Blaxploitation Heroes United: The Awesome Fury of ORIGINAL GANGSTAS (1996)

Featuring an All-Star cast, Larry Cohen’s stellar throwback is new on Blu from KL Studio Classics

Fred Williamson. Pam Grier. Jim Brown. Paul Winfield. Ron O’Neal. Richard Roundtree.

All are legendary actors of the black action films of the 1970s, every one of them compelling and worth watching on their own. But all of them together, as an ensemble under the direction of celebrated cult figure Larry Cohen?

That’s a frigging MIRACLE.

Original Gangstas takes place in Gary, Indiana, a city known for its street crime. A gang called the Rebels rules their neighborhood, but their violent activities get them the wrong kind of attention when they murder a youth and nearly kill an elderly grocer who tries to cooperate with the police investigation. But these victims were the son of estranged sweethearts Jake Thompson and Laurie Trevor (Jim Brown and Pam Grier), and the father of football star John Bookman (Fred Williamson) — the wrong people to piss off.

The key interest here, though, is that the trio isn’t just united as victims. They’re the original Rebels who started the gang in their youth, grew up, and moved on. But now, these stupid kids with no sense of history have not only attacked their families, but turned their relatively innocuous gang into a trigger-happy criminal enterprise, forcing them to deal with the responsibility of shutting down this monster that grew out of what they started. Unable to fight the gangs head on, Bookman lands on a plan to sucker them into declaring war on each other.

The film also stars Paul Winfield as a local minister who tries to mediate between the gangs and citizenry, and has small roles for Robert Forster as the investigating detective and Charles Napier and Wings Hauser as municipal government officials. Ron O’Neal and Richard Roundtree play other members of the original Rebels, though they aren’t given much to do until the film’s guns-blazing finale.

Original Gangstas wasn’t the first attempt to bring together blaxploitation era stars in more modern times: I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, also available on Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics, deftly united Bernie Casey, Isaac Hayes, Jim Brown, and Antonio Fargas for a hilarious and loving genre parody.

But unlike Sucka, the far more grounded Original Gangstas hits hard without even a trace of farce, offering a commentary on the economic and cultural shifts that contributed to street gangs of the eras. The action gets over-the-top, but the tone remains fairly serious throughout, delivering a potent and compelling drama before turning into a massive shootout.

The Package

Original Gangstas is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.

Picture quality is solid, probably about what you’d expect for a movie like this. The cinematography is mostly medium-to-wide, but when there are close-ups the level of detail is appreciable.

Special Features and Extras

Audio Commentary
with director Larry Cohen and Elijah Drenner

Original Theatrical Trailer (2:14)

Parting Thoughts

Almost four years ago, Fred Williamson launched a crowdfunding initiative to bring the gang back together for a sequel, but after two attempts the campaign failed to pull in the funding needed.

That’s a tragedy, because this is an incredible movie, and the sequel that Williamson was trying to cook up, reuniting the cast (who agreed to work for peanuts) and pulling in even more blaxploitation legends along for the ride, sounded unbelievably awesome.

So hey, if you’re a billionaire out there reading this, watch the greatness that is Original Gangstas and then give The Hammer a couple million bucks to make the world a better place.

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:

Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have slight compression inherent to file formats. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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