Now on Blu-ray: The Badass Blaxploitation Sequel ‘Hell Up in Harlem’

Hell Up in Harlem

In the early ‘70s, a genre emerged that catered to an audience often ignored in cinema. Commonly known as Blaxploitation, movies like Shaft and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song gave a voice to the voiceless, a form of cinematic escapism where strong, capable black people could be the heroes instead of window dressing on the periphery of white people’s boring-ass stories. One of the stars to emerge from Blaxploitation was Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, a former football star who found a second career as a leading man.

One of the genre’s classics is Black Caesar (also known in some markets as The Godfather of Harlem), which was written and directed by Larry Cohen and featured a blistering soundtrack by the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown. Released in 1973, Black Caesar was a hit with its race-flipping take on the gangster classic Little Caesar. Despite the film’s ending which seemed to indicate that Tommy Gibbs (Williamson) had met a grisly fate in front of Tiffany’s on 5th Street in New York City, a sequel would pick up right where the first one ended and would be released in the same year. Now that sequel, Hell Up in Harlem, is finally available on Blu-ray from the good people at Olive Films. While certainly inferior to its predecessor, Hell Up in Harlem is a still a fun piece of Blaxploitation filmmaking, continuing the genre’s trend of strong black leads and stories concerned with social issues that were ignored in other aspects of filmed media.

Cohen’s film wastes no time in getting the story moving, with Tommy Gibbs bleeding after an assassination attempt by his rival DiAngelo (Gerald Gordon), a corrupt district attorney who wants to seize control of the drug trade. Tommy is able to escape and heal, though he and his father Papa Gibbs (Julius Harris) are soon to be engaged in a turf war despite Tommy’s wishes that the family business exit the drug trade. Things take a dark turn when Helen (Gloria Hendry), Tommy’s ex-wife and the mother of his son, is murdered by Zach (Tony King), Papa King’s hitman. These events lead to a falling out between the father and son crime duo. However, Zach was working with DiAngelo and has orchestrated this falling out, and soon Tommy Gibbs, who has left Harlem, will return to his hometown and raise all sorts of hell on his quest for vengeance.

So much of the joy within Hell Up in Harlem comes when Tommy Gibbs is carrying out his quest for vengeance against those who’ve done him wrong. After healing from his wounds from the conclusion of the first film, Tommy takes on those who set him up for assassination, including one wild sequence where he and an army of collaborators seize a beachside mansion, forcing their foes to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at gunpoint. It’s added an extra twist with the home’s black staff of maids also in on the violent siege. Towards the end, Tommy becomes a one-man wrecking crew, staging various hits in public places. If there’s one thing that the genre of Blaxploitation mastered, it was catharsis. Anti-heroes taking up arms exerting bloody revenge against their oppressors always providing a certain level of thrills, something that Quentin Tarantino has had no problem utilizing in his own later films.

Nothing against the musical compositions of Fonce Mizell and Freddie Perren and performed by Edwin Starr, but they’re not James Brown. As Larry Cohen told me earlier this year, a legal dispute between James Brown and Samuel Z. Arkoff, head of American International Pictures, over the soundtrack for Slaughter’s Big Score prevented the Godfather of Soul from reprising his role as creating the film’s soundtrack. Sadly, the music that James Brown had made with Hell Up in Harlem in mind would end up being one of his most memorable albums, The Payback, which is frequently used in movies to this day.

The Olive Films edition of Hell Up in Harlem features a brand new audio commentary track from the film’s writer, producer, and director Larry Cohen. The genre master is known for his honesty when talking about his work and the stories behind the scenes and this is no different. The only other special feature available on the disc is the film’s original trailer, which is a work of art in and of itself.

Hell Up in Harlem is a lean, mean work of Blaxploitation that may not stand as one of the genre’s high water marks but still entertains to this day thanks to the natural charms of Fred Williamson and the brazen instincts of Larry Cohen. It’s a film that works right off its predecessor and wastes no time in telling its violent story of retribution in the seedy underworld of Harlem. This is one of the few times you could look at a movie and accurately say, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

Shop Deadpool tees in our officially licensed Marvel store!

Leave a Reply

Animation/Anime Interviews Animation/Anime News Animation/Anime Reviews Film/TV Interviews Film/TV News Film/TV Review
Cartels
Steven Seagal Sleepwalks Through ‘Cartels’

Amazingly, there are some people still willing to pay Steven Seagal...

Leatherface 2017
‘Leatherface’ Delivers a Bloody Underwhelming Origin for a Horror Icon

For some reason there are those who think that everything has...

Kingsman: The Golden Circle
‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ Entertains Despite Pulling its Punches

Watching Kingsman: The Secret Service felt like you were witness to...

Enabled Gaming Gaming News Gaming Reviews
Nights of Azure 2
Koei Tecmo America Details Demon-Slaying Action For Nights Of Azure 2: Bride Of The New Moon

Survive the environments of Nights Of Azure 2: Bride of the...

SteelSeries North
SteelSeries Announces Partnership with FC Copenhagen, Nordisk Film and Their Top-Ranked Counter-Strike Team, North

Three of the Most Successful Danish Brands Team up to Accomplish...

Warriors All-Stars Review
7.0/10
It’s a KOEI TECMO Party – Warriors All-Stars Review [PS4]

Why are games that bring together characters from numerous other titles...

Comic Creator Interviews Comic/Graphic Novel News Comic/Graphic Novel Reviews Manga News Manga Reviews Novel/Novella Author Interviews Novel/Novella News Novel/Novella Reviews
viz
VIZ Media Announces New Digital Manga Content For August Update

VIZ Media details digital manga updates for August highlighted by the...

viz
VIZ Media Announces New Manga and Literary Acquisitions At Anime Expo

VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media), a premier company in the fields of...

9.0/10
Supergirl Makes Contact in ‘Supergirl Being Super’

Title: Supergirl Being Super #4 Writer: Mariko Tamaki Artist: Joelle Jones...

Apparel/Personal Maintenance News Apparel/Personal Maintenance Reviews Entertainment Product News Entertainment Product Reviews Food/Beverage Reviews Hardware News Hardware Reviews Mystery Box News Mystery Box Reviews
atari
New Atari 2600/Sega Genesis Systems from AtGames Now Available

Classic Gaming Lives Again with Release of New Atari 2600/Sega Genesis...

urban armor gear
New Urban Armor Gear Exo-Skeleton Case for Android Tablets

UAG creates an ingenious adjustable protective case for the toughest Android...

New Urban Armor Gear UAG Plasma Series LG V30 Case

Lightweight and slim, the UAG Plasma Series LG V30 Case provides...

Arena Football Automotives MMA, Kick Boxing & Boxing Professional Wrestling
Mayweather and McGregor Previous Fights Now On Demand on Cable, Plus Interviews, Workouts and More

From iN DEMAND – New York, Aug. 17 – Before the...

Rumble on the Water 2 Delivers Punching Power

July 29, 2017 – Long Beach, CA – The Queen Mary...

UFC Star Jon ‘Bones’ Jones Releases Emoji App – BonesMoji

From BonesMoji – Los Angeles, CA., July 27, 2017 – One...

Adult Continuity Comics on the Can Cultural Junk Drawer Future Comic Rock Stars Is That Racist? Revisiting the Reviled THAT'S NOT ROTTEN! The B-Reel The Cantina Scene This Week in Crowdfunding What the HELL Did I just...?
CULTURAL JUNK DRAWER SDCC 2017 86.3% TRUE RECAP!

A totally true recap of the most important geek cultural even...

Comics on the Can: Schick Hydrobot and the Transformers

Written by John Barber, Pencils by Steve Kurth, Inks by Juan...

Star Wars Themed Lands Will be the Perfect Safe House for the Rebellion and the First Order

Disney’s D23 Expo has revealed a lot of what is to...

Event News Event Reviews
The Third Annual ‘BeerX’ from 91X in San Diego Featured Sunburns and Beer Goggles

This past Saturday, I attended the 3rd annual BeerX, presented by...

anime film festival
LA-Anime Film Festival Kicks Off to Celebrate 100 Years of Anime Films

Los Angeles Anime Film Festival (LA-AFF), presented by international creative company...

stan lee
Extraordinary: Stan Lee at The Saban Theatre

Comedian, Nerdist CEO, and podcast extraordinaire Chris Hardwick will lead a roster of...

Gaming Uncensored Toon-In-Talk
Gaming Uncensored: Year in Review 2016

A look back at the year in gaming.

Gaming Uncensored Roundtable: December 2016

December’s roundtable discusses story in games with Chad, Josh, and Spencer....

Gaming Uncensored: Podcast #349

Jamie reflects on some of his time with the HTC Vive....

Music Interviews Music News Music Reviews
Lahna Turner’s ‘Limeade’ is a Hilariously Haunting Comedy Album

Many people are roll their eyes at the idea of musical...

Prince’s ‘Deliverance’ Reminds Us of Who We Lost

On Friday, April 21st, it will be one year since we...

Sabroso Fest, How can you go Wrong with Beer, Tacos and Lucha Libre!?!(Photo Gallery)

The Sabroso Craft Beer, Taco and Music Festival sponsored by 95.5...