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:Blacula.mp3]
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:
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…
…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:
Truly… he is Blaculawesome.
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:DrBlack.mp3]
Super-strong, supernatural and super bad.