BAMF Blaxploitation Archive – HELL UP IN HARLEM

hell_up_in_harlemBAMF’s Blaxploitation Archive is a collection of reviews originally written in the 1990s that appeared in the pages of BadAzz MoFo. This review and many others have been reprinted and collected in BadAzz MoFo’s Book of Blaxploitation, Volume One, which is now available for purchase.

HELL UP IN HARLEM 1973 director: Larry Cohen; starring: Fred Williamson, Julius Harris, Margaret Avery, Gloria Hendry, D’Urville Martin, Tony King
Black Caesar made a ton of loot at the box office, and never one to turn away the chance at some quick cash, American International Pictures demanded a sequel. Now, some of you may be wondering how this could be possible, given the fact that Tommy Gibbs was suffering from a terminal case of lead poisoning at the end of Black Caesar. Well, as some of you may already know, the ending of Black Caesar was edited at the last minute by Cohen, making for a more open-ended conclusion. It wasn’t until the movie was released on home video, when it was mastered from the original negative with the death of Gibbs intact that most people saw the film’s anti-hero actually die. But even if Gibbs had croaked at the end of the theatrical version of Black Caesar, the real problem facing Larry Cohen was not how to resurrect the dead, but how to shoot an entire film, without a script, in New York, while Williamson was already shooting That Man Bolt and getting ready to leave the country.

My main man Cohen’s solution was simple: He makes the shit up as he goes along, shoots much of the film without Williamson, who only worked on weekends, and generally throws all cinematic caution to the wind. The end result, to some, may seem like a disjointed mess; and to be honest, it is. This is fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants filmmaking at it’s finest. Story, continuity, logic and believability have no place in this bad boy. In fact, about all you will find is some great violence, including one of the more poorly choreographed fight sequences you’re likely to see this side of The Devil’s Express, and a cool beach front assault by a group of brothas in wetsuits. Throw in some over-the-top (and I do mean over-the-top) performances by Williamson, and his returning co-stars Martin, Hendry, and Harris, and you’ve got a sight to behold. Julius Harris is especially entertaining, as Gibbs’ loving father, turned asskickin’ pimp. Be careful not to laugh so hard you soil yourself.

Hell Up In Harlem is far from the worst the blaxploitation genre has to offer, but it sure as hell ain’t up there with the best either, resting somewhere comfortably in between good and bad. It’s a little place I like to call watchable. But when you consider the fact that the film was produced and released only eight months after Black Caesar, it seems a bit more like a miracle that it isn’t worse than it is. And like I said, it’s also good for a laugh.

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