Color, 1976, 95 mins. / Directed by Arthur Marks / Starring Glynn Turman, Alice Jubert, Louis Gossett, Jr., David McKnight, Jo Anne Meredith / Music by Robert Prince / Written by Jaison Starkes

Format: DVD - MGM (MSRP $14.98) / Letterboxed (1.85:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital Mono

The "revenge" of this odd genre hybrid's title applies to J.D. Walker, a vicious gangster gunned down in the opening soft focus prologue. Cut to a 1970s college campus where sweet, innocent law student Ike (Cooley High's Glynn Turman) passes his time by playing football in the quad and earning some extra cash by driving a cab. His stress might be relieved by a little hypnosis therapy at a strip club(!), but unfortunately this procedure causes J.D's spirit to possess Ike and send him on a devilish spree through town. When he's not too busy hitting on the honies at local New Orleans dives or causing mayhem with his handy straight razor, Ike/J.D. decides to exact a little vengeance on the holier than thou preacher, Reverand Bliss (Louis Gossett, Jr.), who has some guilty ties to J.D.'s past.

Though released at the height of the blaxploitation trend, J.D.'s Revenge is surprisingly low on exploitative elements and makes along at a nice clip thanks to director Arthur Marks (Detroit 9000). The premise was obviously designed to cash in on the string of possession films initiated by The Exorcist, but Marks (almost) always takes the high road and avoids the overt bodily horror and campy profanity usually found in its ilk. Instead this is more of a traditional ghost story, tweaked a bit for '70s audiences and carried off by a surprisingly sincere cast. Unfortunately J.D. may disappoint much of its target audience in this respect, as the horror elements are very weak tea indeed. From this standpoint, Curtis Harrington pulled off the same possession by gangster idea with a lot more panache the following year with Ruby, which also shares a nearly identical opening and a similar nostalgia-washed visual texture. Oddly, the T&A actually outnumbers the violence by far, perhaps the justify the odd feel good ending. At least blaxploitation fans are sure to get a charge out of J.D.'s antics, which include some come on lines perfectly designed for answering machines or computer sound bites. And what would an AIP black film be without a groovy theme song, in this case Robert Prince's "I Will Never Let You Go."

Originally released on VHS by Orion (and briefly on laserdisc through Image), J.D.'s Revenge has long accompanied its better known AIP ilk like Foxy Brown and Marks' Friday Foster on the home video market. MGM has continued the trend by issuing the DVD as part of its "Soul Cinema" collection, complete with artwork completely devoid of any horror elements. At least the presentation of the film itself is as good as one could expect, finally offering the option of viewing the film in its unmatted, full frame aspect ratio or a sharper 16:9 enhanced, 1.85:1 matted alternative. The former makes for more comfortable viewing compositionally, while the latter boasts more pleasing visuals and detail. Either way, you can't really lose. The mono sound is just fine, with substantially more bass than the flat Orion transfer. The only extra is the ghoulish theatrical trailer, but considering the low price tag, it's still a pretty sweet deal.

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