Hell Up in Harlem

  • Film
  • Action and adventure
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This sequel to Black Caesar sparks from a marked tension between blaxploitation conventions and Cohen's maintenance of an ironic distance from his 'hero', who survives an opening semi-reprise of the earlier film's ending (having Harlem Hospital commandeered at gunpoint) to rise/fall/resurrect himself as underworld overlord of New York. The jerkily episodic narrative loosens its tremendous pace about half-way in, even if Cohen keeps jostling the formula with inventive story loops and staccato bursts of action, but it's the overall evidence of a film shot literally 'on the run' that makes this such a delight. Action constantly erupts to general bewilderment and brilliant effect on unsanctioned New York streets, while tourist trap monuments to American democracy serve as hit-and-run locations for conspiracy or corruption, as if in a dry run for Cohen's Private Files of J Edgar Hoover. Black maids force-feeding soul food to Mafiosi, a colour-reverse lynching, and a ludicrous foot-plane-foot chase sequence constitute just a few of the sly energies emitted en route to a characteristically ambivalent ending.

Release details

Duration: 96 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Larry Cohen
Screenwriter: Larry Cohen
Cast: Fred Williamson
Julius W Harris
Gloria Hendry
Margaret Avery
D'Urville Martin
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