Cast: William Marshall, Denise Nichols, Vonetta McGee, Thalamus Rasulala
Director: William Crain
Nutshell: Anti-slavery crusader is turned into world’s first vampire of African origin!
“some terrific shocks and some very lively dialogue” Maltin
“One of the best of the blaxploitation films, eschewing cheap thrills for honest terror and hip humour” Blockbuster Guide
“surprisingly well done shocker- fierce and energetic” Video Movies Guide
“Disappointing” Time Out
“successful blending of blaxploitation and horror” Cult Flicks & Trash Pics
“Bloody good fun” Creature Features
“easily one of the best (black exploitation films ever)” Virgin Movie Guide
The film begins in 1780 with African prince Mamuwalde and his luscious wife visiting Transylvania in order to lobby for inclusion in an early form of United Nations so that he can protest his views on slavery. The host, Count Dracula scoffs at the Dark Continent deeply insulting Mamuwalde, but worse is to follow as both the prince and princess are set upon by Dracula’s vampires and poor Mamuwalde is then condemned to an eternal life as a the worlds first vampire of African origin; Blacula.
After a particularly stylish animated title sequence we move on to the present era where we see that a gay couple are keen on purchasing the remains of Dracula’s Transylvanian castle and having them shipped back to L.A. Among the relics from the castle are a several coffins, one of them occupied by the long dormant vampire Blacula/Mamuwalde. As the couple excitedly examine their new Transylvanian acquisitions they fail to notice one of the coffin lids stirring and the ghastly form of Blacula rising up. Moments later both the gay men are victim to the blood lust of the resurrected Mamuwalde who then returns to his coffin thoroughly satisfied for the first time in ages. Its not long after hitting the streets of L.A. that Mamuwalde catches a glimpse of the a woman who is the spitting image of his wife of centuries ago Loova. He pursues this woman relentlessly through the streets, ruthlessly destroying anyone who crosses his path.
The horrors multiply as those who fall prey to Mamuwalde turn into bloodthirsty vampires themselves moments after being infected with Blacula’s dreadful bite and search for victims of their own. Soon there is a whole infestation of hungry vampires prowling the area near the warehouse where Blacula’s coffin is housed. Marshall does a great job in the title role, resisting the urge to camp it up and turning in a deadly serious performance as the condemned African vampire.
There are good performances from Thalamus Rasulala, who could hardly go wrong with a name as fabulous as his though Vonetta McGee as Blacula’s reincarnated wife Tina is wooden and appears uneasy. There are some great scenes along the way such as the moment when Blacula first rises from his coffin to attack the gay couple, rendering them history’s first gay vampires. There are some delightful moments at the local club where punters are entertained by a highly talented R’n’B trio whose amazing vocal range is matched by their equally cheesy dance routine. The club serves as the place where Blacula rekindles his lost relationship with his long lost reincarnated wife. The most startling and easily the most effective scene of the film is a Night of the Living Dead like moment of terror at the warehouse when all Blacula’s victims start to rise up for their evening meal, looking suitably ghoulish and zombie-like. The background music too is bizarre with Shaftesque stretches interspersed with some quite effectively chilling “horror” music.
Another memorable scene is at the morgue when one of the corpses slowly twitches to life and then comes exploding out of the room like a raving banshee to ravage the hook-handed attendant. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the movie other than the obvious is the way in which the film ends which is quite a departure from normal vampire procedure and refreshingly original. It also manages to stop short of vilifying Blacula, presenting him instead as a victim of the vile racist Dracula who cursed him to a life of bloodlust.
The film is a wonderful genre offshoot and illustrates just how popular and all pervasive the “vampire culture” is within modern horror. Unfortunately the plot line is wafer thin and largely involves Blacula chasing after his lovely wife around the cool soul clubs of L.A. But despite its weak script and lack of plot as well as the incredibly cheap made-for-TV 70’s feel, the film still retains a position of reverence among vampire movies of the world and deserves most accolades (and a few stinging criticisms) that have come its way. William Marshall’s excellent portrayal of the cursed creature of the night will always be fondly remembered. (William Marshall passed away the week of 14-6-03 after a long battle against illness. He will be sorely missed and very fondly remembered – Bless him).