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
Darkest Hour
Joe Wright’s ‘Darkest Hour’ Brings Forth Gary Oldman’s Finest Hours

In 1940, as Hitler’s Nazi forces spread their aggressive campaign of...

The Good Time Girls
Brutal Female Fronted Western Revenge Short ‘The Good Time Girls’ Optioned as a Feature

The Western genre has for too long been a sausage-fest, movies...

Martin McDonagh
Martin McDonagh Discusses the Fire Behind ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

These days, it’s easy to be angry. Look around you and...

Enabled Gaming Gaming News Gaming Reviews
Super Beat Sports Review
Drop the Beat, Don’t Drop the Ball – Super Beat Sports Review [Switch]

Harmonix delivers another game that’s as fun and catchy as that song...

Nioh: Complete Edition Review
Test Your Metal – Nioh: Complete Edition Review [PC]

Definitive proof that there is fun in challenge and frustration –...

Review – Bad Apple Wars (PSV)

Rinka is your typical high school girl. She goes through life,...

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
Tick Tock, Tick Tock, the ‘Doomsday Clock’ is about to Strike!

Title: Doomsday Clock #1 Writer: Geoff Johns Artist: Gary Frank Colorist:...

viz media
Viz Media Digital Manga Update for November

TLDR Viz Media announced its digital manga update for November will...

viz media
New Anime and Manga for the Holidays from Viz Media

Viz Media releases new anime and manga for the upcoming holidays....

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
Are you Ready for WWE Survivor Series? Check Out Loot Crate First!

Updated from Thursday’s Original Post: One of the original “Big 4”...

Are You Worthy to Wield Thor’s Hammer (Tool Set)?

ThinkGeek’s 44 piece Thor’s hammer tool set is the perfect gift...

Legendary Dragon Decks Review
Dragons are the Coolest – Yu-Gi-Oh! Legendary Dragon Decks Review

Dragons are ingrained into every season of Yu-Gi-Oh, here’s your chance...

Arena Football Automotives MMA, Kick Boxing & Boxing Professional Wrestling
AXS TV Closes NJPW’s ‘G1 Climax 27’ With Four Episodes From The Final Weekend Beginning Friday Oct. 13

Los Angeles, CA (Oct. 11, 2017) – “Rainmakers” and “High Fly...

New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Rocky Romero has created an auction to raise money for UNIDOS por Puerto Rico Disaster Relief

I’m The costume was worn by Rocky during the final Roppongi...

Douglas Lima Defends his Bellator Welterweight Title Against Rory MacDonald at the Forum on 1/20

LOS ANGELES – One year removed from its previous event at...

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...?
Adult Continuity Issue #10 – Justice League XXX


Javier Fernandez
Future Comic Rock Stars – Javier Fernandez

It’s been an incredibly long time since I’ve written this column...

Comics on the Can – Double Dragon

Comics on the can Double Dragon Writer – Dwayne McDuffie Pencils...

Event News Event Reviews
go little tokyo
Five Reasons to Visit LA’s Little Tokyo For the Holidays

Go Little Tokyo is pleased to host Go Little Tokyo for the...

BlizzCon 2017
Another Cool Year at BlizzCon – BlizzCon 2017 Roundup

BlizzCon 2017 was packed full of Blizzard news that chilled fans...

LA Comic Con 2017
Stan Lee and Dwayne Johnson Rock the Main Stage at LA Comic Con 2017

LA Comic Con (formerly Comikaze) brings the star power with its...

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
MTV Unveils Performers for ‘TRL Live’ on October 3rd at 3 p.m. E.T.

NEW YORK, NY (September 26, 2017) – MTV today announced that...

Long Beach Punk Band ‘Spider’ Rocks ‘It’s Not Dead’ Festival

Spider is a heavy hitting punk band out of Long Beach,...

Lahna Turner’s ‘Limeade’ is a Hilariously Haunting Comedy Album

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