Now that we got The Velvet Vampire out of the way last week, it’s time to get our Bloodsucking October theme for Halloween officially kicked off with something far, far better.
That’s right, Jack… Blacula is getting up in this blog.
This was the horror/blaxploitation mash up that started them all. This one also has the widest appeal. Yeah, it’s probably because of the title. I mean, you see a movie called Blacula, and you think to yourself, “Holy shit, I have to see this. It’s gotta be great!” At that point, with a title like that, you either have to play it as a parody or you play it straight as shit.
They played it super straight, motherfuckers.
We could talk about William Crain, whose directing credits only total nine on Internet Movie Database – two of which are this one and another B-Movie Enema alum, Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde. I’d rather talk about William Marshall, who played Blacula himself. This dude has an IMDb listing that mirrors all the shit I grew up on. His onscreen credits include Pee Wee’s Playhouse (as the King of Cartoons), Star Trek (in “The Ultimate Computer”), a couple episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and a movie called Honky. His voice work had him working on The Real Ghostbusters, and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends where he played Tony fucking Stark and the Juggernaut. That’s goddamn awesome. It’s not terribly surprising that he worked often in his career that spanned five decades. He had a pretty decent screen presence and had a commanding speaking voice. Both of which helps him in both his turns as Blacula (the sequel called Scream, Blacula, Scream).
From the back of my Blacula DVD box, our synopsis is: “Urban action and fatal attraction give rise to a groove beyond the grave! It is 1780, and African Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) travels to Transylvania to gain Count Dracula’s support in ending the slave trade. Instead, the Count makes Mamuwalde a vampire! Now, nearly two centuries later, Mamuwalde emerges as the cool, dressed to kill Blacula, who lusts for human blood – and an L.A. woman (Vonetta McGee). Co-starring Denise Nicholas and Ketty Lester, this Best Horror Film winner grabs you by the neck and doesn’t let go!”
And, yes, it did win the 1972 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films award for Best Horror Film. That was the first year of the awards, and they are best known now as the Saturn Awards.
This movie, as the back of the box says, starts in 1780. That’s like over 100 years before the original Dracula book. I find that kind of interesting in and of itself. It’s also interesting that Mamuwalde and his wife have come to Transylvania and ask Count Dracula to end the slave trade. I mean I guess it serves as a good start of the movie, but I don’t see how Transylvania is important enough in world affairs. Anyway, Dracula makes advances on Mamuwalde’s wife which pisses him off. After he is overpowered by the Count’s men, his vampire brides show up and he has them go over and take the Princess. Dracula bites Mamuwalde and curses him to be a vampire and names him Blacula. Someone had to not only write line but then someone had to deliver it. As Count Dracula. Saying he will be named Blacula.
I promise this movie gets better from this obviously race-driven origin.
After the rockin’ opening titles, we flash forward to to the 1970s. Two super gay men are buying Castle Dracula. One of the guys has a gigantic afro and a purse. The other smokes his cigarette from a cigarette holder. This is what being gay was in the 1970s. Everyone was a flaming queen and over the top. Like, think of the gay neighbors on American Dad. Then make them four times as queer. That’s what you have here.
They find the secret room Mamuwalde’s casket was in and where his princess was locked up in until she died from starvation. The homos ship the casket back to Los Angeles. They open it and let Blacula out because being gay is a crime that is punishable in a horror film by unleashing a vampire on the world. Oh and one of them cut themselves which only excites Blacula more when he climbs out of the casket. He kills the two gays and takes a nap in his coffin before heading out onto the streets of L.A. to drink more blood and do general vampire stuff. He does remember that Dracula gave him the Blacula name too, so he decides to go with that instead of his cool African name.
Blacula looks in on the viewing for the gay guy with the fro and sees that one of the departed’s friends looks just like his African Princess. Naturally, Blacula wants in on that. A man she was with when they came into the funeral parlor, Dr. Thomas, looks over the body and sees that bite wound is considerably deep for a rat attack. Also, he recognizes that the body is completely drained of blood.
Tina (Vonetta McGee), who looks just like Mamuwalde’s Princess, Luva, from the beginning walks home with her friend Michelle. After they part ways, leaving both to walk home alone, Tina hears what can only be assumed to be someone following her. She picks up the pace only to run directly into Blacula. When he keeps referring to her as “Luva”, she’s understandably freaked out. She runs away and loses him when he gets hit by a taxi.
Enter Sassy Black Lady Cab Driver who gets mad at him for walking out in front of her. This is one of the sassiest women to ever exist in a movie ever. Don’t take my word for it, soak in the sassiness for yourself:
Seriously, she might be one of my most favorite characters in any movie.
Tina gets home safe, but is frightened by a loud pounding on her door. When she answers the door with a giant knife, it’s just Michelle, her roommate and friend from earlier (why the walked home separately is completely beyond me, but whatever). Tina tells her about the scary walk home. She’s afraid that since Blacula got her purse, he’ll have all her information. I’d say that is a valid concern. But it won’t be tonight that Blacula follows her, he’s tired from eating the sassy cabbie so he goes back to his coffin for another nap.
Dr. Thomas visits the morgue and checks over the cabbie. The doc realizes her body is drained of blood too like the dude he looked over at the funeral home. He sees similar bite marks on her neck as well. Thomas goes to see Lt. Peters, a detective that investigated the three deaths. He seems to think there is some sort of connection that goes beyond Peters’ assessment that it’s a Black Panther crime. Dr. Thomas wants the gay fro guy’s body released so he can take a closer look at the body.
So, kinda like that scene in the 1931 Dracula where he goes to the opera and meets Dr. Seward and Lucy and Mina and Jonathan? Remember that? Blacula has a scene like that, but it’s done at a nightclub with a badass trio singing a swinging track. He returns Tina’s purse and has a drink with her, Michelle, and Dr. Thomas. While they celebrate Michelle’s birthday, the funeral parlor guy calls the nightclub to tell Thomas that the gay guy’s body is missing.
Before Thomas leaves the nightclub to see into the missing body further, Blacula tries to leave when he’s upset by a girl taking pictures of the party. Tina tries to stop him from leaving but he does anyway, not without first making a plan with her to see her the following night. When they make their goodbyes, the cute little photographer in the little Vegas Showgirl outfit snaps a picture of Tina and Blacula, angering him a bit further. When she goes home (coincidentally, right next door to the club), and develops the photograph, Blacula is not in the picture, only Tina. She’s attacked by Blacula and gets eaten before she can reveal the oddity to anyone. She does stumble outside when a police officer stops nearby and when he tries to help her, she reveals she is now a vampire and bites him.
We are about at the point in the review when I feel this a necessary thing to bring up. There is not a single woman in this movie that isn’t hot as shit. Seriously. I mean, I am an equal opportunity creep, but this is an all-star lineup of some sweet, sweet brown sugar. I doubt anyone can argue with that. The producers of this flick knew how to keep a guy interested.
Okay, so I got that out of my system, let’s get back to the movie.
Even though I made that creepy detour to talk about the ladies of Blacula, the plot takes a crazy leap forward without real warrant to do so. Blacula shows up at Tina’s apartment before their date. He says he has something to tell her. She says it must be about his wife to which he says she is his wife. (Trust me, that line does not work worth a fuck – it just gets you labeled as a weirdo.) She acts like this isn’t the first time she’s been told this and says it can’t be true, even though he says she knows it is. She says she doesn’t know what to believe anymore and wants his help.
What the shit happened here? I think some scenes went by the wayside here because she is not freaked out at all that Blacula said she was his wife and she’s a reincarnated African Princess. In fact, she seems pretty into it to the point she wants this older guy claiming to be her husband from another life to help her sort out everything. She’s either dumb or stupid or possibly ignorant. What? Those are all the same thing? Fuck. At least when he tells her of the little mission they were sent on to stop the slave trade, she says, “The slave trade?” like the rest of us when that plot detail is revealed from the onset. Because it is pretty ridiculous.
But still, this movie is fucking rad.
He plays a little shitty trick on Tina by telling her that he will not take her by force but by her own free will and that he’ll leave to never bother her again. When he leaves, he tells her he’s lived again to lose her a second time. That totally wins her over and she begs for him to stay. Yeah, guys. That is a line that totally works. Play that emo shit and girls will totally go for it!
At the graveyard, Dr. Thomas and Michelle dig up the grave of the other gay guy who was Blacula’s first victim. When he opens the coffin, the dude springs out and attacks Thomas. Again, there’s a piece of connective tissue missing because Dr. Thomas comes prepared with a wooden stake and does in the vampire. Michelle, understandably freaked out is calmed by the doc telling her that he only put him out of his misery because he had been killed by, and turned into, a vampire. Did Dr. Thomas know this all along? Is he a secret vampire expert? Oh fuck it, it’s cool. At least Michelle is dressed as the cutest little gravedigger in the history of cinema.
Dr. Thomas, if you haven’t realized it yet, is our Van Helsing for this movie. So he just knows stuff because he’s the Van Helsing, ya dig? Anyway, this cat has figured out that our sassy cabbie is probably going to become a vampire too, so he calls the morgue to tell the coroner to lock her up in and make sure she can’t get out. The dummy takes her out of the fridge and she wakes up as a sassy vampire crazed and thirsty. She attacks the coroner and kills him. She’s just as crazed as you might expect if you watched her first scene above.
Meanwhile, Blacula has plowed Tina and she’s fallen in love with him. One, this is kinda unsettling because he’s clearly older than her. Forget the character ages because he’s over 200 years old and sweet, sexy Tina is like 20-something. They just don’t look right together because William Marshall is like 200 years old for real.
Dr. Thomas takes Lt. Peters to the morgue to show off the vampire that was the sassy cabbie and makes him believe that there is some supernatural shit going down in the City of Angels. After a discussion of what to do about the missing morgue guy and the gay guy with the afro, both very likely to be vampires too, Dr. Thomas says he’s gotta cut because he’s gotta go check up on something.
That something is a date with Michelle at the club where Tina also meets up with Blacula. Dr. Thomas plays a cat and mouse game with Blacula to ask if he believes in the supernatural and the occult. When Blacula says he’s got a passing interest, Thomas says, “What about the heavy shit?” referring to vampires, the black arts, and devil worship. I’m gonna guess that, again, Dr. Thomas is just being smart and is aware of Blacula being a vampire. I mean, Tina is down for the Blacula dick, but Michelle literally watched a fucking demon explode from a grave the night before and attack her man and got so scared that she had to stay at someone else’s house while he worked with a cop to figure out what’s going on. I guess there’s no better excuse to go to this joint and party. Additionally, Dr. Thomas is definitely an older man, but Blacula is older than he is and Tina is her younger sister. None of this seems to be a problem to Michelle? Get your shit together, baby! There’s some monster shit happening right in front of your eyes!
All joking aside, this is a pretty good scene between Dr. Thomas and Blacula. I think every decent vampire flick needs a scene like this because the vampire is suave and sophisticated despite being an utter monster demon on the inside and the doctor fighting him is learned and usually fairly cool and steely. Also, I love the looks Tina gives as if to be pretty on the edge about her sister’s boyfriend grilling her new fuck buddy. Who also happens to be a demon monster.
Tina and Blacula leave together despite Michelle asking Tina to stay with them where she would be safe. When another friend who goes by “Big Skillet” asks whether or not anyone has seen the cute photographer girl from the other night, they both say they haven’t. Dr. Thomas, because he simply can, goes into the photographer’s house and finds the negative of Tina where Blacula should be with her but doesn’t appear in the picture. Dr. Thomas has all the proof he needs now to prove Blacula is the vampire everyone’s looking for. When Dr. Thomas busts into Tina and Michelle’s place to fight Blacula, he’s quickly defeated long enough for the vampire to run away.
Dr. Thomas, Michelle, and Tina talk to Lt. Peters about trying to find Blacula. When Peters gets a call from a cop who has found the gay guy with the fro Peters and Thomas leave. He leaves a cross with Michelle and tells her to make sure they keep the door closed and locked. Peters and Thomas ultimately pinpoint the warehouse where Blacula’s coffin should be while chasing the gay guy. They go in with two other cops, who I’d like to call Officer Canon and Patrolman Fodder. They find all sorts of other vampires – basically everyone else we’ve seen killed previously as well as others we hadn’t yet. Canon and Fodder get killed and Peters and Thomas bare escape by basically setting the entire joint on fire.
When they escape, they run square into Blacula who tells them he moved the coffin so their search will ultimately be fruitless. Dr. Thomas and Michelle plead with Tina to join them in stopping Blacula. She reluctantly agree to help them. She’s pretty bummed out about it all and I’m curious as to why exactly. It’s not like older vampire flicks where she’s in some sort of hypnotic spell to be with him. She just generally agreed that she was some reincarnated African Princess. That’s not what’s been shown at all. However, when the police are keeping too close an eye on the situation, he telepathically communicates with her to tell her where to go. Then, it’s as if she’s caught in some spell. We were all straight forward before. He’s just a vampire who makes other vampires. Now, he’s got all sorts of new powers we hadn’t seen before. What is this, the end of Superman II?
So she walks way the hell out to Blacula’s new home to be with him. I guess he’s no longer interested in allowing her to keep her free will, but whatever, he’s a vampire and can do this shit if he wants I guess. At least I can assume it was her free will that allowed her to wear her thigh high go-go boots to meet up with her man. (By the way, she’s totally wearing thigh high black boots because it’s the early 70s and that shit is hot, along with every other short skirt Vonetta McGee has worn in this movie.)
Cops flood the building Blacula calls home but start to get killed off easily because, duh, they are dumb beat cops. Peters, Thomas, and Michelle show up to join the chase. As they enter the building a dumbass cop tries shooting Blacula but hits Tina instead. Now, Blacula has to turn her into a vampire simply to save her life. That’s kind of a bummer, isn’t it? I mean, I guess not for Blacula. But Tina was killed by stupidity and then had to be turned into a vampire. So everything Dr. Thomas and Michelle tried to do to help Tina was ultimately for naught. At least Blacula gets to kill off some more dumb beat cops. You kinda have to side with Blacula at this point because he wasn’t really trying to kill Tina, but she died anyway. Can you blame the guy for getting a little pissed off about how all this played out?
Not only that, but the final insult to our heroes happens when Dr. Thomas and Lt. Peters finds Blacula’s coffin. When they open it and stake the body inside, thinking it will be Blacula, it turns out to be Tina! So there’s no coming back from that shit when you’re a vampire. I mean, I don’t know if this movie’s rules would have also allowed for an ending where she would be freed from her curse if they killed Blacula or what. It’s all kind of a giant kick in the balls.
After he realizes Tina’s gone for good, Blacula does himself in by walking into the sunlight and burning to death. What a bummer, man.
I know I had a lot of fun with this movie, but it really isn’t bad. It’s no wonder that it has retained its popularity over the decades. This is absolutely a controversial statement, but it’s not overly “black” or “urban” or anything of the like. It’s a movie made for black folks, but manages to be its own movie and stands on its own. William Marshall is definitely a great vampire. The characters are generally likable too. Unlike some other movies of this genre, there’s not a great deal of race baiting or overmuch distrust of whites to blacks and vice versa. It’s just a horror movie in which the main characters both bad and good are black. In fact, the only guy who uses the word “nigger” in a negative way toward a black guy IS a black guy. Gays, on the other hand don’t do so well in this movie, but unfortunately for them, those were the times.
While not an overly great performance, I have to say that in one fleeting instant, a smile flashed by Vonetta McGee held more emotion and likability than however many of those movies Kristen Stewart made for that damned Twilight series.
Next week we continue our Vampire Halloween theme and also stick to a theme of diversity where several people of different races work together to stop some crazy chicks who turn a virgin into a killing machine. Sorta? Anyway, come back for 2005’s Night Fangs.