Blacula [retro review]

“He’s black! He’s beautiful! He’s Blacula!”

The Scoop: 1972 PG, directed by William Crain and starring William Marshall, Vonetta McGee and Denise Nichols

Summary Capsule: 200 years after being cursed by Dracula for refusing to sell his wife, African1 vampire prince tracks down her reincarnation, disposing of various and sundry hapless victims in the process.

Shalen’s Rating: Five out of ten fangy bite marks.

Shalen’s Review: It’s hard to know quite what to say about this one. It wasn’t as over-the-top campy as I expected. There are some very angry themes and ideas running through this film; one alternate tagline makes them more obvious by pointing up the connection between slavery and the titular character’s involuntary adoption into the family of Dracula-style bloodsuckers. Prejudice against black characters is present but not overblown, partly because this movie mostly takes place within the black community, but prejudice against women and gays is discussed somewhat as well. And all this heavy stuff is going on against the background of… A guy in a cape with muttonchop whiskers. Who bites people.

The film starts with Prince Mamuwalde, ruler of an African* tribe, visiting Dracula with his wife, Luva. Mamuwalde declines the Wallachian prince’s offer to buy his spouse and is thereby set upon by Dracula’s goons. I don’t know why he needs these burly white boys around, since he’s supposed to be the King of the Vampires, incredibly strong, etc., but there they are. Luva cowers and squeals with dismay. Mamuwalde ends up beaten, bitten, and locked in a coffin while Dracula makes the University of Texas hook ’em horns gesture and pronounces them vampire and wife. Luva is locked in the crypt, presumable to starve to death; we never see her or her body again.**

Mamuwalde wakes up some two hundred years later in San Francisco when two gay guys open his coffin, which they bought from the sale of Dracula’s estate.***  Thereupon he goes on the expected rampage, in the process stumbling upon a modern-day reincarnation of Luva. Given that Mamuwalde is not completely unsympathetic, the ending is not hard to predict. ‘Twas beauty and all that. There’s also a black cop/doctor who eventually figures out what’s causing the rash of temporarily fatal anemia. I think his name was Gordon. There are other female characters, too, but they have no effect on the plot other than shrieking and cringing (per usual for females in films of this decade).

All in all the film isn’t particularly surprising in anything that happens. None of the characters are very interesting. It’s basically just another Dracula-style vampire story, except most of the participants are black instead of white.**** Most of the acting isn’t great, but the script isn’t egregiously bad to the point where it would be entertaining on its own. Further, William Marshall’s portrayal of Mamuwalde has some genuine weight and dignity to it in those moments when he isn’t snarling and growling.

In the end, Blacula is too dated and odd to take too seriously, but too serious to really laugh at. It has nothing to add to vampire canon given that there’s not a drop of original material in it anywhere.***** Unless you’ve just really been itching for it, or you’re a big fan of the genre of blaxploitation cinema, I’d give this one a miss.

*Not African-American. He’s actually from Africa.
**I suppose it should go without saying that people who are “left to starve” actually die of dehydration, since most people can survive over a month without food but less than a week without water. Not that you asked.
***It’s stated that Professor Van Helsing did catch up with him in this version. It’s not explained how, but if he really did go through the castle staking all the subsidiary vamps as in Stoker’s book, he missed the huge coffin with the padlock on it and the African prince inside.
****Almost all of the policemen, several of whom are killed by Mamuwalde, are white. I imagine this was somewhat pointed commentary in the seventies, too.
*****The mirrors, weakness to crosses, etc., are all highly traditional, although they didn’t go the Stoker route of having him able to walk around in daylight.

Women tremble before the muttonchops.

 

Intermission!

  • IMDB says the group performing in the club is The Hues Corporation. They’ve been in some other films and TV shows, although nearly always performing “Rock the Boat,” which they don’t in this one. Maybe it was a nice change for them, or maybe the song just wasn’t a hit yet.
  • Apparently all gay men look alike.
  • It is common to buy castles in other countries with a check.
  • The design of oil lamps did not change between 1775 and 1975.
  • Bobby actually puts up more of a fight than most of the straight guys who encounter Blacula throughout the film.
  • Tina’s incredibly sexy sequined gray minidress plus knitted tiny hat ensemble. And it really goes well with Blacula’s cape/evening wear outfit, too.
  • Dracula was a racist AND a sexist.
  • …Although judging by the number of vampire chicks he keeps around, apparently several other people took his “I’ll pay well for your lovely wife” offer.
  • In the seventies, most African-Americans were pointy-nosed and nearly as white as Shalen.
  • The white woman Blacula is biting on the most frequently seen movie cover is not in the movie anywhere. I think they must’ve incorporated her for shock value, this having been made in the seventies. In the film, almost all of Blacula’s victims are black; the one white person he actually bites is male (and gay, if that matters). That’s assuming Bobby is supposed to be black. It’s kind of hard to tell what with the moderately tan skin plus huge fro.
  • Chemical plants are located under busy streets, accessed via subway-style stairs, and are not locked or shut at night.
  • If someone really annoys you, the best way to get even is to make them ridiculously strong and immortal. This isn’t the only movie that seems to have that idea.

Groovy Quotes

Dracula: For an eternity you will starve here, torn by an an unquenchable lust. I curse you with my name. You shall be… Blacula!

Billy: Oh, if the fire department could see you now, you silly lamp queen!

Dracula: Oh, I meant no insult. It is a compliment for a man of my station to look with desire upon one of your color.

Skillet: Say, man, that is one strange dude. Who is he?
Gordon: One strange dude.

Morgue attendant: That is the rudest n—– I ever met!

Photographer: I’ll just run over to my studio and develop these and I’ll be right back.
Skillet: Hey, look here, Mama – don’t you want a little company?
Photographer: No thanks, Skillet. I know what would develop with you in a darkroom – and it wouldn’t be my pictures!

Cop #1: Hey, take a look at that f*g. Is that the one? He looks like the one.
Cop #2: How can you tell? They all look alike.

Skillet: Hey, man, let me take that old cape for you.

Cop: It looks like her, and she’s entering Underground Chemical Plant #2 at 6th and Church.

Waitress: Hi, what’ll you have?
Mamuwalde: Make it a bloody Mary.

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