The Blacula Series (1972-73)

Blacula (1972) Scream Blacula Scream (1973)

By virtue of the same rampant mad-scientist genre-splicing that would subsequently reach a lunatic peak with the Hammer/Shaw Brothers kung fu/vampire mash up, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, Blacula was conceived as a means of knobbing both blaxploitation and horror movie fans with the same johnny. However, keen to appeal to the more politically conscious thrill-seeker, American International Pictures grafted on an ‘authentic’ African backstory, gave the lead character an African name (Mamuwalde, rather than Andrew Brown) and pushed the slavery angle on some lobby posters.

Despite the efforts of leading man William Marshall (a Tarzan regular who later turned up in Soap spin-off Benson as the grim reaper) to imbue Mamuwalde with gravitas and dignity, Blacula was never going to be Roots. What the move is, is a lotta fun – as ‘Dracula’s Soul Brother’ (initially created by a racist European vampire who had the horn for Mrs Mamuwalde) gets shipped to the states, where he stumbles across Tina (Vonetta McGee), a dead ringer for his late wife.

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Of course vampires need blood, blood – and Blacula soon sets about slaking his undead thirst by draining a selection of extravagantly dressed victims. At this point, whether or not you’re likely to dig the movie will depend on whether you’ve sat down to take in a post-colonial reworking of Bram Stoker’s classic tale, or a slice of classic exploitation cinema – complete with jive talkin’ brothers, funky soundtrack (courtesy of Barry White arranger Gene Page), and acres of lapels. The Hues Corporation also show up as a nightclub band.

Although the specific strain of vampirism affecting Mamuwalde appears to have given him some unsightly facial hair issues alongside the teeth, Marshall’s performance is such that Blacula comes across as having genuine nobility, and an air of believability and mystery. As nightclub habitué Skillet (played by US TV mainstay Ju-Ti Cumbuka) observed of Mamuwalde, ‘That’s one strange dude.’ Aside from an hilarious interlude with a female cabbie, Marshall plays the role with a poker face and by the time he wanders into the sunlight to meet his apparent doom, you’ll be sorry to see him go.

Which is just as well, because the following year American International was back with Blac, for a sequel – Scream Blacula Scream. This time around, in a way reminiscent of Taste The Blood of Dracula, Blacula is brought back to life by a voodoo cultist looking to settle a score with Lisa Fortier, the cult’s incumbent queen, played by the legendary Pam Grier. However, the hapless Willis Daniels’ (Dynasty’s Richard Lawson) plans go belly up when serial loverman Mamuwalde falls for Lisa. Willis becomes a prisoner in his own enormous home (which features some truly migraine-inducing wallpaper), gets turned into a vampire, and ends up as part of a small army of the undead that gets wiped out at the film’s denoument.

William Marshall again takes the lead – the only surviving member of the original cast – and brings the same bearing to his character. Particularly enjoyable is his encounter with a pair of pimps, ‘I am afraid I do not carry any “Bread”, and as for “Kicking my ass”, I strongly advise that you reconsider your actions.” There are one or two genuinely creepy moments, especially when Blacula glides along a corridor (presumably on a dolly) with white eyes and with neat lighting making him seem truly supernatural. On the other hand, some of the make-up and special effects is a bit dicey – it seems that vampirism can turn some African/Americans a funny blue colour, and the animated bat that Mamuwalde transforms into is downright hilarious.

Irrespective what the terminally worthy, obsessive and po-faced might want you to believe, both movies are a lot of fun and available as a double DVD package for less than a fiver. Remember – This is Dr Funkenstein risen from the groove.



Originally posted 2011-02-28 15:44:31. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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