WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS (AND A “DICK PIC”)!
Born Walter Gordon, filmmaker Jamaa Fanaka was a UCLA film graduate who found some success in the late ’70s and early ’80s with his PENITENTIARY trilogy. While I will one day sit down to watch those films, today I have the dubious honor of writing about Fanaka’s 1975 Blaxploitation effort, SOUL VENGEANCE.
The film follows a drug-pusher named Charles Murray (Marlo Monte), who attempts to make a run for it when he and his partner N.D. (Jake Carter) realize they’re being watched by “the man.” N.D. escapes by leaping over an aggressively racist cop named Harry Freeman (Ben Bigelow), but Charles isn’t so lucky, and is nabbed by Harry’s partner Jim (Stan Kamber). The two cops throw Charles in the back of their undercover vehicle, then park out of sight in a back alley.
Jim leaves Harry to his own devices which turns out to be a horrible mistake. Harry works Charles over, then proceeds to try and castrate his suspect in the back seat of the jeep! (HOLY SH*T, WHAT?!) Jim tries to intervene, but ends up getting knocked out in the scuffle. Miraculously, Charles survives this ordeal, but gets a bum rap, and is sent to prison to serve out the bulk of his sentence in solitary confinement!
Charles gets out three years later (for good behavior I guess?) and now has a fresh outlook on everything. He refuses to go back to selling drugs, and wants to lead a normal life. However Charles can’t find a job (due to his criminal record), lost his girlfriend (who is now a stripper) to his former best friend N.D., and is still haunted by the fact that his penis was nearly sawed off by a crazy cop! Life truly sucks for Charles Murray.
But eventually he finds a friend in Carmen (Reatha Gray), a hooker with a heart of gold. They quickly become lovers, and things finally start looking up for the ex-con. But that all changes one night when Charles sees Harry Freeman on the evening news. Seeing his would-be castrator being touted as a hero on television causes Charles to snap, leading to a super bizarre form of vigilante justice that must be seen to be believed!
SOUL VENGEANCE (much like SUPER SOUL BROTHER) is a film that promises something unique, but ultimately fails to deliver the goods. The entire point of the movie is to watch a guy hit rock bottom and then seek retribution against those that ruined his life. But Charles doesn’t go into vengeance mode until sixty-five minutes into the movie! That means that you have to slog through an hour of pointless filler until he becomes cinema’s first (and only?) penile avenger!
And let’s face it, even though Charles is a scumbag drug peddler, having his manhood slashed by Ben Bigelow’s “Harry” is a considerably extreme punishment. Even more so when you realize that there wasn’t anything building up to that moment. Oddly enough, justification for Harry’s insane behavior occurs after he attacks Charles’ rod with a blade. You see, during a sting operation, Harry discovers that his wife Christina (Tiffany Peters) is actually having an affair with N.D.! Had this been revealed prior to Charles’ arrest, Harry’s reaction would have made some sense.
And ironically, it turns out that his fear and hatred of the dreaded black phallus is justified, because we later learn that Charles has a very special power. Not only can he hypnotize women with his package, but Charles can also will his penis to grow to absurd lengths and strangle people! How he gained this ability is a mystery that the film never truly reveals (medical experimentation is hinted at), but it is pretty much the only reason anybody seeks this movie out.
However, if you came looking for an exploitation film where a man strangles people to death with his shaft (“Shut yo’ mouth!”), prepare to be disappointed. You will only get to see Charles do his amazing dick trick once, and that’s when he chokes the life out of the prosecution attorney that helped put him behind bars. The rest of the film is a tepid drama about a black man that is maimed by the police, and wronged by the justice system.
That alone could have made for a compelling story, but it is hard to get behind your film’s antagonist when he’s a former drug dealer. Had he been a part of any other legal occupation, or was arrested for a crime he did not commit, then I think it would’ve been easier to cheer Charles on. Still, it’s fairly entertaining when he deploys his “Anacondick” against those that sent him off to rot in prison with a sutured schlong.
It’s easy to write-off SOUL VENGEANCE as a one-trick pony (because it is), but you have to admit that Jamaa Fanaka made some interesting creative choices here. The most obvious thing is how he took racially-driven penis size insecurity to a parody level. Fanaka laughed in the face of bigots everywhere by having a black man sleep with the wives of his intended victims (all white men in positions of power), before throttling them with his laughably enormous “ankle spanker.”
I should also note that Fanaka uses a how we got here approach to his film. The movie opens with Charles having a stand-off with police on a rooftop, then flashes back so we can see how he got to this point. Though this trope is pretty common today (Quentin Tarantino loves using it), this was a bold move for a film student (in the 1970s) who was still learning his craft.
And while I am impressed that Jamaa Fanaka wrote, produced (via grants), and directed SOUL VENGEANCE, I sadly cannot give it a recommendation Vault Dwellers. At ninety-eight minutes, the film takes far too long to get to “the good stuff,” and fails to deliver a satisfactory conclusion. Essentially, you wait over an hour for the main character to attack people with his meat stick, only to be rewarded with an “open-ending.” (i.e. No ending at all.)
Did Charles give himself up? Did he leap to his death? Did he use his penis as a lasso and escape Spider-Man style? I have no idea. What I do know is that this movie probably would have worked better as a subversive comedy about a sexual dynamo sticking it to “the man.” Instead it takes itself way too seriously and ends up being frustratingly boring. SOUL VENGEANCE is definitely a “watch at your own risk” entry into the Blaxploitation genre, and I think I’m being more than fair by giving it a rating of: