Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"I Curse You With My Name! You Shall Be...Blacula!!!"

Let's jump right into this quickie review of perhaps the first Blaxploitation movie I ever saw, 1972's Blacula...and while we're at it, the follow-up, 1973's Scream Blacula Scream

The first time I saw it, I was probably around 10 years old or so and switched on the TV to some UHF station.  I remember it was sunny outside, but once I caught my first glance of William Marshall as the Black Prince of Darkness I sat it out until the end. Revisiting it the other day, I could still see the finale as clear as on that sunny afternoon of my youth when Blacula mounts the stairs...Well, I don't want to say too much.

So, the movie opens with African prince Mamuwalde (Marshall) and his lovely wife at Count Dracula's castle trying to convince the Count to join him on a campaign to get the European powers to end slavery.  The Count, more than a little dismissive of the proposition, starts a fight and gives Mamuwalde the damning bite of the vampire before sealing him with his wife into an oubliette in the castle walls. Years later, in the 1970's, two offensively flamingly gay antiques dealers buy the castle and set Blacula free. But in his quest to wed the young Tina (Vonetta McGee), the spitting image of his dead wife (could be because she played his dead wife in the opening sequence... ;-) ), he leaves a trail of newly undead shambling around which put the disbelieving cops on his trail. 

I'll just say now that summarizing Scream Blacula Scream is a spoiler alert in and of itself. So much for my effort to not give away the ending of Blacula above. When an aged voodoo priestess dies and chooses her apprentice Lisa (Pam Grier) over her son Willis (Richard Lawson) to take over their group, Willis resurrects Blacula to exact his revenge. However, Willis merely ends up a vampire himself, while Blacula tries to get Lisa to exorcise him of the evil bestowed upon him by Count Dracula while, once again, the cops are closing in due to all the non-corpse corpses running around.

Now, neither one of these movies was ever meant to be award-winners but both were quite enjoyable, thought not without considerable shortcomings. First of all, one has to get past the name Blacula, and the ludicrous way it's worked into the plot (see Drac's quote in the review title above).  From there, the first film is a fairly by the numbers vampire flick whose main difference is its urban setting and black cast. William Marshall does his damnedest to add enough gravitas to keep the proceedings from delving into purely hokey drivel, and he's fantastic at creating a sympathetic villain.  The filmmakers, however, can't seem to resist adding enough cornball to keep it from being something more akin to Shaft: The Vampire Years (which, to my mind, would've been awesome)...still, it does fair far better than Blackenstein (1973).

Scream Blacula Scream is much the same only it can't help but just get purely silly.  To set the tone: Moments after Willis performs his voodoo resurrection rites over the bones of Blacula (which must've been cow bones or some large animal because they're far too large and thick to be human bones), he leaves the room, plunks down in a chair, and drinks a cool Coors with his back to the room he just left, leaving himself wide open for resurrected vampire attack.  At least it makes sense why his mom didn't pick him to take over.  The rest of move pretty much follows suit. Sadly, the effects have gotten better since the first film, but like I said, everything else has gotten sillier. 

On a side note, both films contain fantastic graphic displays for their title sequences...if you're into that sort of thing. 

So in summary: If you're just looking for a good time and a good laugh...something to go with a cool Coors 12 oz. on a lazy afternoon or weekend evening...then, by all means, enjoy Blacula and its sequel. If, however, you want a surreal arty conceptualization of a black vampire, I recommend Bill Gunn's wild Ganja and Hess (1973).

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