Director: William Crain
Release Date: 1972
The vampire genre enters the world of blaxplotation in Blacula. The film begins in Transylvania in 1780 and dignified African Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) and his wife Luva (Vonetta McGee) have visited Castle Dracula. They attempt to gain the Count’s support to try and convince the European heads of state to end the slave trade. Dracula is dismissive, believing that there is nothing wrong with slavery. Disgusted by his host’s attitude Mamuwalde tries to leave but Dracula prevents him. Mamuwalde is overpowered by Dracula’s servants and then the horror of castle Dracula becomes apparent when a group of Brides enter the room.
A moment here to describe the brides, they have to have some of the worst vampire makeup effects seen in a movie. Their faces are falsely grey and they have comedy fangs. This is not just in this section of the film; all the vampires in the movie have the same image problems – except certain ones. For some reason the key vampires, and those who for plot reason must pass as human, don’t undergo this comedy transformation.
Dracula curses Mamuwalde with vampirism and then locks him in a coffin so that he may never taste blood. Dracula also gives him his name, sort of, and names him Blacula. He locks Mamuwalde in a secret room, with Luva by the coffin so that she might hear his agony until she dies.
Cut to the present day and two interior decorators, Bobby McCoy (Ted Harris) and Billy Schaffer (Rick Metzler) buy the contents of castle Dracula, including aforementioned coffin, and ship the lot back to LA. Bobby is opening the coffin when Billy cuts his arm. Blacula arises and feeds on the two men.
At the funeral home, where Bobby has been taken, Tina (Vonetta McGee), her sister Michelle (Denis Nicholas) and Michelle’s boyfriend Dr Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) come to view the body. Gordon is with the Scientific Investigation Division and is asked to look into the death. He notices the puncture wounds and the fact that the body seems drained of blood and becomes suspicious. Blacula is watching from the wings and spots Tina. He realises that she is the reincarnation of Luva.
What follows from there is fairly unoriginal vampire fare as Blacula tries to woo his reincarnated love and Gordon takes on the Van Helsing type role.
The film is fairly typical of an early 1970s blaxploitation movie, complete with a soul musical interlude and more stereotypes than you could shake a stick at, but what is it like as a vampire movie.
The storyline might be a little hackneyed but it is functional enough. Tina, in her heart, recognises her love and a rash of vampires spring up through the city as a bite and death is enough to turn a victim.
The film does fail to produce much in the way of tension. There is one scene when Gordon and his police lieutenant buddy, Jack Peters (Gordon Pinsent) enter what they think is Blacula’s lair. The place is filled with all those turned as vampires and they have gone in there with a couple of cops. One of the cops, Barnes (Logan Field), is known to the audience to be a vampire – he’s one of the ones that doesn’t have the awful grey face paint on, so his nature is unknown to the two heroes. Unfortunately this is not exploited by the director in any real sense, when it could have been used to create a sense of peril and seemed a little pointless.
There is an effective scene, however, when turned taxi driver Juanita Jones (Ketty Lester) is taken out of the deep freeze in the morgue and thaws out. She comes screaming down the hall like a banshee (sorry for mixing my monster metaphors) and it is a fantastic scene.
Blacula, himself, sprouts a large amount of facial hair when he vamps out and has the ability to turn into a bat. The bat transformation seemed pretty good generally and, unlike hammer films of the same period, didn’t look utterly pathetic – so kudos to the film-makers for that.
All in all, as a vampire film, this is fairly pedestrian, never really raising itself above average. Don’t get me wrong, it is not a bad film and is worth a watch but it isn’t one to go nuts over, especially if you want scares as it seems to be played out much more for laughs. 5 out of 10.
The imdb page is here.