Welcome Home Brother Charles / Soul Vengeance (1975) by #JamaaFanaka
A wrongfully imprisoned man exacts vengeance on those who crossed him.
— Angus Kohm (@AngusKohm) July 17, 2021
I was in an old video store with my friend Den looking for interesting previously viewed VHS tapes to buy. I reached into the sale bin and pulled out a movie I’d never heard of before: Soul Vengeance (1975).
“Don’t buy that one,” Den advised me.
I looked at the tape in my hand. It appeared to be a Blaxploitation movie released by the same company (Xenon Home Video) that had released the films of Rudy Ray Moore. How could I NOT buy it?
“I’ve seen it,” Den continued. “It’s not that great.” He went on to describe the one interesting aspect of the film – at least in his opinion – and I would say that it qualifies as a spoiler. But it’s also a huge incentive to watch the film, so I’m a little torn about whether to reveal it here or not. I suppose it only strengthened my resolved to buy the tape and watch it, so….
SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this paragraph if you like to surprised by mind-blowing plot twists that come out of nowhere about an hour into the movie. On the other hand, if you feel you’d like to have a little psychological preparation before having your brain and eyeballs assaulted, then read on at your own discretion… Are you ready for it? Soul Vengeance features a penis monster. Or a monster penis. I’m not sure if I’m describing this right… The main character of the movie – our hero, Brother Charles, played by Marlo Monte – seems to have a giant, sentient penis which he uses to mesmerize and control the wives of his enemies AND to murder the men who wronged him. For the most part we don’t actually SEE it, but there is one murder during which Charles unleashes his secret weapon onscreen. It’s still a little obscured, but we see the giant monster extending to an impossible length and strangling a victim. There. I said it. I hope I haven’t ruined the movie for anyone. But I suppose that Den revealed it to me all those years ago, and I still bought the movie and was fairly impressed by what I saw.
“So, what did you think of Soul Vengeance?” Den asked me the next time I saw him.
I told him I liked it, and he seemed surprised. “But I enjoy movies like this for all kinds of reasons,” I told him. “For example, the music.”
I’d been a fan of Blaxploitation movie soundtracks since first watching Black Caesar (1973) when I was young – and it’s what made me a fan of James Brown’s music. Over the years I’ve picked up many Blaxploitation soundtracks and compilations, like the awesome MGM Soul Cinema collection. I’ve discovered that even the most obscure, no-budget Blaxploitation films can feature some really great music – or, in some cases, music that’s so bad, it’s wonderful. Soul Vengeance features some pretty decent tunes. There’s a piece of instrumental music somewhere in the middle of the film that I would swear was a knockoff of The Guess Who‘s classic “These Eyes” – which was covered by a lot of other artists, including Junior Walker & the All-Stars. It’s always been a special song to me, party because The Guess Who are from my home town of Winnipeg. Hearing what I believe is a knockoff of “These Eyes” in Soul Vengeance somehow endears the film to me just a little bit more.
Soul Vengeance was made by Jamaa Fanaka, who would go on to some success with Penitentiary (1979), Penitentiary II (1982) and Penitentiary III (1987). Originally titled Welcome Home Brother Charles, Fanaka made Soul Vengeance while he was a student at UCLA film school. It’s hard to imagine a movie like this as a serious film school project, but perhaps Fanaka was attempting to say something about racism and stereotypes. I won’t try to explain it here, but I will say that I saw Penitentiary when I was twelve years old and thought it was pretty cool. So in some ways, I’ve been a fan of Fanaka’s work for most of my home drive-in watching life. I’ve collected all of his movies (except Street Wars (1992), but you can bet it’s just a matter of time). So, in retrospect, I NEEDED to buy Soul Vengeance from that video store bargain bin.
Sadly, that VHS tape snapped while I was re-watching it a few years ago. I took it apart in an attempt to repair it (which I have done successfully with other tapes), but the whole thing crumbled and I had to give up. Luckily, I picked up a DVD somewhere on my pre-pandemic travels and that is what I watched last week.
While it may not be as good as Black Caesar (1973) or Shaft (1971), Soul Vengeance (1975) is a highly entertaining and unique entry into the Blaxploitation genre. And it was made by a serious filmmaker who wasn’t afraid to use commercial exploitation genres to get his message across. Perhaps because of this, he’s a certified master of #NotQuiteClassicCinema – and it’s too bad he didn’t make more films during his all too brief career. But at least we can continue to enjoy the ones we’ve got on any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.