1973's Black Caesar is one of the most iconic and important entries in all of blaxploitation, as it provides Fred "The Hammer" Williamson with one of his earliest starring roles and, more importantly, is really the film that codified his onscreen persona by way of his three rules: he has to win all his fights, he gets the girl and he can't be killed. Though the movie ends with Williamson shot and bleeding out in the street, he does not die on camera. He can't. He's The Hammer. And to prove that Williamson's character Tommy Gibbs survives the injury, he re-teamed with writer/director Larry Cohen later the same year for a sequel, Hell Up in Harlem. While not as influential as its predecessor, I happen to like the sequel even more than Black Caesar.
Having survived the attempt on his life that ends Black Caesar, Tommy Gibbs is back and better than ever, determined to take down a corrupt New York D.A. (Gerald Gordon) and going to war with his own father (Julius Harris) for ordering a hit on Tommy's ex-wife. He also falls in love with a religious woman (Margaret Avery) and re-teams with an old friend, a pimp-turned-holy man named Reverend Rufus (played by the great D'Urville Martin).
While none of Larry Cohen's films are especially polished, Hell Up in Harlem is pretty crudely constructed even by his standards. With very little money and very few permits to shoot around New York, the director takes a real run-and-gun approach to this one, often breaking up the action into too many shots and too many cuts until it resembles an amateur or student film. I'm not complaining, of course, as it's part of the film's charm; besides, I like my exploitation movies rough around the edges. Hell Up in Harlem is rough around the edges, with an emphasis on "rough" in the best possibly way. I love how much Cohen and Williamson are not fucking around in this one.
Blu-ray release date: August 29, 2017
DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Blu-ray bonus features:
Larry Cohen commentary