“‘Deliver Us From Evil’ — a movie that tells it like it is about blacks. The beautiful blacks. The evil blacks.” —From the trailer for Horace Jackson’s “Deliver Us From Evil” (1977)
Okay, first off I should admit that “you’ve never seen anything quite like movie X” is becoming a bit of an overused catch-phrase here at TFG, but even so — you’ve never seen anything quite like writer-director Horace Jackson’s 1977 sorta-blaxploitation, sorta-godsploitation opus “Deliver Us From Evil.”
Also released under the rather blase title of “Joey,” which is still the moniker that’s slapped on most surviving prints of the film, this is a movie that prioritizes everything else — plot, characterization, continuity, even sanity itelf — so far beneath preaching its anything-but-subtle message that it becomes a case study in genuine cinematic absurdity.
And what is that message, you may ask? A pretty solidly uncontroversial one — “stop the killing, drugs, and violence in our communities, black America.” Can’t really argue with that. But dear God, does this turn into one seriously bizarre harangue after awhile.
Our story begins with menial laborer Chris Townes (Renny Roker, Al’s cousin) cleaning up around a movie set full of glass vases and shit without a shirt on. Tired of being bossed around by his white asshole “superior,” he takes it upon himself to trash ever single carefully-placed piece of glassware on the shelves and is immediately shuffled off to a psychiatric institution for his troubles, whereupon he engages in a screamingly hysterical laugh-fest for no reason whatsoever with his doctor.
Next thing you know, Chris is back out on the streets, having landed another shit job working for a racist prick who goads him constantly (guess it must be a pattern), this time at a construction site. He rents a gaudy-as-hell furnished apartment from another white racist prick who promises him it’s the “best he has available” (Chris obviously disagrees as we find out during some voice-over segments — note that voice-over is only used when Chris is bitching in his mind about his spread) and pockets his damage deposit money with a chuckle.
One day after another eight hellish hours of being degraded and belittle on the job site, Chris spots a rather attractive young lady named Mindy (Marie O’Henry) on the street after her car breaks down, offers her a ride home out of the blue, and she accepts. Mindy’s had a rough day, as well — she works as a recreation director at the 38th Street schoolyard and some local teenage hoodlums determined to start selling “marijuana and pills” at the school have been busy breaking up her organized recreational activities like baseball and stickball, harassing the younger kids, and starting fights. All to, you know, make a good impression on the youngsters they hope to turn into regular customers for their product once they have taken over their new “territory.” Marketing geniuses these guys are definitely not. Things go from bad to worse for her when Chris gets a lead foot, starts driving like a suicidal maniac just because he’s having a bad day, and won’t let her out of the car. He eventually gets her home, but suffice to say he’s left a rather lousy first impression.
Our guy Chris figures he’d better try to make it up to her somehow, so embarks on a campaign of what we today we could “stalking” in order to prove to Mindy that he isn’t such a bad cat. Again, the inept salesmanship on display in this film is absolutely mind-boggling.
Anyway, the apple of Mindy’s — and the entire neighborhood’s, apparently — eye is a young wheelchair-bound boy named Joey, also known as Little Joe (Danny Martin), who she dutifully wheels back and forth to school every day even though she’s evidently of no relation to him whatsoever (he’s apparently got a sister, but near as I can determine we never meet his actual parents in the film). Chris decides to make friends with Little Joe as well in order, apparently, to get back in Mindy’s good graces.
Somewhere along the line we learn the following tidbits of information : Mindy’s married. Black-on-black violence is destroying the community. Christ doesn’t really have the hots for Mindy, he likes an admittedly pretty damn gorgeous friend named Kim he’s seen her with. Black-on-black violence is destroying the community. There’s rampant racism in the police department. Black-on-black violence is destroying the community. Hard-working black people can’t catch a break. Black-on-black violence is destroying the community. Local gangsters go door-to-door posing as salespeople for radical black newspapers. Black-on-black violence is destroying the community. The best way to meet attractive young single ladies is to get their address from little kids in wheelchairs and then go to their door pretending to be conducting a survey about TV programming. All it takes is a pencil, paper, and clipboard. Black-on-black violence is destroying the community.
I mentioned earlier that pretty much everything else in this film pretty much takes a back seat to Horace Jackson’s rather heavy-handed moralizing. This is no exaggeration, in fact if anything it’s an understatement. Characters turn up and are never seen from again, characters turn up in the beginning (for a little while there this flick looks like it’s going to mainly be the story of a hard-working, put-upon black police detective) and don’t appear again until the end, promising plotlines are dropped completely or turned around for no apparent reason (Chris wanting to cozy up to Mindy quickly turns into Chris wanting to cozy up to her friend once Jackson establishes that Mindy’s married). Scenes and situations abruptly change tone at the drop of a hat , such s when Chris’s parole officer turns up at his place, silently looks around calmly for a few minutes, then decides to start acting out of the blue and gets in his face for a couple minutes before making nice with him and leaving.
But for sheer absurdity, there are a few sequences that just can’t be beat.
First among these is when, after sixty-plus minutes of seriously unimaginative and straightforward, “point-the-camera-and shoot” filmmaking, Jackson goes all artistic during a scene when Mindy is beaten up by the gang members terrorizing her playground. There are freeze-frames of fists making impact against her face, the sounds are held and amplified, and time is generally fucked with in every way possible for a couple minutes while she gets pummeled.
Next up we’ve got the briefly-mentioned series of events involving Chris posing as a TV survey dude and the gang members posing as radical black activists. Get this : Chris gets Kim’s address from Joey and goes to her place to conduct his bogus “survey.” She’s busy but tells him she’d love to have him come by the next day around 4:30. He smiles, says goodbye, and promises to be back. Then some gangster dudes we met briefly earlier in the film come to her door selling some supposedly radical black newspaper that “tells it like it is” and she seems interested in hearing their message. Cut to the next day at 4:30 and Chris returns to her place as promised. She’s not there. He waits around for some little time but she never shows up.
What’s happened? Have the gangster dudes done something terrible to her? Is she okay? Turns out she’s fine. Chris sees her that night at Mindy’s place (his friendship with Joey has convinced her by this point that he’s not such a bad dude after all), and apparently nothing happened when the bad-ass gangster dudes showed up at her place, because she doesn’t even mention it. In fact, check this shit out — she ends up asking Chris where he was because apparently she was waiting for him at her place for over half an hour and he never showed! He just says something came up. And not only does she not mind his little ruse, they start to get a little thing going from that point on.
I have to think that somewhere along the line Jackson had something else written here and just decided to drop it, like maybe thins young lady ws supposed to get kidnapped or something and he just decided not to go there in order to make a PG film (which he did, this movie has no swearing and very little actual violence, apart from the scene mentioned a moment ago) or something, because this “explanation” of events just doesn’t add up in the least. She stood him up, as we clearly see on film, but that night she claims she waited for him for 30 minutes and he just says “something came up” — even though he was there and she wasn’t? But I digress. Script continuity is apparently not a Horace Jackson strong suit.
The third serious absurdity I’ll mention takes place at the construction site where Chris has been working. The white asshole who’d been lording his authority over him even though he’s not the foreman shows up and sees Chris and every other black worker walking away. He asks the foreman what happened, and is told : ” I had to lay off all the blacks. Didn’t wanna do it, but I’ve got my orders.”
Now, I know we didn’t have a black president in 1977, but I’m pretty sure this type of mass and open race-based discrimination was totally illegal and prime class-action lawsuit material even back then. But just to make matters weirder, the asshole dude immediately goes over to Chris, tells him he’s just essentially been testing his mettle and making sure he’s not one of those “bad” blacks with a chip on his shoulder against “the man,” has grown to see him as being “one heck of a worker and one heck of a man,” or words to that effect, and offers him a job at another site, a proposition which Chris immediately accepts. So essentially a movie that’s been telling us that whites won’t give a black guy a break no matter what for its entire first 80 or so minutes suddenly shows that the biggest white jerk in the whole movie ain’t such a bad guy after all and apparently us white folks aren’t so tough to get along with once we make sure you’re a “safe” sort of black person. Go figure.
But goofy as all that shit is, it pales in comparison to the ending — after an unexpected tragedy hits Joey’s family (at least, I think they’re his family — one victim is his sister, the other might, possibly, be his grandmother, but it’s never really made clear) when the bad-ass gangster dudes pay a visit to his home, a kindly preacher from the local Baptist church turns up and asks Chris, who’s helping to look after our little wheelchair-bound junior Superman (and just as a total aside here, I have to say the alternate title of “Joey” for this flick makes absolutely no sense, being that not only is he not the central character in any way, shape, or form, but 99% of the time everyone just calls him “Little Joe” anyway) if there’s anything he can do.
After endless conversations between the various characters about the evils black-on-black drugs and violence are inflicting on the community, and a theme song called “We Know What We’re Doing To Ourselves” playing almost incessantly throughout the film from start to finish, the “fourth wall” between the actors and the audience fully breaks down and Chris delivers an impassioned and highly pissed-off rant/harangue directly at the camera about how black America needs to get a million people together to march not through the streets of Washington, D.C. (and keep in mind this was years before the Million Man March) but through their own communities and neighborhoods and how they all must work together to stamp out the scourge of drugs and violence once and for all. Then, as if that weren’t enough, this lengthy and angry soliloquy concludes with —
“When Will It End?” Apparently right then and there. With every single plot line he’s introduced — and there are literally dozens of them — still unresolved, with every single characters left in a kind of cinematic limbo, Jackson pulls the plug on his story right then and there, not out of some sort of intentionally artistic sense of narrative realism — that went out the window five minutes into this thing — but because he figures “hey, mission accomplished,” and he’s literally run out of anything else to say.
“Deliver Us From Evil” has recently been released on DVD by Code Red, although you wouldn’t know it. Part of the “Exploitation Cinema” series of double feature DVDs (the second feature here being the eminently forgettable “The Fox Affair,” which pretty much has nothing to recommend going for it) originally issued through the auspices of BCI, Code Red inherited this line with Navarre pulled the plug on BCI altogether, but Code Red’s name is nowhere to be found on this thing. Instead, the only label we see is for the apparently defunct “Saturn Productions,” a name no one’s seen or heard of since the early days of the VHS boom, but which has popped up again out of nowhere both here and on the “Saturn Drive-In” double features that Code Red has put out recently. I’d love to explain the reason for this, but I just straight-up can’t.
The picture quality of the DVD itself, at least for this film, is pretty good. It’s a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer that does feature some skips and jumps and a little bit of grain here and there, but hey, around here we don’t all those “imperfections,” we just say it gives the movie character, in that vintage grindhouse way we know and love so well. The colors are bold and surprisingly vivid given the, shall we say, archival nature of the material, and one gets the strong sense that this is probably the best possible surviving print they could find. There are occasional running green emulsion lines on display as well, but again, that’s no big deal to this reviewer and just adds to the charm. The Dolby Digital mono soundtrack is perfectly clear and crisp. Extras on the disc are in pretty short supply, but you do get preview trailers for “Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde” (worth the purchase right there), “Group Marriage,” Terminal Island,” “The Working Girls,” Cheering Section” and “Death Force.”
There’s a story in here — hell, way too many of them — buried under a mountain of good intentions, and watching Horace Jackson sublimate every other basic rule of filmmaking and even of narrative itself in order to drive home hi singular point yet one more time is a unique viewing experience that I recommend most highly.
Final aside for movie trivia buffs — “Deliver Us From Evil” got very limited thearical play upon its release, and was usually double-billed with Jackson’s one other cinematic credit, another super-low-budgeter called “Johnny Tough” that’s apparently an urban blaxploitation retelling of Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows.” Seriously.