Some films achieve perfection without being very good, and William Crain’s Blacula (1972) is one such. Arguably, the sequel Scream Blacula Scream is better, with more exciting action and Pam Grier as a voodoo chick, but the original has the soul. In the 19th Century, dignified African prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) asks Dracula to sign a petition against the slave trade, and winds up turned into a vampire. Imported into funky seventies Los Angeles by gay antique dealers, he rises from his coffin in natty threads (a white-lined cape) and searches out the reincarnation of his lost love. Recommended for Marshall’s rich performance (Othello with fangs and werewolfy sideburns), creepy business with the vamp plague spreading through the city, fabulous fashions (note for vampires – stay away from mirrored sunglasses) and musical interludes, and an emotional finish.
In the 18th Century, Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) visits Castle Dracula to ask the Count to sign a petition against the slave trade. Dracula turns Mamuwalde into a vampire and chains him into a coffin. In 1972, gay antique dealers bring the coffin to Los Angeles and Mamuwalde pursues the reincarnation of his lost love (Vonetta McGee) while spreading vampirism through the city.
One of the great gimmick crossovers, this blends the then-popular blaxploitation movie with the classical vampire film. William Marshall, after a career playing African leaders on spy or jungle shows brings his rich voice and Shakespearean dignity to the role of the vampire prince, swanning through contemporary Los Angeles in a cloak lined with white silk. It suffers from reusing that tiresome mummy plot in which the monster bothers the reincarnation of his old girlfriend (Vonetta McGee), but it has some of the excitement of the wave of vampire movies with modern settings – Dracula AD 1972, Count Yorga – Vampire, The Night Stalker – common in the early 1970s.
Perennial loser Elisha Cook Jr gets an especially memorable death (‘lifted’ by Stephen King in ‘salem’s Lot) as a morgue attendant who gets a nasty shock when a murdered lady cab driver rises from the slab to attack. It struggles to include the mandatory blaxploitation digs at ‘the Man’, as the black Van Helsing type (Thalmus Rasulala) complains to the white cop on the case ‘it’s amazing how much sloppy police work involves black victims’ but there’s a certain aptness in the depiction of Count Dracula (a very hammy Charles Macaulay) as an arrogant racist swine. It was followed by a run of similar black horror pictures, including the inevitable Blackenstein, the more imaginative Dr Black and Mr Hyde and a superior sequel (with Pam Grier as a voodoo priestess) Scream, Blacula, Scream!
Though that search-for-the-reincarnation-of-the-lost-love theme was introduced to monster movies as early as The Mummy (1932) – which cops the idea from Rider Haggard’s She – it became recurrent in the vampire genre thanks to the TV soap Dark Shadows. Blacula is one of several 1970s vampire movies to be heavily influenced by Dan Curtis’s supernatural soap (Curtis added the reincarnation angle to his 1974 Dracula well before Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula). Ironically, Blacula follows Dark Shadows so closely in many ways that Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows feature comes across as a whitesploitation remake of Blacula, all the way down to the way it highlights now-comical-seeming 1970s white music (The Carpenters), fashions and hairstyles.