Thursday, May 31, 2012

Blacula (1972) & Scream, Blacula, Scream (1973)

          For a few funky years in the early ’70s, the blaxploitation genre was so popular that 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 is Blacula. Starring Shakespearean-trained actor William Marshall, whose elegant bearing and resonant voice class up the inherently trashy surroundings, Blacula transposes tropes from Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula into a modern 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). They seek the counts assistance in abolishing slavery. Bad host that he is, Dracula responds by taking a chomp out of Mamawulde’s neck and burying the prince, cursing him to eternal half-life beneath the earth. Two hundred years later, screaming-queen antique dealers buy the contents of Castle Draculaincluding Mamawulde’s coffin—and take the goods to Los Angeles, leading to the release of the long-buried Mamawulde. Black-on-black bloodsucking ensues as the vampire meets and woos 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 tragic storyline, while still delivering such blaxploitation signifiers as 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 hint 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 inferior ripoffs  (please avoid Blackenstein at all costs), Blacula inspired a quickie sequel with less  kitschy charm than the original, even though Marshall reprises his role. (Bob Kelijan, director of the underwhelming Count Yorga pictures, puts Marshall through his paces.) Bearing the fabulously lurid title Scream, Blacula, Scream, the foll0w-up suffers from a drab script and a dull second act. The story begins when a dying voodoo queen bequeaths her power to her apprentice, Lisa (Pam Grier), instead of her closest 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,) Mamawulde meets and becomes smitten with Lisa—understandable, given Grier’s casting—and he asks her to cure his vampirism with that voodoo that she do-do. Unfortunately, it takes forever to get that far into the narrative, 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, which might explain why Blacula never returned for a third adventure.

Blacula: GROOVY
Scream, Blacula, Scream: FUNKY


Tommy Ross said...

Had to order this one and see it again after all these years, just got it for $2 on Amazon, here's a real cool clip from You Tube, the scene where he bites the cab driver..70's baby!

Unknown said...

Both films air back-to-back tonight (10/11/14) on TCM. Best. Movie. Channel. Ever.