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The early seventies were a time of change for the American film industry; the studio system had effectively boiled away through its own self-importance, censorship was relaxed considerably and a general sense of greater sense of freedom pervaded the filmmaking community. Movies like Shaft and Superfly had paved the way for stories aimed at black audiences to cross into the mainstream, and with that came the idea of targeting genres beyond action, where thoughts inevitably turned to the lucrative horror market…

Spolier alert!!!  Shit - too late!

Blacula: The year is 1780 and Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) travels to Transylvania to enlist Count Dracula’s help in abolishing the slave trade rife in the prince's native country. Dracula steadfastly refuses and turns Mamuwalde into a vampire, ensuring that the nobleman never sees his beautiful wife again. 200 years later, the true Prince of Darkness is released from his imprisonment and wreaks havoc on downtown Los Angeles, where the bodies of his victims attracting the attention of Dr Gordon Thomas, (Thalmus Rasulala), who aims to stop Dracula’s soul-brother from setting his fans upon his girlfriend Tina (Vonetta McGee), whom Mamuwalde believes is the reincarnation of his dead wife…

The blaxploitation craze was in full-swing by the time Blacula burst onto the scene, the sub-genre arguably kicking off in 1971 with the release of one-man-movie-studio Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, but the origin of blaxpoitation can be traced back a year earlier with Cotton Comes to Harlem. Regardless of the specifics of how it started, the sudden success of projects lensed by black directors and populated with ethnic actors caused studios large and small to jump on the bandwagon by making their own.  With sex and violence being the staple elements of blaxploitation films, it was only a matter of time before horror was thrown into the mix and the idea of having a black version of Bram Stoker's finest was - superficially -  an obvious idea, but also an ingenious one at the same time.

We admit that things get off to a bit of a shaky start, as the pre-credit scenes featuring Mamuwalde pleading Count Dracula for his help are a little on the rushed side, with our antihero barely being able to state his case to the Prince of the Undead before being bitten and entombed. Adding to that is how Dracula’s castle is pretty scrappily realised and looks a little threadbare, as though the production designer reconstituted leftover sets from a period episode of Bewitched. Nor is the depiction of Dracula himself the greatest to grace the silver screen, with his salt-and-pepper goatee and blue frock-coat that seems to have been pinched from the wardrobe department at Desilu Studios (looking suspiciously like the one seen in the Star Trek episode The Squire of Gothos), he carries little of Lugosi’s nobility nor Lee’s animal ferocity, but you at least have to give them points for originality in their take on a much-realised character. You have to hand it to the production team for their lock-picking skills, though.

The whole concept of Mamuwalde travelling to Transylvania to enlist the help of a nobleman such as Dracula is certainly interesting, and definitely not something you would expect from a film entitled Blacula, as one would scarcely have imagined that the concept of slavery be touched upon a horror film, let alone one with the tagline: “Dracula’s Soul-Brother!” proudly emblazoned across the advertising. This interesting premise is quickly brushed aside - although it’s nice that they at least touched upon it - as Dracula eyes up the prince's bird before promptly sinking his fangs into Mamuwalde, effectively making him a slave to the Prince of Darkness. Of course the perverse irony in that Mamuwalde travels to enlist Dracula’s help to fight slavery and he ends up not only enslaved himself, but also effectively becomes master to an army of slaves. This Transylvanian pre-credit sequence feels sadly rushed, as though the producers clearly wanted to cut to the chase rather than let the piece rightly play out for 15-20 minutes, which would have given is a more rounded set-up than the ten or less it actually runs for.  This choppy feeling persists throughout the bulk of the film, with the establishing of some scenes being cut to the bare minimum - sure, it can be seen as a stylistic choice, but it probably adheres to the old adage of the exploitation producer that George Romero once mentioned “It’s terrific! I love it! But can you cut it to 90 minutes?”

If there’s one thing that can be said about William Marshall’s performance as Mamuwalde, is that it exudes dignity and grace, seemingly as though the material is beneath him.  Marshall gives the part his all, along with no small measure of the mesmerising charm which actors who have played Dracula is very much in evidence here.  It’s a pity that there are moments where this noble performance threatens to be undermined by the slightly ridiculous make-up that Marshall has to endure when he’s vamping-out; in order to differentiate between Mamuwaldi and the bloodthirsty creature, he suddenly goes from suave and self-assured to looking not unlike Frederic March’s Mr Hyde in the 1931 adaptation of Stevenson’s classic novel - with heavy amounts of make-up and curious bits of thick, curly hair seemingly stuck on parts of his face that look like he had been caught at the epicentre of an unfortunate accident involving an explosion at a carpet off-cut emporium. Make-up issues aside, Marshall incorporates the aforementioned hypnotic magnetism embodied by various incarnations of Dracula to good effect, and Marshall seemingly accomplishes this with minimal effort to yield maximum results as he has women swooning over him, almost forming a funky 1970s rug at his feet. At one point, Marshall gets to say “good evening, gentlemen” in a manner very similar to traditional takes on Dracula, and Marshall’s silky tones rocket his reading of it right up there with Lugosi’s.

It's almost a shame to say it, but Mamuwalde’s vampiric look is not the only questionable make-up job in the film - some of Dracula’s horde of his undead minions have vampire make-up that is so bad, that you start to think that some of the extras during the Midnight Mess segment of The Vault of Horror looked pretty reasonable in comparison (here, one of the vampires has got pancake green/blue make-up that has to be seen to be disbelieved).

For illustrative purposes only - these are not representative of the transfers. The transfers are fucking good, though!

Though William Marshall plays the title character, his appearance in the film are somewhat on the sporadic side, as someone probably looked at the last couple of Hammer Dracula films and noted that Christopher Lee’s dwindling screen-time could be seen as more effective of a screen vampire, still giving Marshall top billing whilst bequeathing a much larger role to one of his fellow cast members. Speaking of which…

Ah, Thalmus Rasuslala, one of the great, imposing actors from the period; the man always had a magnetic screen presence and here is allowed to get his teeth into (no obvious pun intended at all) a part that allows him to be both intelligent and commanding whilst  still exuding coolness from every pore. Rasulala plays Dr Gordon Thomas, a medical pathologist for the LAPD, who gets wrapped up in the by-products of Mamuwalde’s bloodlust and, much like the forerunner of Quincy, he butts heads with everyone else around him during his investigations to get to the bottom of the series of corpses that are piling up (and subsequently disappearing) around him. Though possibly not something that could be looked upon as particularly groundbreaking role for an African-American to be seen in at the time, Rasulala brings integrity and a not inconsiderable degree of sly humour to the part - one scene has him taking out a newly-resurrected vampire rising from it’s coffin by punching it in the face, sending it back into it’s box, then using more traditional methods to finish it off. Despite the hideous jacket he has to wear, Rasulala’s performance in Blacula confirms that alongside Richard Roundtree and Albert Popwell, he was the coolest black actor of the seventies.

As Rasulala tactfully barges his way into a predominantly black-frequented funeral home to examine the body of a suspected vampire victim, he rubs those around him up the wrong way with his professional, businesslike manner, prompting the owner of the place to exclaim “Now that was the rudest n****r I have ever seen in my life!”; when you consider that the writers of Blacula - Raymond Koenig and Joan Torres - were certainly white, you have to wonder if that remark was penned by them or if it was adlibbed on-set, as Rasulala’s character isn’t actually doing anything to deserve being labelled as “rude” in his manner,  and only seems to play to the fears in a bigoted white audience of blacks being in positions of power, so to have a fellow African-American call him that particular derogatory name just for doing his job is more than a little shocking, far more so now that 40 years ago. A further example comes during a confrontation between the vampiric Mamuwalde and a black female cab-driver (amusingly played by singer Ketty Lester) which sees her calling him “boy”, and highlights how the passage of time has made certain terms even more offensive than they were several decades earlier.

To accentuate another of the many positives, there is a wonderful sequence in the local club, where Mamuwaldi and Dr Thomas are sitting down at the same table, sharing a civilised conversation in spite of both knowing they are on to each other, the whole scene possessed of a wonderful "stand-off-between-two-territorial cats" feel to it, as both of them tap-dance around the vampiric pachyderm in the room.  Marshall and Rasulala are both great in this scene, putting one in mind of the similar sequence from The Exorcist where Chris McNeill and Lt Kinderman are having tea, yet both of them know that something is seriously wrong upstairs - in all senses.

Acting as a verbal sparring partner to Rasulala’s Thomas is Gordon Pinsent as Lt Jack Peters, essentially playing a white version of Starsky & Hutch’s Captain Dobey. Pinsent gives his hard-bitten police official a sly sense of humour, allowing for some great toing-and-afroing between him and Rasulala - there‘s always something reassuring about a senior officer who is prepared to stick his neck out for the protagonist in an exploitation film and this is one of the better examples of this. Also showing up as one of the token white guys in the film is Elisha Cook Jr (here billed as simply Elisha Cook), a great veteran character actor who portrays Sam, one of the workers in the hospital where not all of the corpses in the morgue rest in piece, and in such a small and undemanding role, Cook demonstrates precisely why he was such a great character actor, endowing the part with far more than what was on the page.  The fate of Sam is one of the best dramatic moments in the film, with great use of slow-motion and tense music to really sell the destiny of this hook-handed character.

Speaking of small parts, one of the best performances amongst the supporting cast comes from Emily Yancy, playing photographer Nancy,  who works as a photographer/hostess at the nightclub where many of the main characters congregate - not to mention to listen to some wonderfully soulful music performed in the background. Nancy makes the unfortunate mistake of taking a picture of some patrons which just happens to include Mamuwalde amongst it’s numbers, and discovers that she's out for the Count when the picture is developed, suffering the inevitable consequences of her accidental discovery.

Vonetta McGee is good fun as Tina, but the talented actress struggles to try and make sense out of one particular aspect of the script, namely that even though her character knows that Mamuwalde has inflicted death and eternal misery on a large number of people, she still manages to look doe-eyed at him, willing to go along with him all because she has fallen for his good looks and suave manner.  Not exactly waving the flag for feminism, really.

For illustrative purposes only - these are not representative of the transfers. The transfers are fucking good, though!

Black stereotypes were abundant in American cinema at the time, but with Blacula having a predominantly African-American cast, the crass stereotypes which appear in this film come in the form of an interracial couple who are interior designers. They are the  black Bobby and the white Billy (Ted Harris & Rick Meltzer), who buy Dracula’s castle and ship Mamuwalde’s coffin to America. While there is a reasonable degree of sympathy in their portrayal when viewed four decades ago, the passage of time sees their depiction as pretty offensive. Later on in the movie, two police patrolmen are on the lookout for Billy (now resurrected as a vampire) and when one of them possibly spies him walking along the street, asking his fellow officer for confirmation, the boy in blue replies: “I don’t know, they all look alike to me!”, which not only incorporates the old offensive perception of black people but manages to applies it to homosexuals at the same time! Was it a sly way of saying that once the Equal Rights Amendment gets passed, gays were the new black, or just writers trying to offend two minorities for the price of one? Who knows? Casual homophobia rears it’s ugly head a couple of times during Blacula, with deceased gay interior designer, Billy, being bluntly referred to as “a dead faggot”.

Bobby and Billy (seemingly very much like forerunners of the sort of asset-strippers you started to see in the eighties and nineties) are informed that the castle they are thinking of plundering from belonged to Count Dracula, to which they dismiss the legend of Dracula as being “camp”; this is in keeping with every successive generation’s desire to dismiss what had come before and declare that which is new within their generation is better than anything else previously. Usually, many such bold claims tend to fall apart rather quickly, but when transplanted from to the movie itself, there is something to Blacula that's still appealing, provided modern viewers manage to see past the styles and parlance of the period. Though they give Stoker’s most famous creation a verbal kicking, they still adhere to staple elements of Stoker’s novel, including the awakening of Dracula’s eternal hunger by one of the interior designers cutting his arm, along with other peripheral elements incorrectly attributed to the book, such as the uncanny resemblance between Mamuwalde’s wife, Luva and her 20th century doppelganger, Tina (both portrayed by Vonetta McGee), which Francis Ford Coppola used as the hook for his wearying nineties Dracula adaptation.

We couldn’t leave the subject of Bobby and Billy without mentioning Mamuwalde dispatching one of them by sinking his fangs into him and draining his blood - although it could be seen as employing a gay stereotype, one would have thought that the prospect of being sucked by a tall an imposing black guy would have been an appealing prospect in some quarters…

The script of Blacula is awash with stabs at social commentary, including the sequence during the urban vampiric mayhem when one half of a couple muses: “that’s it - we’re moving to the suburbs!”, the other replying: “that’s what you said last year!”, showing that not only white people had aspirations of escaping crime-ridden urban areas during the 70s, exploding the popular stereotype that "enthics" were content to stay in the shitholes of Harlem, presumably as long as there was enough malt liquor to keep them happy. Boy, aren't bigots wonderful?

Blacula makes reference to vampirism as an epidemic, with the problem growing exponentially as more vampires are created and more victims are sought.  This aspect of the creature was foremost on the minds of superstitious rural dwellers in Europe centuries back when vampires were thought to exist, before medical science was able to come up with plausible explanations for some of the more unusual things which happen to corpses after death. It’s also nice to see Mamuwaldi transform into a bat, a key element which Hammer resisted doing until they got desperate as their cash-cow started drying up. It is to the filmmakers' credit that some of the shots of the bat in flight are still pretty impressive, holding up rather well today and better than some subsequent efforts to depict a vampire bat on the loose from better-financed productions.

Director William Crain certainly knew that a hearty dose of action needed to be injected into the mix to help sell the hybrid nature of this film.  Crain’s vampires do not skulk aloofly around in the shadows looking for a victim to attack - these suckers are angry, desperate creatures who run, jump, leap and do whatever they have to in order to get their hands on fresh blood. Oh, and they also tend to combust in fairly spectacular fashion quite a lot during the final act of the film.  Going out with a bang was never so apt!

Gene Page’s musical compositions are pretty much what you would have expected from a film with such combination of title and premise; it's a funky soundtrack with an undercurrent of traditional horror elements, and in some ways reminiscent of Mike Vicker’s work on Hammer’s Dracula AD1972, which wove the traditional orchestral score into (what was then) contemporary funk/jazz/rock.  Page had carved out an impressive musical career, which saw him work with names such as The Four Tops, The Supremes and Barry White to name but a few. Page’s work here helps to underpin the vibe that runs throughout the film and guarantees that a great time is had by all.

Things might turn out badly for Mamuwalde, but all it takes is the ringing of the box-office bell to bring him back again, it's gonna' be a scream...

Buy.  Obey.  Consume.  This is your God.  John Carpenter references.  You've gotta love 'em!

Scream, Blacula, Scream!: If there is one thing to be learned from the legion of vampire movies we have seen, it’s that should such a film be financially rewarding enough, the undead will rise again. With the cash registers ringing most heartily for Hammer every time Christopher Lee was resurrected from the dead in their Dracula series, and Blacula being a critical and financial success, there was no shame in bring back the true Prince of Darkness for another bite of the box-office, and with the addition of blactress superstar Pam Grier, things were going to be wild and woolly when Blacula has risen from the grave.

The second and final film in this series is a very different beast to the first, but - thankfully not like those crappy hybrids found these days when other vampire movies try to freshen up the format. Made at a time when Fox were slashing the budget of their successful Planet of the Apes films, AIP decided to go in the opposite direction and pump more money into the sequel to one their most successful titles of 1972, allowing for a wider scope and richer exploration of the occult for Scream, Blacula, Scream! The first outing raked in just shy of $2m, which would be considered a flop by modern standards, but for an low-budget film made by an independent company, it was a success, certainly enough to warrant a sequel.

At a funeral in Harlem, a squabble breaks out when a Vodou sect is electing their new Loa, the one appointed the gift of commanding the Haitian spirits. The newly-deceased Mama Loa’s successor chosen is Grier’s Lisa Fortier, adopted daughter of the occult leader and holding the popular vote, but her son Willus is outraged that this ex-junkie is being given the title. Vowing revenge, he conspires with another ousted member of the flock, who gives him a sack of bones able to bring him power he craves, but the instrument of his revenge instantly enslaves him, and takes up residence in his playboy abode. Mr Tall, Dark and Gruesome is setting his sights on Lisa for other reasons than the bidding of others. Yes - Mamuwalde is back, and looking for more than just a midnight feast this time. Mamuwalde is tired of his vampiric existence, seeking the humanity he had taken from him, all heading for an exorcism finale packed with plenty of undead action when the side of light and a number of police officers try to stop him, you know you are in for a good time!

When attending a soirée centring on African cultures, Mamuwalde comes into direct contact with Lisa, and both finding each other beguiling, both for the authority and power they hold, with our man in the cape sure than she can lift the curse of vampirism and stop him being the thing he hates most: what he has become. With their combined knowledge of the occult, the African prince can go back to his former life and atone for the those he has taken whilst enduring a living death. Such notions are interrupted by the arrival of Justin Carter, ex-cop and publisher, who has a radar for trouble in the underworld. When the party inevitably breaks up, as they all do, Mamuwalde decides to do the age old thing and make off with some drink upon leaving, biting the neck of the lovely Gloria rather than sticking a bottle of Campari under his cloak. Carter is now on the trail, and forces of dark, light and blue are on a collision course of supernatural proportions.

There are so many juicy themes in play here, all serving the bloodsucking theme with the loyalty of an army of Renfields. The element of the police force taking an interest in the local murders which was almost the backbone of the first film is only used sparingly here, just enough to tell the story, with one of the main characters just happening to be tied to the force rather convenient. Where the original was almost a police-procedural look at how vampirism would be handled in the modern world, this is more a look at the way occultists who actually get what they want when they summon up a creature from beyond, in much the same way a gerbil freezes in terror once finally getting out of its cage. Scream, Blacula, Scream! certainly deserves praise for not going down the obvious route of rehashing its predecessor. The detective side of things from the first is still there, not to mention all of the associated Vodou, but the classic haunted house staple is also in there, as the unwary enter a spooky mansion before being set upon by the evil which resides within. Did we mention zombies, too? Scream Blacula Scream! has all that went before and so much more - keep a sharp eye out for the kitchen sink in reel 4!

The centrepiece sequence depicting the resurrection of Mamuwalde is pretty intense, and shows just how much you can pull off with the right actor, inventive staging, the right lenses and great music, even if the depiction of a bird being ceremoniously killed is sure to outrage animal rights campaigners, although its obviously simulated. It shows how blaxploitation Vodou business should be done, a far cry from the pretty hilarious ones found in Sugar Hill. The balance between playing things straight and getting laughs the reality of such situations is a very tricky thing, but it works perfectly here - what to do when your incantations go wrong? Scream and shout? No. Swear revenge on all who said you would fail? Certainly not! How about trudge off and get a nice cold can of Coors from the fridge? You betcha! The very same guy is given the eternal power of the night, allowing him great strength and life everlasting and how does this particularly vain individual accept this most sought of gifts? He’s really not happy, exclaiming: "You mean to tell me I ain't never gonna' see my face again? Look, man, I don't mind being a vampire and all that shit, but this really ain't hip."

Indeed, it was this verisimilitude which was key the tonal success of the first film, and is still to be found here, with all scenes being played as the material demands, rather than sniggering at it all for the sake of cheap laughs. One of the best examples comes when Mamuwalde transforms into a bat, in sight of a clearly intoxicated reveller. Rather than going for the clichéd/expected rubbing-eyes-in-disbelief routine, he just ponders the moment before burbling out of a dismissive: "Sheeeeeeeeiittt". Imagine the piece in Plan 9 From Outer Space with the drunk and the newspaper, or the bit in Rat-Pfink-a-Boo-Boo with the guy hiding in the dumpster - play them for realism and you’ll be on the right track.

This is from SD - the image is pretty fucking great, anyway!  Go - buy  it!

With the annoying, downbeat Dawson’s Creek-type take on the genre still in vogue, it comes as more than merely refreshing to find that Mamuwalde is one of the few vampires who express genuine ecstasy when tasting sweet, sweet blood - there’s no acting like whiney city folk told to start killing their own livestock to get the meat they crave as he feasts. The best of us know that Frank Langella was terrific with his wiggly eye-movements at the prospect of a sanguinary feast, but even he didn’t quite match the almost bestial satiation played out by Marshall, where you are privy to just how maddening the thirst is, and how relieving it is to have is slaked. This hunger is also played out beautifully when referencing the classic sequence from Dracula, where his senses being awakened by Renfield cutting open his hand, but here its that of a young lady at a particularly hip happening clumsily smashing a glass. You really get the feel that although he may only have eyes for Lisa, Mamuwalde still insanely craves any other container of blood, particularly if it happens to be of a distinctly shapely variety.

One of the very best sequences comes when Lisa holds a solitary vigil over Gloria’s body, a perfect example of how do make things really creepy and be subtle about it. The lady with the power sits at a table as the camera dollies around her to see the open-casket coffin, everything still and silent as Gloria awakens from the dead and slowly sits herself up. Not dripping with menace, or playing to the audience, but with a stillness and almost confusion as she adjusts to her new existence, not taking long before beckoning Lisa her over with all the assurance of one of Dracula’s brides tempting unwary men, giving a familiar situation a terrific Sapphic twist. Another of the numerous images which linger in the mind is the first shot of Mamuwalde in vampiric action, arms and cape raise, eerily gliding towards the camera at speed. We all know how its done, but it looks just freaky! The sight of one character walking down a corridor in Mamuwalde’s abode lined with wooden crates starts out pedestrian, but each box opens after he walks past, with an undead minion rising from it! Those who know their vampire movies might recall something similar in The Satanic Rites of Dracula, but there is no question as to which got there first. Blacula, slap-five, bro!

When it comes to great character moments, the big confrontation scene between Mamuwalde and Carter is wonderful, with the two of them sharing a drink as the former detective gently pushes his belief that the man opposite him is not only a vampire, but the responsible for the wave of killings going on. Its more than reminiscent of the same scene in The Exorcist, where Kinderman is broaching the uncomfortable truth about the identity of a guilty party. Both were released in 1973, and although a similar scene takes place in the first Blacula film, this is probably more directly inspired by Blatty's work rather than a re-tread of the first, but still superb.  Don Mitchell is a terrific character actor, one which many will remember as a regular on the TV show Ironside, and he is one of the few we can think of packing as much charm and charisma as William Prince, making him the perfect adversary in the story, and this particular scene really does show the two sparking off of each other. It’s so great that you wish so many more films of its ilk might let its characters just sit and let the electricity crackle around them. Carter is not a standard archetype from the genre, as he’s a book-smart ex-cop who actually does his research at the library, paying off dividends when it leads him to link the murders together as the work of a vampire. Who says blaxploitation films were entirely filled with negative stereotypical characters?

It’s irritating when the great unwashed or the ignorant write off the Blacula movies through title alone, sniggering at it when completely unaware of the sincerity/canniness in the writing and the dignity with which the lead actor portrays the tragic figure. They just hear “Blacula” and move onto the next YouTube clip of some arsehole hurting themselves on a skateboard. The titular name is only mentioned at the start of the first film, and only twice this time around - he doesn’t wear a badge with it on. Second time out, it is brought up twice, derisively called it by a street punk making fun of his clothes, and this is pretty jarring, as it’s a cheap laugh in a movie which is much better than that. The other instance is at the end, when resigned to his destiny when fate has turned against him, he finds all hope of salvation gone and roars: “I AM… BLACULA!“ at mention of his real name. This makes the character more tragic, in that the final vestiges of Mamuwalde have been ripped away, leaving only the beast he never wanted to be. It’s the flip-side of Peter Vincent in Fright Night Part 2, where he finally embraces his vampiric persona after feebly trying to suppress it.

Given that the above example is the only time Scream, Blacula, Scream! succumbs to what the audience is expecting, it comes as a real surprise that unlike the original film, the only element of racism throughout the entire length of the movie comes when two white police officers foolishly try to arrest Mamuwalde, threatening to throw his "uppity black ass" in jail if he resists. The use of the “n” word was is rather cavalier fashion first time around, as the lack of it in the sequel suggests that they had either been picked up on it, or were trying to have it appeal to a wider audience. Still, the single instance where it is used is wisely done, as trying to order the Lord of the Dead around is one thing, but to get all White Power on his ass is only going to end with moral justice being the only kind served.

Blaxploitation fans are well served by the amount of the familiar faces (often playing familiars, ironically enough) are to be found here, and there are more than a few who were able to cross over into the mainstream. That same year, actor Arnold Williams was not only a victim of the African Prince of Darkness, but was so very memorable as the treacherous cab-driver from Live and Let Die, another black-themed movie with the trappings of Voodoo. As Ragman is the legendary Bernie Hamilton, a face many will remember in mid-shout from the opening credits of Starsky and Hutch. Recognisable honkies include Hill Street Blues’ beloved Desk Sergeant Michael Conrad, a very early appearance of Craig T Nelson and the hugely prolific character-actress Barbara Rhoades. Rhoades plays one of the first victims, and as gorgeous as she is, her shrieking is incredibly annoying! After she’s opened her mouth, you’ll be shouting: ”For Chrissakes, stop making her scream, Blacula, scream!” Oh, and keep an eye out for the barrel-chested legend that was Nicholas Worth, only make sure that you keep your dog away from his grandma’s rug.

How can we review this movie without giving special mention to Pam Grier, fresh from being thrown into the Blaxploitation whirlwind with Coffy, and almost revels in playing a character so different from per previous film. Here she is a beguiling mixture of mysterious, powerful, charming and vulnerable as Lisa, an ex-junkie suddenly given the honour and power of Mama Loa, finding that her new gift attracts all the wrong sort of people - those who want to own the power and the men who wish to use it. Grier turns in a sold performance, and is a real credit to her that she is so different to Coffy or any of her previous Filipino WIP flicks, let alone most of other action-driven roles she would make her name with. We have heard numerous people moan that she is wasted in Scream Blacula Scream, as they were expecting it to be a case of “Pam Grier kicks Blacula’s punk ass all over 110th street” and were shallow enough not to reconcile that she was cast for something more challenging. We’re glad that they didn’t resort to the obvious on this one.

Scream, Blacula, Scream! is one of those movies which is saddled with an execrable reputation, but when you sit down to watch it, you'll wonder just what the hell everyone has against it. OK, the decision to up the budget didn’t pay off, as it only pulled in $1m at the box-office, half the cash the former made, but the more ambitious script and richer storytelling more than makes up for any disappointing financial returns. Grier is great, and Marshall is an African prince among men once again, with a performance which some might argue is more than a blaxploitation movie deserves, so much so that he charms viewers away from the minor mistakes within, such as how Mamuwalde might damned for all eternity to never see his reflection again, but he can still cast shadows and reflect his image in windows with the best of them. One of us freely admits to having a nip of Absinthe as he sat down to watch this, but even alcohol of 89% isn’t nearly as intoxicating as the movie itself. Fun was never funkier!

For illustrative purposes only - these are not representative of the transfers. The transfers are fucking good, though!

Video


Blacula: Who’d have ever thought that Blacula could ever look quite as good as this? We sure as hell didn’t. Any fears that some might have about both films being squeezed onto one disc are irrelevant, as Blacula has a fairly healthy bit-rate of around 27mbps, which really isn’t bad. The best example of the impressive encoding on Blacula can be seen whenever Thalmus Rasulala is wearing that hideous hounds-tooth jacket, where in lesser hands, it could have looked like a smeary, chroma-ridden mess, but here, the impeccable rendering means that every single fleck on the jacket can be seen distinctly, with nothing in the way of smearing or chroma-noise. That such a ghastly jacket can be see in all it’s - ahem - glory is a testament to the wonderful video presentation here. One sequence has a photographer developing film in her darkroom and the red hue that bathes the screen during this scene is rendered remarkably well, never looking angry, as such vibrant colours can do if not properly encoded.

Scream, Blacula, Scream!: The 1.85:1 image is presented in an extremely pleasing 1080p experience, awash with genuine grain and strong colours, even when providing accurate renderings of the horrible “n-word” brown hue so popular in the seventies. The average bit-rate is around the same as the first film; there are no instances of major print-damage, blacks are strong they could be used as positive role-models and compression is so good that only the most picky might anything even fractionally close to a whinge about. Of course, this all goes out of the window when re-coloured stock footage of fork-lightning is used, with a certain irony that it was probably used in the classic Universal monster movies, but everything else is spot-on. Soul cinema is alive in your home, and won’t look better than this.

Audio


Blacula: Presented in PCM mono 2.0, the audio isn’t quite as impressive as the video, but what is presented here is almost certainly identical to what was heard during the film’s theatrical run. The high fidelity of the audio highlights the limitations of the original recording, editing and mixing, complete with variances in fidelity during scenes when dialogue has been re-recorded in post-production and other such things. This is a faithful representation of what was originally heard in cinemas four decades ago.

Scream, Blacula, Scream!: The Linear PCM 2.0 soundtrack is just as impressive, replicating the original theatrical mix with smooth aplomb and devoid of any sonic nasties There is a real richness to the music, a far cry from the original Blacula, with aggressive bass found not only in the many funky songs, but in abundance during the atmospheric score by AIP regular Bill Marx. Don’t make the mistake of merely routing it through your TV, as letting your amp provide the audio gives you one Hell of a good time, revealing depths and highs which you might not have though possible from a low-budget independent movie from the early seventies.

Kudos to Eureka, who not only provide subtitles for the hard of hearing, but also include the lyrics to the various songs heard during the films - a nice thing to have, as many companies don’t bother doing this because of potential publishing and copyright issues.

Extras


Trailer - Blacula: The trailer of Blacula goes out of it’s way to emphasise that the titular character in this film is “Dracula’s soul brother!” and just seems to concentrate on that, with the overripe voiceover trying to sound as uh, soulful, as possible, whist trying to make the film appeal to both black and white audiences alike.

Trailer - Scream, Blacula, Scream!: This trailer doesn‘t really sell the movie as it actually is, settling on giving possible punters what they would want from it, happy to show endless clips of William Marshall throwing people around in a vampiric rage. It‘s a lot of fun, and also alludes to Grier kicking ass in it - which she obviously doesn‘t - by introducing her as: “The exciting star of Coffy…” and hoping that’ll get ‘em in. This trailer is pure Huckster film-marketing, and every bit as enticing as a freakshow barker.

Kim Newman On Blacula: Speaking from his man-cave, surrounded by books and CDs, and dressed as always in a white shirt & waistcoat, everyone’s favourite author of Anno Dracula author spends 24 minutes talking about the two films in the Blacula series. He regales the viewer with the history of blaxploitation cinema, giving nods to Cotton Comes to Harlem, Shaft and Superfly.

Newman explains that the original concept of Blacula was going to have a Richard Pryor-type vampire, but a meeting with William Marshall changed the direction and the motives of the character (all uncredited, of course). Bizzarely, Newman touches upon the influence that US TV gothic soap-opera Dark Shadows had on Blacula, and though production values on Blacula weren’t exactly stratospheric, they were considerably higher than those of Dark Shadows.

Our dapper host's almost schoolboy sense of enthusiam is undeniable as he charts the history of the film and cites it's influences and also points out just how many subsequent films and books took their inspiration from them. There are a nice selection of HD posters of various blaxploitation films during this interview, which all adds extra fun to this examination of the two black vampire films under scrutiny, as he picks out examples of social commentary that peppered the movies and pointing out (and praising) performers of note.

Newman predominantly spends his time talking about the first film, which is a pity because the sequel is just as worthy of in-depth analysis as the original. Newman prefers Scream, Blacula, Scream! and explains his reasoning behind this, with Pam Grier featuring quite highly in the list of reasons why he likes the sequel.

Produced by Kevin Lambert and John Robertson, this is a nice way to spend the best part of half an hour, with an amusing and informative commentary from one of Britain‘s foremost experts on horror, who helps to contextualise the Blacula films within exploitation – and blaxploitation – cinema.

Booklet: Eureka also include a booklet that contains a new essays on both films by blaxploitation specialist Josiah Howard, which examines their origins and production; Howard also utilises quotes from people connected with the films to illustrate points he makes during his essays. There are copious stills from both movies, along with another brief essay from Howard on the double-bill, which was so prevalent during that period. Things are rounded off with numerous illustrations of posters and lobby cards related to the two films, along with a note about how to view Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream! in the aspect ratio intended by their directors. A nice little read.
 
On an amusing note, one of us forgot to change the region code to “B“ prior to sitting down to watch, and was greeted by a still of Mamuwalde in full caped-out mode as if to attack anyone trying to play this UK disc overseas. It’s a really cool touch, indicative of the love shown when putting this package together, and as we all know, vampires have trouble crossing water - particularly the Atlantic, it would seem.

For illustrative purposes only - these are not representative of the transfers. The transfers are fucking good, though!

Overall


The passage of time has been known to dull the effectiveness of film to shock, exploitation films especially and Blacula is no exception; there are moments in the film that would have had some of the more sensitive  people watching gripping the arms of their seats (or doing the same thing to the person they were watching it with), but Blacula today can now be seen as an entertaining romp, it’s hugely entertaining, with some laughs, great performances and some funky music thrown in for good measure.

The sequel takes what worked in the first film and punches things up way past eleven, with the Vodou element really giving the theme a fresh slant and providing some arrestingly eerie imagery.  William Marshall turns in a deliciously fine-tuned performance, plus it’s got Pam Grier doing her thing as only Pam Grier can do, so what’s not to like?

Eureka are to be congratulated for dragging these two misunderstood films kicking and screaming from out of the darkness and into the light of high-definition - and unlike Mamawalde, these have not crumbled under the light of modern scrutiny; if entertainment value and social commentary were blood, Mamawalde would have enough to sustain him with these two for quite a while. This wonderful set from Eureka just has to be seen, and trust us when we say that picking up this collection will absolutely MAKE your Hallowe'en!

* Note: The above images are for illustrative purposes and are not representative of the quality of the Blu-ray transfers.

** Secondary Note: The spelling of "Vodou" in this review is the correct Haitian spelling of "Voodoo", and not the result of a bollox-d-up spellchecker.  


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