Blacula (1972)

It is unfortunate that blaxploitation earned a reputation as being rather silly.  Some of the movies were, to be honest, not that great, and one begins to encounter that after a bit of digging beneath the more famous titles, but there was also a bit of a perception problem caused by the producers and studios.  The poster for Blacula, for instance, makes it look like this is some sort of horror comedy, with the painted-on blood and ridiculous stake coming out of the title character.  It is truly one of the worst movie posters of the time and doesn't do the film justice. 

Despite the exploitative title first-time director William Crain took the script by Joan Torres and Raymond Koenig and made a serious urban horror film.  It isn't anything that breaks the mold as it is at heart a retelling of Dracula set in 1972 Los Angeles, but it has enough creativity and a sympathetic villain at the center to set it apart.  Horror fans have long known this and the movie is held in decent regard despite being the butt of jokes regarding '70s exploitation flicks.

Mamuwalde (William Marshall) and his wife Luva (Vonetta McGee) are sent as representatives of their African tribe to Europe to establish relations and attempt to end the slave trade.  In 1780 they arrive at Castle Dracula, where the Count (Charles Macauley) mocks them and, after Mamuwalde puts up resistance, he is turned into a vampire and cursed to be known as Blacula.  He is then locked in a coffin from which he cannot escape, cursed to crave blood eternally and never get it, while Luva is walled in to die a slow death.

In 1972 Bobby McCoy (Ted Harris) and his partner Billy Shaffer (Rick Metzler) purchase the castle and everything within it in order to move it all to Los Angeles and make money off the Dracula legend.  Unaware that a locked coffin contains a living monster they open it and are immediately attacked and fed upon.  While waiting in a funeral home for Bobby to turn Mamuwalde gets a glimpse of  a woman named Tina (McGee) and thinks that she is Luva.  He initially frightens her when he confronts her on the street, but she warms to him.  Meanwhile Tina's friend Dr. Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) becomes curious about the state of Bobby's corpse and begins investigating.  When the body disappears and others turn up in a similar state he begins to believe that a vampire is on the loose, something he soon convinces Lt. Jack Peters (Gordon Pinset) of as well.  While Dr. Thomas searches for the head vampire Mamuwalde and Tina fall for each other despite her knowing what he really is. 

If the reincarnation plot sounds familiar it was first done in The Mummy, with Imhotep believing Helen to be the resurrection of his lost love.  Blacula is the first time it appears in a vampire movie and could be an uncredited influence on Bram Stoker's Dracula, in which Mina was the reincarnation of the title character's wife.  Who Mamuwalde is, and his tenderness toward Tina and desire to rekindle part of his own humanity, also seems to be an influence on Francis Ford Coppola's film.  The advantage in Blacula is that the character is played by stage actor and opera singer William Marshall who brings his experience, as well as his booming bass voice, to play and gives the character the humanity it needs. 

It is too bad Thalmus Rasulala is not mentioned as much since Dr. Gordon Thomas is just as much a key player in Blacula as Mamuwalde and Tina.  He plays the Van Helsing role, doing the research and leading the hunt against Mamuwalde and the vampires he and his minions have created.  He provides an anchor for what is going on, being both pragmatic as well as willing to believe in something that should be impossible. 

As for the film itself, it does have some of the usual blaxploitation trappings, including the musical numbers, this time courtesy of the Hues Corporation performing in a Los Angeles club and a funky theme song to go over the animated credits.  What it doesn't have is a lot of the negative stereotypes such as pushers and pimps that are in most of these films.  That doesn't mean there aren't some "of the time" moments that do show up, since Bobby and Billy are an obvious gay interracial couple, and rather than do anything revolutionary with it they are played as gay stereotypes for a laugh.  

On the horror end Crain mainly gets things right.  There are a number of memorable scenes with several of the vampires providing jump scares.  The way they are presented, and some of the makeup, may recall The Omega Man a bit, but it works.  There are some times when things aren't focused and some ADR issues, but this is a low-budget production from American International, and Crain was still getting his footing as a director.  His only other feature is the lesser-known Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde, with most of his work over the years being in television.  

Ignore the poster and ignore the snarky jokes.  While Blacula isn't rewriting vampires or doing anything revolutionary it is still a solid horror film that deserves a serious watch as this contains some great acting, a memorable monster and one heck of an ending as well.  

Blacula (1972)
Time: 93 minutes
Starring: William Marshall, Vonetta McGhee, Thalmus Rasulala
Director: William Crain



  1. I remember it was pretty good for a low budget movie though the moving a castle to LA thing seemed like a clumsy device. The stereotypical gay couple didn't help sell it either.


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