Friday, December 7, 2007

Blacula (1972) & Scream Blacula Scream (1973)

This film's been rattling around in my head for a long time. I was only five in 1972, when it came out in theaters--and I'm sure my mom wouldn't have let me see it then even if I'd asked. (Not that I had much interest in vampires then.)

But being a kid who enjoyed the weird/offbeat, references to the film would sometimes show up in books I was reading (I read a lot of books about movie monsters).

Anyway, it came out on DVD a few years ago. And when I saw it for rent recently, all those old book references came flooding right back. So I rented it.

It's a Blaxploitation film and the plot centers around an 18th century, European-educated, African prince named Mamuwalde. In 1780, the prince and his wife pay a visit to... Count Dracula... in an effort to convince him to use his political clout to lobby against the African slave trade.

But the Count, being an evil vampire (and a racist as well), just chomps on Mamuwalde's neck and turns him into a vampire too. Then, to be especially nasty, Dracula locks the Prince in a coffin (so he'll forever thirst for blood but never actually get any) and then seals he and his wife in an airtight (she suffocates) room forever .

At least, until 1972, when a couple of interior decorators from L.A. buy Count Dracula's estate (including the locked coffin) and have it transported to the states. Then (duh!) they OPEN the coffin.

Now, none of the Blaxploitation films (or any of the exploitation style films for that matter) were known for their, uh, quality screenplays and A-list actors. And this is no exception: it's kind of a silly story with a lot of actors delivering silly lines.


What DOES raise this one above the crowd is the performance given by the actor playing Mamuwalde, William Marshall. Marshall was a classically trained stage actor and (!) opera singer, with a downright commanding physical presence and a powerful baritone voice.

And the man could ACT. I know this because he singlehandedly takes a laughable role in a laughable film and makes something a bit (dare I say?) noble out of it. He really just saves the film.

The film also happens to be the first time a vampire was portrayed as a conflicted character--Mamuwalde's a good guy and would like nothing better than to settle back into life as a human being. But the old blood-lust won't let him.

The film inspired a sequel (Scream Blacula Scream) that, like most sequels, didn't quite live up to it's source material. But Marshall's performance there was just as good.

Both films are available on DVD (I think even in a twin-pack!) and they're worth your time. Well, they were worth mine, I guess that's all I can really say. So I'm sayin' it.


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