Tuesday, August 29, 2017

HELL UP IN HARLEM (1973) (Olive Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: Olive Films
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 95 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Larry Cohen 
Cast: Bobby Ramsen, D’urville Martin, Fred Williamson, Gerald Gordon, Gloria Hendry, Julius W. Harris, Margaret Avery, Tony King

Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson, 1990: The Bronx Warriors), the "Godfather of Harlem," returns in this amped-up sequel to Black Caesar (1973), coming out just a scant 10 months after the first film was a huge hit for distributor AIP. Director Larry Cohen (Q The Winged Serpent) ramps up the violence and the lunacy in this sequel right from the get-go, we have a crooked District Attorney DiAngelo (Gerald Gordon, Ants!) gunning to take-down Gibbs because he's is in possession of a ledger full of dirty secrets. Gibbs is gunned-down in broad daylight, he escapes but is bleeding out fast, desperately he calls his estranged father Papa Gibbs (Julius Harris, Live And Let Die) who comes to the rescue along with members of Gibbs gang who take him to a nearby hospital and hold the docs there hostage while they save his life, also holding off the NYPD in a tense stand-off, the only reason they don't blow a hole in the whole gang is that Gibbs is in possession of the ledger and the crooked D.A. doesn't want to be exposed for the scumbag that he is.

After surviving Gibbs discovers that his kid's mother Helen (Gloria Hendry, Diamonds Are Forever) was the one who set him up, he takes the kid away from her, and she resorts to hooking on the streets, until she is later murdered, which plays into the final stretch of the film. Gibbs and his father rule the streets, reigning supreme in other criminal enterprises while at the same time working hard to eradicate drugs from the streets of Harlem. 

The assault on the drug-peddlers are pretty awesome in a kitschy sort of way, there's a clumsily choreographed kung-fu fight with some Asians and an amphibious frog-men assault on a beach front home with a rather awesome gunfight ensuing after they've beached - it's good stuff, it might not all be executed to the best-degree but it is certainly entertaining, especially when Gibbs and the gang force some super-white dudes to eat soul-food at gunpoint!  

Eventually Gibbs and his father have a falling out when his enforcer Zach (Tony King, Cannibal Apocalypse) inform Gibbs that it was his father who had his former girlfriend Helen murdered. In disgust Gibbs hands his East Coast empire over to his father, who in turn takes out his enemies with brute-force, with Gibbs moving to L.A. with his new gal pal Sister Jennifer (Margaret Avery, TV's Being Mary Jane). However, when Papa Gibbs is betrayed and murdered back in New York by Zach Tommy Gibbs returns to the East Coast to dole out some dynamite revenge, but his murder spree puts his son Jason's life on the line, and we get a sweet murder-montage of Gibbs taking out associates of Zach and DiAngelo, including a sniper kill on a busy street and a particularly fun kill with Gibbs plunging the business end of a beach umbrella into the chest of a sunbather on the beach with a fun animated bloodletting that has to be seen to be believed, an image that deserves to only be seen in a drive-in, it's crazy!  

Fred Williamson offers loads of the effortless charm we love him for, a black criminal with a heart, but ruthless and a skilled killer, his scenes are always a lot of fun, whether he's kicking ass or just looking cool as Hell. Not all the acting is great though, at times both Hendry and Harris are straight up awful, but I love the fist fight with Big Papa and Zach, a street brawl to rule them all! There's also a wild coast to coast chase involving Gibbs and Zach that culminated on a luggage conveyor belt at the airport, total kick-ass awesomeness. Also keep an eye-out for D'Urville Martin (Dolemite, Sheba Baby)as a pimp turned pulpit-pounder, Reverend Rufus! 

Audio/Video: Hell Up In Harlem (1973) arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Film presented in 1.85:1 widescreen in 1080p HD, the source looks solid, some white speckling here and again but nothing stands out in regard to print damage, the colors are nice and bright, depth and clarity are improved from the 2001 MGM Soul Cinema series DVD, but there's not a lot of wow-factor here either, but still a solid filmic transfer with the natural grain intact without a lot of edge sharpening or digital scrubbing. Black levels can be weak at times, more grayish, and the night scenes also show some additional graininess to them, but overall a solid presentation.  

The lone audio option is an English language DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track, it is nicely clean and crisp, the soundtrack featuring Edwin Starr, singer of the Vietnam War protest song "War" (1970), sounds great, though I must admit I found a few of these songs a bit on the corny side, not one of my favorite blaxploitation soundtracks, but I dig the Big Papa theme. Optional English subtitles are included. 

Onto the extras we get a 2-min HD trailer for the film, and an audio commentary, not the same one from the 2001 MGM DVD either, this is a new commentary with director Larry Cohen, moderated by Steve Mitchell, director of the upcoming documentary King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen. I have always found Cohen's commentaries to me solid, every damn one of them, a spark plug who tells it like it was and is, and it's no different here! My favorite take away was Cohen telling the story of what happened to James Brown's original score for the film and why it was not used, which is too bad, this is Big Payback era James Brown!  

Special Features: 
- NEW audio commentary with director Larry Cohen, moderated by Steve Mitchell, director of the upcoming documentary King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen.
- Trailer (2 min) HD 

Hell Up In Harlem (1973) is not the most stylish blaxploitation movie you will ever see, it can be a bit corny at times with the gangster posturing and near-impossible ridiculousness, but Larry Cohen knows how to make an damn entertaining and kinetic action film, obviously stealing shots on the streets of NYC, which give the film a gritty realism and some added punch, this was a blast and a recommend for fans of action-packed, and slightly ridiculous, 70s cinema.