I’m not even going to beat around the bush. Blacula is awesome on so many levels that I can’t believe it’s taken me 42 years to see it.
I tried so hard to wait for the upcoming Scream Factory Blu-Ray release of Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream but the street date isn’t until sometime in February so I relied upon my backup recorded from TCM.
The story’s pretty basic. In the late 18th century, Prince Mamuwalde (William H. Marshall) seeks Dracula’s help in stopping the slave trade. Dracula turns him into a vampire (hence the name Blacula) and imprisons Mamuwalde’s wife in the room to die as she looks upon his coffin.
Two hundred years later, interior designers purchase items from Dracula’s castle and ship them to Los Angeles. One of those items is the coffin containing Blacula, who, once released, begins to leave a trail of bodies and turned vampires in his wake as he woos Tina (Vonetta McGee), a dead ringer for Mamuwalde’s wife.
Again, the vampire story’s pretty standard. But the execution? A thing of joy.
Blacula wastes no time in telling its tale. Almost immediately, and without suspicion, Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala, who played the dad in several episodes of What’s Happening?) knows something’s amiss and it doesn’t take him much longer to pin the blame on vampire attacks. Tina becomes enamored of Blacula rather quickly, even after he blatantly lays out who he is and she doesn’t bat an eye. Finally, there’s the pursuit of Blacula by Thomas and the authorities (also in a hurry to jump on the vampire bandwagon) that includes a multi-vampire attack in a warehouse where a random open box filled with kerosene lamps provides an array of handy available weapons.
Underneath it all, Blacula is really a love story with Mamuwalde’s pursuit of Tina acting as the main spine of the story. The vampire aspect of the story is just gravy, but a tasty one at that. In fact, modern day stories of the undead could use a lesson about pacing from Blacula. Get in and get out. There’s no need to linger.
While watching Blacula, I couldn’t help thinking of The Strain, the FX series I reviewed this past summer. In it, several of the main characters (including Eph, the one we’re supposed to identify most with) just can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that people are being transformed into vampires by a virus. It takes them forever to catch on to anything and, as a result, the show sometimes seems sluggish. Not so with Blacula–they know that vampires walk and will do anything to stop them.
Blacula arrived near the beginning of the 70s “blaxpoitation” craze and is completely a product of that era. There are slick talking guys, one with the name of Skillet (Ji-Tu Cumbuka, who I remember fondly from a very short lived 1979 series entitled A Man Called Sloane where he played Torque) that provide comic relief. Afros? Check, especially on Tina’s sister, Michelle (Denise Nicholas, Room 222). What about an appearance from a musical act on the film’s soundtrack that lasts much longer than it should? Yes–the Hues Corporation, best known for their #1 1974 hit “Rock The Boat”, are here as well performing two of their songs.
Blacula has it all. There’s nothing you won’t love about the film and I highly recommend purchasing the Blu-Ray upon its release in February. Scream Factory usually includes some cool extras on it, but even if the disc is sparse, the film’s content alone is worth the price!
Blacula grade: A