EC's July 2001 review of the VHS edition
= Highest Rating
the "Blaxploitation" trend of the early to mid-1970s,
a movie of this nature an African-American Dracula on the
prowl in modern day L.A. was inevitable. Fortunately for the
film and the audience, Blacula
has in its leading man an actor of William Marshall's caliber
and screen presence. The classically trained thespian comports
himself with dignity and a panache above and beyond the call
of the material and its meager budget.
Marshall, best known to the public as the
mad Dr. Daystrom from the classic "Ultimate Computer"
episode of original Star Trek (as well as the King of
Cartoons on Pee-Wee's Playhouse), really throws himself
into the role. With his regal bearing and rich baritone voice
he's easily the American equivalent of Christopher Lee only
his performance as the cursed African prince Mamuwalde is substantially
better than many of Lee's turns as Dracula. For one thing, he's
given much more dialog and screen time.
In a pre-titles prologue set in the late
1700s we are introduced to Mamuwalde and his bride Luva (Vonetta
McGee of The Great Silence),
who are on an embassy to Europe on behalf of their nation. A
Western-educated prince of the Niger River delta's Ibani tribe,
Mamuwalde is touring the continent to enlist aid in ending the
slave trade. Unfortunately for him and his wife, their travels
bring them to the dinner table of a certain Transylvanian nobleman,
Count Dracula (Charles McCaulay, Brute
Corps). Not only does the Count insult him, he bites him
on the neck as well. Locking Mamuwalde in a coffin, Dracula
condemns him to an eternity of unrequited thirst cursing him
with his own name and dubbing him "Blacula". Luva
is sealed up in the chamber to starve, doomed to hear her undead
husband's cries of agony from within his prison.
Animated credits treat us
to an upbeat funky soul groove that leaves the 18th Century
far behind. Two gay interior decorators from California are
in Europe on a business trip buying antiques. After signing
a deal for the contents of Castle Dracula, everything
including a certain coffin is
shipped back to a warehouse in Los Angeles. While examining
the shipment (at night, of course) they unknowingly free Mamuwalde
from the coffin and are attacked. (Whenever Blacula is about
to put the bite on a victim he suddenly sprouts extra facial
hair a la Mr. Hyde, including extra-bushy eyebrows, muttonchops,
and a widow's peak.) Replenished with fresh blood, the Prince
is further delighted when he happens upon a stylish, nearly
floor-length cape in the warehouse. Accentuating his wardrobe,
Mamuwalde climbs back into his coffin for a few more Zs, laughing
Hip police forensics scientist Dr. Gordon
Thomas (TV and Blaxploitation movie vet Thalmus Rasulala) is
puzzled by the mysterious death of one of the designers, Bobby,
a childhood friend of Gordon's fianc้e Michelle (lovely Denise
Nicholas of TV's Room 222). As more bodies begin turning
up and people disappear, Dr. Thomas slowly comes to the realization
that vampires could possibly exist. When
a dead female cab driver rises from the slab and attacks a morgue
attendant, Thomas's skeptical white friend, LAPD lieutenant
Jack Peters (Colossus: The Forbin Project's
Gordon Pinsent), is brought in on the hunt. In the meantime,
Michelle's sister Tina who happens to
look exactly like the long-departed Luva (and is again played
by McGee) is being romanced by a tall mysterious stranger
in a cape...
Politically incorrect by today's standards,
manages to stereotype blacks, whites and gays all at the same
time, a common denominator of low budget '70s exploitation fare.
The kitschy, obligatory musical number during
nightclub scene will be a good time to raid the fridge. Yet
it's a surprisingly entertaining B-movie that still elicits
a scare or two in between the unintentional laughs, particularly
the slow motion attack on Sam the morgue attendant (Elisha Cook
Jr., sporting one of the phoniest-looking "hook hands"
I've ever seen).
fills the vampire hunter role nicely here. He's a likable, action-oriented
guy who's not afraid to take a flying leap at the undead, stake
in hand, with all the vigor and determination of Peter Cushing's
Van Helsing in Horror of Dracula.
Marshall completely steals the show, though, as Mamuwalde
invoking both a hissable villain (though I suspect urban audiences
at the time were expected to cheer Blacula's thrashing of white
cops) and a sympathetic character who doesn't deserve his fate.
has just been released on DVD by MGM, along with its 1973 sequel
(Scream, Blacula, Scream),
under the company's Soul Cinema label. (The films could've
just as easily been issued as part of the Midnite Movie
line.) Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Blacula
looks and sounds better than it ever has before
and the low
price is certainly right!
While no extras are included besides the trailer
(a drive-in classic unto itself), cult film fans can now rejoice
that "Dracula's Soul Brother" has been resurrected in
the Digital Age. 1/23/04
This DVD (and that of the sequel) went OOP in 2008. On September
1, 2009 MGM is reissuing the discs in a nicely priced Soul
Cinema "two-fer" set.