I've got a soft spot for seventies Blaxploitation films. Stick me in front of Shaft or Superfly and I'm in Heaven. But when a film attempts to combine blaxploitation elements with classic horror, you'd imagine only a turkey could crawl out of the pot, wouldn't you?
Well, at least this time, I don't think it happened. "Blacula" has the advantage of a strong central performance by William Marshall, a Shakespearean actor, in the lead role, and it makes all the difference.
An African prince named Mumuwalde and his bride Luva, venture to Transylvania in an effort to get Europeans to support the abolition of slavery. Unfortunately for Mumuwalde, the first aristocrat he encounters is Count Dracula. After offending the Count, Mumuwalde is bitten and transformed into a vampire, dubbed "Blacula" by his tormentor, and sealed in a coffin for two hundred years. Luva is entombed with him and left to die.
Jump forward to the present day - well, 1972. Two gay interior decorators have bought Blacula's coffin and shipped it to modern-day America. After being released by the two Americans and draining their blood, Blacula begins a reign of terror, vampirizing people left right and centre - basically against his will, of course, as this more or less is a pitiable figure. Amongst the ghetto mayhem, Blacula encounters the reincarnation of his lost Luva, and sets about seducing her. Needless to say, things go badly for our badass vampire, and Luva is lost to him again. All that is left to do is to deliberately walk into the sun and disintegrate into a charred, maggot-ridden mess.
There are a number of points I like about this film. I always enjoy the black culture depicted in these films, the ghetto argot and the wild fashion. Blacula has this in spades. Great music typical of this genre, with lots of soul and funk.
Then we have the classic horror aspects inserted into it, the plague of animalistic vampires, man-to-bat changes and, the private dick on the trail. All great stuff. Mainly though it's the dignified performance of William Marshall that makes the film work for me. He has a great resonant timbre in his voice that bespeaks a serious take on the role. The character has a sympathy to him that adds depth and makes you feel for his plight, all perspectives maintained, mind you!
This film is probably best suited to those who have an affection for this era, like moi-self, and can suspend their disbelief enough to take a black halloween Dracula causing havoc in seventies America, seriously. Otherwise, you could forgiveably consign it to bad movie Hell. But, to those like-minds among you, please enjoy and I hope you also find that "Blacula is beautiful"....
Review written: 23/04/01.
© Boris Lugosi, 2001.
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