Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Blacula

I probably should have watched it back in October when TCM ran it, but I only got around to watching Blacula over the weekend. It's on both DVD and Blu-ray in a double feature with its sequel Scream Blacula Scream (which I have on my DVR but haven't gotten around to watching yet).

As you can probably guess from the title, "Blacula" is a portmanteau of "Black" and "Dracula". The movie starts off with an origin scene, set in Transylvania in the late 19th century. Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) is visiting the count with his wife Luva (Vonetta McGee) to try to get the count to do something to help stop the slave trade. The count, however, has other ideas, especially after Mamuwale is offended by the count's views on slavery. The count bites Mamuwalde, which of course turns Mamuwalde into a vampire himself; the poor guy is sealed in a coffin to await its reopening.

That reopening doesn't come until 1972, when a pair of obviously gay interior decorators travel from Los Angeles to Transylvania to look for some groovy kitsch, and boy do they find it in Transylvania. (The fact that Transylvania was behind the Iron Curtain at the time is completely overlooked.) Of course, they don't know that that coffin they're buying has a vampire in it. They open it up, and Mamuwalde, now Blacula, comes out and bites both men to death before starting his rampage through Los Angeles.

Of course the two interior decorators are found dead, and when one of them turns out to be a friend of a forensic scientist Dr. Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) and his girlfriend Michelle (Denise Nicholas), Thomas visits the funeral home and notices the odd bite marks on the dead man's head. And then another murder victim gets brought into the morgue (run by Elisha Cook Jr. in a small role), which causes Dr. Thomas to put two and two together.

Meanwhile, Blacula is going out on the town every night and runs into Dr. Thomas, Michelle, and Michelle's friend Tina. Tina looks amazingly like Luva, which should be unsurprising considering that Tina is also played by Vonetta McGee. Blacula wants Tina as his princess. Can Dr. Thomas stop Blacula before it's too late?

Blacula is another of those hugely entertaining movies. The story is pretty good, at least as far as Dracula movies go. There's only so much you can do with the story before you get to ludicrous. Updating the story the then modern-day Los Angeles works well. Although Dr. Thomas begins to suspect vampirism, nobody else does and he has to prove it to them, which seems like a plausible way of handling things. Just don't expect too much horror here.

One weakness is that the movie seems uneven at times. There are some really fun scenes, split by scenes that come across as having incredibly wooden acting. There's also the plot hole that once Dr. Thomas figures out he's dealing with a vampire, he doesn't find more crucifixes to give the police, which causes problems in the climax. 1970s soul group The Hues Corporation, best known for their hit "Rock the Boat" a few years after this movie, are on hand in the nightclub to sing a couple of songs.

If you haven't seen Blacula before, I can highly recommend it for the sheer fun it provides.

2 comments:

Wendell Ottley said...

So glad you watched and enjoyed this. It's a movie I've seen a number of times and have had fun with it each time. The sequel isn't as good, but still worth a watch. I had no idea they were on blu-ray, though. I might have to upgrade from the DVD I have.

Ted S. (Just a Cineast) said...

For what it's worth, here's Blacula at the TCM Shop. Elisha Cook makes pretty much anything worth a watch. (Well, other than The Big Sleep.)

There's also the amusing error of having maps of New York City (one of Staten Island and one of all five boroughs) on one of the walls of the police station.