BLU-RAY REVIEW: BLACULA - THE COMPLETE COLLECTION / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: WILLIAM CRAIN, BOB KELLJAN / SCREENPLAY: RAYMOND KOENIG, JOAN TORRES, MAURICE JULES / STARRING: WILLIAM MARSHALL, VONETTA MCGEE, DENISE NICHOLAS, GORDON PINSENT, PAM GRIER, DOM MITCHELL / DATE OF RELEASE: OCTOBER 27TH
When the ‘blaxploitation’ genre exploded in the 1970s – ‘black exploitation’ films ostensibly aimed at a black urban audience (but which actually reached out to a far broader church) – it was inevitable that super cool titles like Shaft and Superfly would lead to studios chasing after a slice of the always profitable horror film pie. Blacula appeared in 1972, an extraordinary footnote to the story of Dracula on the big screen. It might well have appeared bold and audacious in the 1970s but in 2014 Blacula just looks fantastically dated and sensationally ill-judged and clumsy, an amusing title in search of a decent film.
Visiting Castle Dracula in 1780, Prince Mamuwalde (Marshall) and his wife Luva (McGee) fall foul of the vampire lord’s bloodlust when Dracula refuses to assist the prince in his fight against the slave trade. Bitten and imprisoned in a coffin, Mamuwalde wakes up in Los Angeles in 1972 (the timeshift never remotely bothers him); after slaughtering two ludicrously stereotyped camp interior decorators, Mamuwalde stalks the streets of Los Angeles in search of Tina Williams who, as luck would have it, is a dead ringer for his long-dead wife.
Racial and sexual stereotypes aside, Blacula is lightweight fun, its shonky production values and inelegant action sequences shored up by the powerful and commanding presence of Marshall as the titular vampire. Blacula is more avuncular than animalistic and whilst the film’s plot occasionally mirrors the plot of Stoker’s Dracula novel, it more often goes its own way and its funky, bass-heavy incidental music is in itself a thing of joy.
1973’s sequel Scream, Blacula, Scream is a more accomplished and confident affair – but oddly much less fun. Marshall’s vampire is much more feral here and the whole film is gutsier and more assured, with better direction from newcomer Kelljan. Mamuwalde (he finally – and rather ludicrously – calls himself ‘Blacula’ at the end of the film) ingratiates himself with a group of squabbling voodoo practitioners in the hope that their rituals can rid him of the ‘demon’ within him which has made him a vampire. And he would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for… oh, never mind.
Never have the words ‘a product of their time’ seemed more appropriate than in relation to the Blacula films. Produced at a period when Hollywood was finally starting to recognise the importance and profile of the black audience, they now appear a little patronising and heavy-handed. Blacula looks bright and shiny in its new Blu-ay transfer (particularly in its daytime sequences) but the sequel is noticeably grainier. Both films are worth a look for Marshall’s fruity cod-Shakespearean tones alone; just don’t expect anything with the bite even of one of Hammer’s tamer 1960s efforts.
Extras: Introduction by Kim Newman introduction / Trailers / Booklet