Blacula original movie poster

MOVIE REVIEW (RETRO): Blacula (1972)

Blacula

By Dixielord

The 1970s were the time of the exploitation films and spawned many subgenres.  One of the more famous, or infamous, depending on who you asked, were the blackspolitation films. These in turn were so popular and lucrative that these  films developed their own subgenre. Among those were boxing, crime, musical and my favorite, the horror subgenre. Horror blacksploitation consisted of films such as Abby, Blackenstein, and Blacula, among others. Blacula, released in 1972 was the first of these films.

William Marshall as Blacula

William Marshall is Blacula

Blacula was directed by William Crain and starred William Marshall and Vonetta McGee. It's largely due to the commanding presence of Marshall that the film is lifted above other blacksploitaion films and its somewhat silly name. Blacksploitation films have a mixed representation among critics. Some praise them for offering roles to black actors and directors and exposing black culture across racial lines, others decry them for reinforcing racial stereotypes. In my opinion, most of the films are guilty, to some extent, of both. While Blacula does have some unfortunate stereotypes, and is a bit too comfortable with throwing out homophobic references, overall it's a much better film than its name implies.

Blacula is the story of Mamuwalde, an African prince who travels to Europe to seek an end to the slave trade. Unfortunately, one of the heads of state he meets is Dracula. As it turns out not only is Drac a blood drinking vamp, he is also a bit of a racist who thinks the institution of slavery is just dandy.

Dracula from Blacula

We knew Dracula was evil vampire, but in Blacula he is also pro slavery.

He puts the bite on Mamuwalde and locks him in a coffin to spend eternity thirsting and starving for blood. Fast forward to modern (1970s) times where two interior decorators buy the Dracula estate and have it shipped stateside. There they open Dracula’s coffin and inadvertently wake the fledgling vampire. The former Mamuwalde wastes no time recruiting the two into his service. Later he happens across the beautiful Tina (Vonetta McGee) who is the spitting image of his long lost love Luva. Not shocking since she was played by McGee in the pre title sequence.

Mamuwalde begins a courtship with Tina that attracts the attention of Dr. Gordon Thomas, the boyfriend of Tina's sister. Thomas is a pathologist for the LA police department and is played by blackspolitation regular Thalmus Rasulala. Mamuwalde confesses his love (and undead existence) to Tina, and she, believing she is the reincarnation of Luva, makes plans to go away with him. Meanwhile Thomas, deducing the truth, moves to stop Blacula.

When it was released Blacula was a huge commercial success, despite mixed critical opinions. It is my favorite blacksploitation horror film and one of my favorite vampire films of all time. The film does have a few racial stereotypes, but they aren't glaring or extremely offensive. Its portrayal of two gay characters and the casual use of the word “faggot” by the film's heroes is a bit more offensive. Although the 70s were a different time and the film probably accurately portrays the language of the time, it's still one of the more objectionable parts.

It's tempting to say Marshall is the only thing that lifts Blacula above other films of the genre, and a lot of critics do. You cannot downplay his presence, physical stature, and his acting ability, but even without him the film is a great horror movie. Blacula has a Gothic feel that harkens to the great horror films of Universal and Hammer, with warehouses substituted for castles and night clubs for taverns.

And while Blacula is no emo sparkler, he’s downright bloodthirsty at times, he is one of the more sympathetic vampires to be put to film. His whole undead life is due to his fight to free his people. Not only that, but as a vampire he refuses to take his reincarnated love by force. In many scenes in Blacula, and even more so in the sequel, Scream, Blacula, Scream, Marshall shows a range of emotions that other vamps have never shown on film. The films ending puts it squarely in the realm of a classic tragedy as the noble count once again loses his love and decides to end his eternal life.

Original poster for Scream, Blacula Scream

Sequel to Blacula; Scream, Blacula Scream

If there is one flaw in Blacula that bothers me, it is that it tends to shift between Mamuwalde being a vicious creature of the night and a love sick character out of time. I really like the more emotional Mamuwalde, but sometimes the shift happens with little reason. I can understand his unwillingness to kill Thomas, even his running from him, as Tina implores him not to hurt him. But at other times he seems to randomly shift from vicious to somber.

An added bonus to Blacula is the musical performances by The Hues Corporation. The band, best known for the 1974 hit Rock the Boat, perform two songs during the night club scene. The soundtrack and score, using upbeat funk and jazz unlike traditional horror which relied more on classical and somber music. It's another small piece of what makes Blacula stand out in the horror genre as a whole.

Overall, Blacula is a standout of the blackspoitation genre and a must see for anyone calling himself a horror fan. It has flaws, and overly sensitive people may rankle at the homophobic slurs, but it's a great film and a slice of 70s film nostalgia. Plus it has William Marshall, one of the most underrated, and underused actors of his generation. At the time of this review, Blacula is streaming on multiple platforms and available on different media, including Blu-ray and a double feature DVD with its sequel Scream, Blacula Scream.

Posted by Allen Alberson

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