One of the more overlooked of the upper-tier Blaxploitation films — horror or otherwise — J.D.’s Revenge avoids the corniness inherent in taking a well-worn story and slapping the word “black” on it (Blacula, Blackenstein, Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde) by delivering a somber supernatural mystery propelled by haunting tension and superb performances. It’s the type of film that tracks the steady deterioration of the lead character’s state of mind, so there’s not a lot of action or gore, but the story, direction, and especially the acting (despite a particularly goofy death scene) are black-tastic!
The plot goes like this: Like the A-Team, ’40s-era New Orleans gangster J.D. Walker (David McKnight) was accused of a crime he didn’t commit. He was framed for killing his sister Betty Jo (Alice Jubert), who was, in Shakespearean irony, married to J.D.’s archenemy Elija Bliss (Louis Gossett, Jr., pre-Iron Eagle, post-hair). Elija discovers J.D. standing over Betty Jo’s body and has him shot on the spot — and if you’ve ever been shot on the spot, you know how much that hurts.
Fast-forward to 1976, when mild-mannered law student Ike (Glynn Turman) participates in a hypnotism show and somehow channels the spirit of J.D. Slowly, the gangster takes over Ike’s body: he has sex with his girl (Joan Pringle), beats up old white ladies, and worst of all, gets a conk. Turman puts on a yeoman-like performance, alternating between the humble law student and the strut-walking, shit-talking gangster as Ike desperately tries to get control of his body long enough to solve the crime before J.D. puts him on the most wanted list. And before that conk sets.