Blacula

WiHM: Pam Grier

WiHM: Pam Grier

Pam Grier, Women in Horror Month
When you first think of Women in Horror, you might not think of Pam Grier. Pam is more famous for her early career in exploitation cinema than in horror. However, she has had roles in several horror movies and is well known to most horror fans. February is not only Women in Horror Month, it is also Black History Month, so it seemed the perfect time shine a spotlight on Pam.
Pam's career started in the early 70s when she was cast by Jack Hill in two “women in prison” films. The 70s were the time of exploitation films, and the women in prison film was a sleazy and popular subgenre. These films lead to a long association with director Jack Hill and exploitation films, including two of her more famous early films, Coffy and Foxy Brown. It also lead to sharing the screen on multiple occasions with horror icon and all around great guy Sid Haig.
Pam Grier in Jackie Brown
Exploitation films of the era were controversial in about every way possible. The women in prison films were criticized for their portrayal of women and the violence against women. It's hard to argue that the films generally presented women characters in a good light. However with Pam Grier, the genre found a strong woman, cable of going toe to toe with men and even headline her own films. With Coffy in 1973 Pan became the first African American, female lead in an action film.
More films in the blackspolitation genre followed, they were all controversial at the time for perpetuating black stereotypes. While a lot, if not all of that is true, it also gave rise, and jobs to many black actors and directors who otherwise might not have found jobs. Still the criticism almost certainly hurt and limited Pam's career at the time. However today many look back more favorably on Pam's early career. They see her as a strong female, willing to do what it takes, and fully able of kicking ass on her own.
It was also in 1973 that Pam made her horror debut in Scream Blacula Scream. This was a sequel to the popular film Blacula, and part of the genre that has been dubbed Blackspolitaion horror. While still displaying some unfortunate black and gay stereotypes, Blacula was listed by it's lead William Marshall, and is considered one of the better films of the genre. In Scream Blacula Scream, the titular bloodsucker is revived and quickly falls in love with voodoo queen Pam Grier. I can't say I blame him.. Blacula and it's sequel have attained cult status, and Scream Blacula Scream put Pam squarely into the hearts of true horror fans.
Ms. Grier spends most of the rest of the 70s making exploitation films such as Foxy Brownand Friday Foster. In the 80s she delves again into the horror genre, with films like The Vindicator, (very) loosely based on the Frankenstein story, and an adaptation of Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. Exploitation cinema is rapidly winding down and Pam finds work in more mainstream film and television, including a recurring role on Miami Vice. Her roles, even though more mainstream, aren't as high profile.
The 90s saw a major revival for Pam, with roles in genre favorites Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, Mars Attacks, and John Carpenter's Escape from LA. While none of them are strictly horror films, they put her back in front of horror fans. In 2001, she teamed with Carpenter again for Ghosts of Mars, a sci fi/horror re-imagining of his classic Assault on Precinct 13. That same year she also appeared in the urban horror film Bonesalongside rapper Snoop Dogg and a young Katharine Isabelle.
Pam Grier is still active today although she hasn't appeared in a horror film since the early 2000s. She now holds two honorary PhDs and is still the strong beautiful woman her fans remember from the 70s. Those films – and Pam's characters – may be controversial, but she was a role model for all women and for black women especially. Horror and exploitation films have a history of treating women with little or no respect. More often than not they are consigned as the victim, or just to provide sex appeal by appearing nude on film. While Pam did do her share of nude scenes, she was never the helpless victim. She fought back, against men and women, many times along. Foxy Brown, Coffy, and Friday Fosterwere strong women who did what they had to do to survive and to protect their loved ones. But Pam was more than just someone who played a strong character on screen. In real life she was just as strong.
In 1988 Pam was diagnosed with Stage Four Cancer. She was reportedly given only 18 months to live, but like Coffy and Foxy, she didn't give up. She fought and survived and is now cancer free. She credits eastern medicines, but how much had to simply be her will to fight on?
In 2011 she released a memoir, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts. In it Pam reveals that she was raped as a child of six years old and again at age 18. She was assaulted a third time but managed to fight off her attacker. From being victimized as a child, she rose to become the epitome of a strong woman on screen because Pam Grier was a strong woman in real life. She survived rape, she survived cancer, and her career survived the downfall of the blacksploitation film craze. I am proud to call myself a Pam Grier fan and honored to do this humble spotlight on her for Women in Horror Month.
Posted by Allen Alberson in TRIBUTE, WOMEN IN HORROR, 0 comments
MOVIE REVIEW (RETRO): Blacula (1972)

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 in MOVIE REVIEWS, REVIEWS, 0 comments