For a few funky years in the early ’70s, the blaxploitation genre was so popular it produced subgenres—including a string of campy horror movies whose titles were urbanized puns on the names of classic monsters. The first and best of these flicks was Blacula. Starring Shakespearean-trained actor William Marshall, whose elegant bearing and resonant voice class up the inherently trashy surroundings, Blacula smoothly transposes characters and themes from Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula into an African-American milieu.
The story begins in Transylvania circa the 1700s, when Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay) greets two visitors from Africa, Prince Mamawulde (Marshall) and his beautiful wife, Luva (Vonetta McGee). Bad host that he is, Dracula takes a chomp out of Mamawulde’s neck and buries him, cursing the prince to half-life beneath the earth. Then, when Mamawulde gets released 200 years later in modern-day L.A. (don’t ask), black-on-black bloodsucking ensues until the vampire meets Tina (also played by McGee), whom he believes is the reincarnated Luva.
Capably directed by William Crain, Blacula moves along at a good clip and stays focused on the soulful story, while still delivering blaxploitation tropes like pimptastic clothes, streetwise trash talk, and wah-wah guitars on the soundtrack. The picture also boasts one or two genuine jolts, and the gloomy finale has a bit of an emotional punch. This isn’t sophisticated stuff by any measure, but Blacula is moderately better than one might expect—and, hey, the fact that Mamawulde sprouts bitchin’ sideburns every time his blood gets boiling adds an extra blast of campy ’70s flava.
In addition to triggering a series of imitators (yes, Blackenstein, we’re talking about you), Blacula inspired a quickie sequel that lacks the kitschy charm of the original, even though Marshall reprised his role. (Rather than bringing Crain back as director, the producers hired Bob Kelijan, helmer of the underwhelming Count Yorga pictures, to put Marshall through his paces.) Bearing the fabulously lurid title Scream, Blacula, Scream, the foll0w-up suffers from a drab story and a shortage of exciting moments.
The story begins when a dying voodoo queen bequeaths her power to her friend/apprentice Lisa (Pam Grier) instead of her immediate relative, the craven Willis (Richard Lawson). Eager for payback, Willis uses voodoo to summon Mamawulde, who promptly turns Willis into a vampire slave. (That’s what you get for thinking you can control a vampire,) Soon, Mamawulde meets and becomes smitten with Lisa—an understandable response, given Grier’s casting. He then asks Lisa to cure his vampirism with that voodoo that she do-do.
Unfortunately, it takes forever to get that far into the narrative, so the first hour is very dull, and the whole movie is so enervated that even Grier’s formidable charisma is stifled. Except for some tribal-drum-led tension during the movie’s climax, Scream, Blacula, Scream fails to get anyone’s blood pumping—and, sure enough, its unspectacular box-office performance helped kill a promising franchise.
Scream, Blacula, Scream: LAME