A New Orleans Film Review: J.D.’s Revenge (dir by Arthur Marks)

Ike (Glynn Turman) is a nice guy.  He’s a law student living in New Orleans.  When not studying, he makes money driving a taxi cab.  He has a beautiful and loving wife named Christella (Joan Pringle).  He has a nice but modest apartment.  When we first see Ike, he is calmly and rationally breaking up a fight.  Perhaps the only real complain that can be made about Ike is that he’s actually too nice.  There’s nothing dangerous about Ike.  He works hard.  He studies.  That’s about it.

When Christella and their friends tell him that he needs to take a night off from studying, Ike is reluctant.  However, he finally agrees to go out with them.  They start out at a strip club in the French Quarter and eventually, they end up watching a hypnotist.  Ike is one of the men randomly selected to go up on stage.  Amazingly, rational and mild Ike is easily hypnotized.  The audience loves watching as Ike and the other men all reacts to hypnotic suggestion.  What they don’t know is that, while in his trance, Ike has been … possessed!

That’s right!  The ghost of J.D. Walker has entered Ike.  Who is J.D. Walker?  As we learn from a series of gauzy flashbacks, J.D. Walker was a gangster in the 1940s.  He wore a fedora.  He wore nice suits.  He was every bit as flamboyant as Ike is mild.  But then, one day, J.D. was killed, gunned down by his former business partner, Theotis Bliss (Fred Pinkard).

Soon, Ike starts to act … well, not like himself.  Suddenly, Ike is using 1940s slang.  He’s wearing 1940s clothes.  He’s gambling.  He mugs an old lady who gets in his cab and then abandons her on the wharf.  When his wife asks him why he’s acting like a 1940s gangster, he gets violent.  Soon, Ike is speaking in a different voice and dancing.

What does J.D. want?  He wants revenge against not only the man who shot him but also Theotis’s younger brother, a popular preacher named Elijah (Lou Gossett, Jr.).  As wild as the possessed Ike may be, he’s got nothing on Elijah.  Elijah was a boxer before he became a man of God and he’s still liable to throw a punch or two during his sermons.  Elijah, however, is also rather naive and has no hesitation about inviting J.D. to become a member of his congregation.  Theotis, who is now Elijah’s manager, is a bit more suspicious…

An oddly paced film that never quite escapes the lengthy shadows of all of the horror films that inspired it, J.D.’s Revenge is worth seeing for the performances Glynn Thurman and Lou Gossett, Jr.  Gossett is all energetic charisma in the role of the reverend, giving a performance that features just enough ambiguity that you’re never sure whether you should trust Elijah or not.  Meanwhile, Thurman is very good as the mild-mannered Ike but he seems to be having an absolute blast whenever he gets to play the psychotic J.D.  During the final confrontation between Ike/J.D. and the Bliss Brothers, Thurman’s performance is so bizarre and over the top that you simply cannot stop watching him.

J.D.’s Revenge was filmed in New Orleans, which add a little bit of gothic atmosphere to the film.  As I write this, a lot of our readers may currently be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras.  I wish them all well but I hope they’ll remember the lesson of J.D.’s Revenge.  Just say no to hypnosis!

Film Review: The Woman In Black (dir. by James Watkins)

Taking place in turn-of-the-century England, The Woman In Black tells the story of Arthur Kipps (played by Daniel Radcliffe), a young lawyer who is still struggling to recover from the death of his wife four years previously.  Arthur is sent to an isolated village to settle the estate of a woman named Alice Drablow.  Despite several warnings from the superstitious townspeople, Arthur goes to Alice’s decrepit old mansion and he soon finds himself haunted by fleeting glimpses of a woman in black who seems to be in the house with him.  With each sighting of the woman in black, another child in the village commits suicide.

Despite a few genuinely disturbing scenes (mostly involving children committing suicide), The Woman In Black is, ultimately, a pretty typical PG-13 horror film.  There’s a few good, if predictable, jump scenes (most of which involve the title character popping up in the background) and there’s all the usual Insidious-style tracking shots through the creepy old house.  However, any time that it seems like the film is about to become truly disturbing or scary, it runs smack into that PG-13 rating and it has to pull back.  The end result is that the film is creepy yet oddly bland, like something you might find playing on Chiller around one in the morning.

Of course, The Woman in Black is getting a lot of attention because this is Daniel Radcliffe’s first film since the end of the Harry Potter franchise.  How does Radcliffe do in his first adult role?  Well, he’s okay.  In fact, I would say that he’s better than okay.  He’s perfectly adequate.  I think the main issue I had with Radcliffe’s performance is that he sometimes seems to be trying too hard to make sure that we understand that he’s not playing Harry Potter.  For that reason, he doesn’t shave and he spends almost the entire film with a grim expression on his face.  Radcliffe’s a good actor and I think he’ll have a long career but he’s just miscast here.  Arthur Kipps is a man who has given up on life and Radcliffe is simply too exuberant of a performer to play defeated.  Oddly enough, Ciaran Hinds (who co-stars in this film) would have made the perfect Arthur.

I did enjoy spotting the various references to other horror films that were littered throughout The Woman in Black.  While the film obviously owes its existence to the success of the Paranormal Activity films, both the film’s overall plot and isolated village setting reminded me of Mario Bava’s masterpiece, Kill, Baby, Bill.  Furthermore, the film’s somewhat effective ending reminded me of the end of Lucio Fulci’s The House By The Cemetery.  I’m not sure if any of those homages were intentional but they were still fun to spot.

As a final note, The Woman in Black is the latest PG-13 rated horror film to be advertised with annoying infrared footage of people watching the movie and screaming.   Personally, I think it might be time for a new cliché.