Hell Up in Harlem (1973)

Hell Up in Harlem




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Movie Info

This hastily assembled sequel to the blaxploitation hit Black Caesar downplays the gritty drama of that film to create a pure action tale with a comic book flavor. The story begins with badly wounded crimelord Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson) escaping an assassination attempt masterminded by corrupt District Attorney DiAngelo (Gerald Gordon) with the help of his estranged father, Papa Gibbs (Julius Harris). When DiAngelo's thugs attempt to kill him, Papa fights back and joins his son's criminal … More

Rating: R
Genre: Action & Adventure, Classics, Cult Movies
Directed By: ,
Written By: Larry Cohen, Janelle Cohen
In Theaters:
On DVD: Oct 16, 2001



as Tommy Gibbs

as Papa Gibbs

as Papa Gibbs

as Helen Bradley

as Sister Jennifer

as Reverend Rufus

as Zach

as Mr. DiAngelo

as Joe Frankfurter

as 'Irish' Bryant

as Tough Bikini Woman
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for Hell Up in Harlem

All Critics (10) | Top Critics (2)

Full Review… | February 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Full Review… | May 9, 2005
New York Times
Top Critic

Preposterously rousing

Full Review… | February 12, 2010

Lacks nearly everything that made its predecessor so groovy.

Full Review… | January 20, 2006
Lessons of Darkness

The film lives up to its intentions of being an exploitation film.

Full Review… | January 5, 2004
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

An implausible and near-uninteresting follow-up to Cohen's superior "Black Caesar."

September 14, 2003
Premiere Magazine

Audience Reviews for Hell Up in Harlem


Picking up (in a slightly shortened and retconned form) where Black Caesar left off, this direct sequel, while fun, is a but of a letdown. Oh, it's certainly enjoyable, but it makes the mistake a lot sequels make and looks and feels rushed.

This is especially true because it was filmed concurrently with another film, with this one being done on weekends. They shouldn't have done that. They did get pressured by the studio to cash in on the success of Black Caesar, and while greed is one thing, laziness and hastiness are completely different, and are no excuse for the drop in quality.

The first film was all about character and story. This one goes for the slam bang action route. That's not a bad iddea per se, but the way it is done leaves a lot to be desired. This is a decent sewuel, but it could have been absolutely fantastic. One scholar who reviewd this said he thinks it would have been better had they taken 30-45 minutes from this and added it to the first film to create a single cohesive story instead of making a sloppy sequel. I agree to an extent with that, as that could have been cool, but I much rather like the idea of a direct sequek (so long as it maintained the same level of quality).

I don't hate this. In fact, this is a fun popcorn movie. You have no choice but to see the first film though, otherwise this one just won't work. The music is okay, but there's no James Brown. His work on the first wasn't great, but he is missed.

In short, this is worth one viewing, just to be a copletist, but it's not a mandatory view. However, there is a fun moment that made me smile, a

Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

I loved Larry Cohen and Fred Williamson's previous collaboration 'Black Caesar', one of the toughest and most enjoyable movies of the early 70s blaxploitation boom. That movie was a great success and in the rush to cash in with a sequel something was lost. Cohen was shooting his killer baby classic 'It's Alive' at the same time Williamson was making 'That Man Bolt', yet they still attempted to make 'Hell Up In Harlem' simultaneously! Cohen's script is weaker this time around and the emphasis is on fights (fists and guns) over character development and story. The movie is more of an action film than a crime drama and therefore much less interesting to me. Williamson is still a powerhouse, but the movie as a whole fails to satisfy. Gloria Hendry ('Black Belt Jones') and D'Urville Martin ('Dolemite') both return from the first movie but aren't required to do all that much. You could even call their roles cameos and not be far wrong. Julius Harris ('Superfly') also returns as Williamson's father, but this time round he has a much larger role, and almost carries the first third of the movie all by himself. The film directly follows on from 'Black Caesar' with Tommy Gibbs (Williamson) recovering from a near fatal gunshot wound. He relies upon his Pop to keep things together, and this enables Harris to blossom from a middle aged straight citizen into a cool dressing killing machine almost overnight! This is one of the most entertaining things about the whole movie, but not enough to stop it from being a disappointment. Even the score this time round is inferior, with no James Brown content. I think this movie was too rushed and suffers for it. It has its moments but isn't a patch on 'Black Caesar'. I've noticed that quite a few blaxploitation classics fail to deliver with their sequels (I'm especially thinking of 'Foxy Brown', Jack Hill's weak follow up to his sensational 'Coffy'). I wonder why that was? Greed perhaps, or lack of faith in the material, I don't know. Anyway, 'Hell Up In Harlem' is okay, but it could have been, SHOULD have been a lot better! 'Black Caesar' is still brilliant though, don't miss that one.

Cassandra Maples

Super Reviewer

Even before the "Black Caesar" reel spun to an end after it's first theatrical showing, American International Pictures new they had a huge moneymaker demanded a sequel. Writer/director Larry Cohen was more than happy to obliged but only one problem kept his sequel from reaching the thrown stature of the original.... it was AIP wanted the sequel yesterday and the mega rushed production rears its ugly head throughout the entire running time of this quickly made, but still enjoyable sequel to the monumental Blaxploitation classic "Black Caesar."

The plot picks up right after the first film ended with our title character (Fred Williamson returning) dying in the ruins of his childhood home, clutching the ledgers that contained evidence of every corrupt political and influential individuals in New York. His dad comes to his rescue, saving his son and soon it's daddy and son hitting the streets take sweet revenge on all the politicians that put a hit to have our Harlem godfather killed.

The first major problem with this sequel is that it was made so quickly after the first film that Fred Williamson was already busy with another film obligation. Instead of waiting till he was done, Cohen was forced to start shooting the film without his main star and thus a stand-ins had to be used in many shots. Cohen does his best to use clever editing techniques and camera angles to try to hid the fact the actor wasn't there for the entire shoot but it still comes off rather choppy and obvious, taking me out of the picture momentarily.

The second problem is Cohen's plot seems condensed to fit into an standard running time. There's enough material here to drag out the engaging story of our black godfather into two more films but apparently AIP didn't feel so Cohen's script moves along too fast, with to many subplots for audiences to keep up. By the time the ending comes around and just felt hallow as even all the subplots weren't resolved properly in the amount of time allotted.

Considering all the challenges and brick walls Cohen faced with making this sequel, he still did a credible job and surprisingly, for the most part, makes the film mostly work despite all the flaws caused by its rushed production. Williamson is likeable as ever in his cool yet dark antihero role and I dug the expanded role of his father (Julius Harris, doing a wonderful job). The James Brown-less music is also commendable making this flawed sequel still a must see for fans of the original.

Bonus Praise: The film was original made as "Black Caesar's Sweet Revenge" but the producers demanded a title change as this was released so close to the first film that they were afraid people would mistake this sequel as the first film. I don't quite understand this as both "Shaft" and "Slaughter" had similarly titled sequels with "Shaft's Big Score" and "Slaughter's Big Rip-off". However, despite the title change, I have to say "Hell Up in Harlem" is a badass title. If one must change a film's title, make sure it's badass like "Hell Up in Harlem."

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