Dracula Week: Dracula’s Soul Brother!

As I’ve already established with my look at his myriad apperances in comics, Dracula’s status in the public domain is one of the best things about him. With such an iconic work to set his origin, the fact that anyone can do a story about him makes him one of the most perfect characters ever created, as he’s constantly being reinvented by creators who take the bits that they like and fashion him into their ideal version so that he can or be blown up by super-heroes in new and exciting ways.

And that, of course, means movies.

According to the Wikipedia, Big D’s been the subject of over 200 films, starting with Nosferatu and the 1931 Bela Lugosi picture that defined him for modern pop culture, and going all over the place from there. But there is only one franchise, one cinematic juggernaut inspired by the Lord of Vampires, that is rad enough to be featured on the ISB.

I speak, of course… of Blacula.

 

 

Long-time ISB readers will probably recall that I have an intense love for Blaxploitation movies, but even among those, Blacula is awesome. I mean, dude’s name is Blacula. BLACULA. That is the best name for anyone ever. If Batman had been named Blacula, Wertham would’ve been too scared to write Seduction of the Innocent, and that is a fact.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the gist, the original radio ad from 1972 sums things up pretty well:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The short(er) version: Mamuwalde is an African prince who gets on Dracula’s bad side because the latter–as established in both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Marvel Comics–is crazy racist. Thus, he throws up the horns (really) and curses Mamuwalde to become Blacula, which somehow makes them “soul brothers,” because Blaxploitation radio spots are awesome.

He eventually shows up in the present (well, the present of 1972) and dies, and that brings us to the subject of tonight’s post: The 1973 sequel, Scream Blacula Scream! Why go with the sequel instead of the original? Two words, folks:

 

PAM GRIER

 

After Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Slammin’ Pam is probably the most iconic star of the Blaxploitation era, starring in flicks like Coffy, Sheba Baby and the unforgettable Black Mama/White Mama (“A thousand nights without a man! A thousand reasons to kill!”), which led to a role in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, as his obsession with the ’70s makes pretty much everyone else seem like a piker. Here, she stars as Lisa, whose leadership of a group of voodoo enthusiasts is challenged by this guy:

 

 

This is Willis, and in addition to being one of the snappiest dressers in cinema history, he’s desperate enough for cult leadership that he decides it’s a good idea to purchase Mamuwalde’s bones from a local mystical artifacts dealer and resurrect them with his voodoo powers.

This, as we’ll soon see, is the second worst life choice made in this movie.

The voodoo works–as voodoo tends to do in Blaxploitation movies–and thus…

 

BLACULA LIVES AGAIN!

 

…and he promptly snacks on the fashion-conscious Willis, who quickly learns the downside of undeath once he looks in a mirror:

Willis: Hey man I don’t mind bein’ a vampire and all that shit, but this really ain’t hip! I mean a man has GOT to see his face! Shiiiiit!

After you get past the pretty rude way that he repays Willis for resurrecting him and his bitchin’ ‘stache–a common look among 70s vampires, apparently–the thing you’ll notice about Blacula is just how good William Marshall is in the role.

It’s not that surprising–Marshall was an accomplished stage actor who was called “the greatest Othello of our time” by the London Sunday Times–but this is the sequel to a Blaxploitation horror movie. He could’ve gotten by with a lot less (or a lot more; if he wanted to go for the all-out scenery chewing route, nobody would’ve blamed him) but he plays it with a note-perfect craftsmanship that’s striking.

When he threatens to rip out Willis’s heart for disobedience, his matter-of-fact statement is genuinely sinister, and when he’s introducing himself to Pam Grier at a party as an expert in African art–thankfully going by his real name rather than “Alucalb”–he comes off as effortlessly charming.

Plus, his delivery is fantastic. It’s worth a rental just for this scene:

 

 

Pimp: Your bread, man, all of it! Or are we gonna have to become anti-social and kick your ass?

Blacula: I’m sorry, I don’t have any… “bread” on me, and as for “kicking my ass”… I’d strongly suggest you give it careful consideration before trying.

And then Blacula backhands him through a plate glass window. I love this movie so hard, you guys.

Of course, it’s not all defenestrating pimps and macking on Pam Grier so that she uses her voodoo powers to remove his curse, there’s also murder. I mean, he is a vampire after all. Of course, the police are blissfully unaware of this fact, and so when bloodless cadavers, they immediately assume that it’s our friendly local cultists sacrificing people for their rituals.

Now look. I’m not the world’s greatest detective or anything, but even if you don’t believe in vampires, when corpses start showing up drained of blood, you might want to check out the new guy who just arrived in town and who is currently rocking a black cape with a red satin lining. Just sayin’.

Eventually, the police do tumble to the fact that a Blacula is in their midst, and they set about hunting him, armed with actual stakes from a white picket fence…

 

 

…in what is either great symbolism about the Man using a literal piece of the American dream to hunt down a black man who only wants to be freed of the curse he’s been suffering from for generations, or the workings of a cheap prop department. It could go either way, really.

Also, remember when I said that resurrecting Blacula was the second-worst life choice in this movie? Well, this guy called Blacula “uppity.”

 

 

And yep. That’s actually worse.

Eventually, the cops break in on the ritual and ruin Blacula’s chances of getting his curse removed, and when Blacula–as you might expect–goes banana, Pam ends up staking the voodoo doll, destroying Blacula for the second and final time by virtue of taking the doll from mint-on-card to a good-minus.

But still, the legend lives on, both in Mamuwalde himself–who was apparently mentioned in Anno Dracula, which makes me want to read it even more than a recommendation from Jess Nevins–and in the legacy that he’s given to this man:

 

Jefferson Twilight: Blacula Hunter

 

Truly… he is Blaculawesome.

 


 

BONUS FEATURE: If You Seein’ What Ain’t…

 

While I like the radio spots for Blacula and Scream Blacula Scream a lot, one of the all-time greats comes from director William Crain’s lesser known Blaxploitation horror flick, Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde, which bursts from the speakers with a series of over-the-top rhymes that would make even Dolemite proud:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Super-strong, supernatural and super bad.

43 thoughts on “Dracula Week: Dracula’s Soul Brother!

  1. Christopher Nabucodonosor Sims, if this one doesn’t end up in that ‘New Hotness’ column, there is no justice on the internet.
    I laughed, I cried, I learned about a website that I’m going to spend so much time on, it will ruin my marriage, I learned about a film that I must see.

    Dr. Black and Mr Hyde isn’t on DVD, but if I can’t see it, I can dream it while I listen to that radio spot.
    Good lord, ‘uppity’.

  2. You haven’t read Anno Dracula?! Get thee to amazon.com now and order it! And order The Bloody Red Baron while you’re at it. And after you’ve read them, think about getting Judgment of Tears (not quite as good as the others, but still entertaining).

    By sheer coincidence, I just finished rereading all three books yesterday.

  3. You haven’t read Anno Dracula ? Seriously?! You? Anything by Kim Newman is worth reading, but Anno Dracula is, as far as I can tell, exactly your kind of thing.

    Judgement of Tears was also published under the title Dracula Cha Cha Cha, btw. It’s a sequel to Anno Dracula set in Rome in the 1950s.

  4. I’ll assume you already have tickets for the upcoming Black Dynamite, then.

    “It’s full of action, guaranteed to put your ass in traction.”

  5. Oooh! Ooooh! I’m getting “One Man Disaster Area” on my business card!!

    “Under 17… bring yo’ mama, she’ll like it too!” is magnificent.

  6. You know, Bram Stoker’s Dracula had a mustache as well, so Blacula is, in some ways, a more authentic Dracula.

  7. Quentin Tarantino gave Pam Grier the title she truly deserves.

    “Pam Grier: The Queen of Women.”

    Goddamn right.

  8. The late William Marshall, in case anyone doesn’t know, was the original King of Cartoons on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Just sayin’.

    He also guest starred on the original Star Trek, and was one of the only actors I’ve ever seen match Shatner toe-to-toe, hamhock-to-hamhock.

  9. As with everyone else, I agree that you need to read Anno-Dracula/The Bloody Red Baron/Judgment of Tears post-mother fuckin’ haste. Then, dig yourself up a copy of Andy Warhol’s Dracula, which continues the story into the 1970s where Johnny Alucard drains John Travolta’s character from Saturday Night Fever dry, steals his suit and fights Blade, Shaft, Shaggy and Scooby, Kojak, Popeye Doyle, and Charles Bronson.

    And, you could head over to Mr. Newman’s site and read some of his fiction for free-which I also recommend: http://www.johnnyalucard.com/online.html

  10. There’s only three real monsters, kid: Dracula, Blacula, and Son of Kong. Now quit picking your nose and knead that dough!

  11. Agree on Kim Newman’s stuff, he’s the shit.

    And y’know, I never really got why his site was called Johnny Alucard until now…

  12. and when Blacula–as you might expect–goes banana,

    Blacula arrived too early in the ’70s to know that everything needs a trilogy, but if there had been a third film, Blacula Goes Bananas would have been the shit.

  13. The Blacula movies had been at the top of my “must see” list ever since I first stumbled across a reference in the Encylopedia of Horror Movie Monsters I checked out of the public library when I was a kid, but it’s only within the last year that I was lucky enough to stumble onto a Blacula double feature on AMC. Pure awesomeness.

    And let me join my voice to the chorus of people recommending Anno Dracula; I didn’t enjoy the two sequels quite as much, but A.D. is one of my favorite books.

  14. “…in what is either great symbolism about the Man using a literal piece of the American dream to hunt down a black man who only wants to be freed of the curse he’s been suffering from for generations, or the workings of a cheap prop department. It could go either way, really.”

    /slow clap

  15. …It could go either way, really.
    Best. Line. Ever. And I also say, hey, why not both at once? Sometimes the stars align and a plan comes together.

  16. “Of course, it’s not all defenestrating pimps…”

    Not to be pedantic, as they say, but “defenestrate” specifically means to throw someone _out_ of a window. So, since Blacula and the unfortunate pimp (another possible third sequel title?) are clearly strolling _outside_ in that picture, what Blacula actually did was, um… fenestrate him, I guess.

  17. Re: The picket fence stakes –

    I’m going with cheap prop department, myself. I’ve also seen a lot of Blaxploitation, and if the prop department had been on its game, any white stakes would be the size of #2 pencils.

    @Mal G: Either that or the Tracy Jordan classic, A Blaffair to Rememblack.

  18. “..taking the doll from mint-on-card to a good-minus.”

    I LOVE this. Thank you.

  19. All of the Anno Dracula sequels are also pretty good, especially if you’re into spotting the references to fictional characters from each era that Newman works in.
    Unfortunately the later short stories in the series, like “Andy Warhol’s Dracula” and “Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula*” are really hard to come by.

    *Great concept: Coppola’s Dracula, rather than the late-career adaptation of a famous fictional work it was in our history, occupies the same place in his oeuvre that “Apocalypse Now” does for us, in that it’s an attempt at filming “real” historical events (Dracula’s rise), Newman’s story being a “Hearts Of Darkness” style account of Coppola’s frustrations and trials filming in a difficult foreign location, but with Romania standing in for itself rather than the Philippines standing in for Vietnam.

  20. I read Anno Dracula just last month, great read. In one page, I found the vampires from Robert R. McCammon’s They Thirst,Charles L. Grant’s The Soft Whisper Of The Dead, Stephen King’s Salems’ Lot, and a host of obscure vampires from 19th century literature. Even Carl Kolchak makes an appearance, wearing his seersucker suit and straw hat. Kim Newman really knows how to make it all work, and he wears cravats and vests.

    Don’t forget that not only was William Marshall Blacula, he was also the King of Cartoons on Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I can remember having watched Blacula on public television one late night and being scared, then a few years go by and he shows up sans fangs hanging with Pee Wee Herman.

  21. Semi-off topic, Chris, but have you ever seen Come Back Charleston Blue? Godfrey Cambridge at his best!

  22. BTW, if anyone ever gets curious and googles “Blackenstein” prepare to have your minds blown.

    “Dr. Stein just won the Nobel Peace Prize for cracking the DNA genetic code!”

  23. I’m pleasantly surprised by the affection for Kim Newman here – an author who truly doesn’t get enough love. I liked all three books in the Anno Dracula series, but I particularly liked the third, Judgment of Tears. If you like mid-20th century pop culture and Italian (especially Italian horror) films, you’ll love it. As an Argento fan, I was delighted at the revelation of the main villain.

  24. There’s always Blackenstein, but it’s really not very good.
    The first Balcula is arguably a better movie, but the lack of Pam Grier is a major strike against it.
    Thanks for the great review, Chris, and for pointing these movies out to anyone who hasn’t seen them. They’re both great!

  25. Oops, I see that Tim C already mentioned Blackenstein. Whil not “good”, it would probably make a decent schlock double-bill with The Thing With Two Heads (starring Ray Milland and Rosey Grier).
    The first two Kim Newman books are very good. I hadn’t realized there was a third, and will be ordering it ASAP.

  26. I love this movie, and William Marshall is great. First saw him as Dr. Daystrom on Star Trek. His voice just commands attention.

    I really wish they would do a Luke Cage movie like a blaxploitation flick, but they will likely go the boys n the hood route, which is missing the point.

  27. “Really? You’re not saying this to be pedantic? Really? Are you sure?”

    Yes, I’m actually sure. That was meant as a joke.

    I kind of figured that might not come across, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to discuss the insane specificity that is the word “defenestrate.”

    Hm. Okay, I guess it depends on your definition of “pedantic,” then.

  28. Pam Grier: a damned fine reason to choose anything.

    Marshall also gave the Juggernaut his voice in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. His voice didn’t fit the character but it was too awesome to complain about. This is also the episode where Wolverine and his bad Australian accent is thrown like a dart into a wall and gets his claws stuck there for the rest of the fight.

  29. Dammit. That should have been “This is also the episode where Wolverine and his bad Australian accent are thrown like a dart…” up there.