scratches. I would describe it as “gritty”, which may appeal to more viewers than others, but it definitely fits into the period in which in was filmed. Much of the same can be said about the film’s audio, which is presented via an English 2.0 mono LPCM track with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a flat presentation with occasional fidelity, particularly during some of the club sequences, while dialogue is cleanly rendered with no real problems. If I were a guessing man, I would chance to gander that the film looks better now than it ever has on any previous home video format, which is the entire point after all.
Most of the new bonus material on this release was produced with the participation of Elijah Drenner, so you know you’re getting some good stuff. It starts with The Killing Floor, a 46-minute retrospective documentary with screenwriter Jaison Starkes, director Arthur Marks, editor George Folsey, Jr., and actor Glynn Turman, which covers much of the film’s pre-production and post production details, including the fact that A.I.P. made their own edits to the final film; Here Lies J.D. Walker, an 18-minute audio interview with actor David McKnight by Steve Ryfle, which is a lively and interesting interview with the actor; a still gallery with 65 images; the original theatrical trailer in standard definition; 2 radio spots; an Arthur Marks Trailer Reel, all of which are in standard definition (Bonnie’s Kids, Bucktown, A Woman for All Men, Friday Foster, and The Money Hu$tle); a DVD copy of the film; and a 24-page insert booklet with an essay on the film “Psychic Connections” by Kim Newman, as well as restoration details.
J.D.’s Revenge is an interesting slice of black cinema in an era when people of color were struggling to even make films in the first place. Arrow Video’s presentation of the film isn’t entirely perfect, but is a welcome one nonetheless.
- Tim Salmons