Blacula
U.S.A. / 1972
Directed by William Crain
Starring
William Marshall
Thalmus Rasulala
Vonetta McGee
Color / 93 Minutes / PG
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
MGM Home Entertainment
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2009 Blacula reissue

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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
6
    5   10 = Highest Rating  
Replaces EC's July 2001 review of the VHS edition
With 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 lustily.
    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 fiancιe 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,
Blacula 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
the initial 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).
    Rasulala 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.

Blacula 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
UPDATE 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.
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