Starring William Marshall, Vonetta McGee, Denise Nicholas, Gordon Pinsent, Charles Macaulay, Thalmus Rasulala
Directed By William Crain
Transylvania, 1780 – Castle Dracula
It is a dark and stormy night and Count Dracula is entertaining African Prince Mamuwalde and his wife. (Because, as we all know, Dracula was well known for his important contributions to politics in 18th century Europe.) The lovely couple are enjoying small talk and champagne with Dracula when the Prince gets down to business and discusses the concerns of his people. All is going fine until Dracula scoffs at the prince’s attempt to convince him to do something about the slave trade. Tensions flare and the Count even has the audacity to propose a deal for Mamuwalde’s beautiful Zulu wife! Dracula’s honkies of the night restrain the Prince, as the lord of darkness bares his fangs and sinks them deep into his neck, cursing him for all eternity and christening him… “Blacula.”
Transylvania, Present Day – Castle Dracula
Dracula’s castle has fallen on hard times. The Count has long been vanquished, and an interracial couple of flamboyantly gay interior decorators are sizing the property up in an attempt to strip it clean of its stylishly gothic furnishings and mark the prices up stateside. The real estate guy repeatedly warns them of Dracula’s curse, dark spirits, foreboding evils, and a lot of generally spooky talk that would turn most folks away. But these are gay guys in a blaxploitation film, so unfortunately you already know they are gonna ignore all common sense and be the first to get it. These films seemed to have a vendetta against homosexuals for reasons I could never really figure out. Yeah, it’s a little troubling… but look, if you’re watching a film titled Blacula chances are you aren’t going out of your way looking for political correctness anyway.
The couple lisp their way through embarrassing, stereotypically gay dialogue before stumbling upon a hidden room with an old coffin inside. They decide to pack it up with all of the other goods and ship it all back with them to…
Los Angeles, Present Day
So in case you were initially wondering… yes, this is how a 200 year-old black vampire finds himself in 1972 Los Angeles. With all of Dracula’s furniture boxed up and shipped safely to its destination, the gay white guy (who I forgot to mention is portrayed by the same actor who played the gay white guy in Friday Foster) decides to finally crack open the coffin. Yep, Blacula is awakened from centuries of undead sleep and feasts upon his first two victims.
Blacula, despite his unquenchable thirst for human blood, is actually a pretty nice guy and attends the funeral of the black guy he killed. Also attending the service are the man’s two sisters and his brother-in-law. Blacula takes special notice of the younger of the two sisters, Tina, because she is the spitting image of his Zulu wife from centuries ago. The brother-in-law, Dr. Thomas, is the film’s requisite bad motherfucker, down to the cleanly groomed sideburns and Richard Roundtree moustache. He introduces himself to the undertaker as a police investigator and takes a peculiar interest in the corpse, noticing the bite marks on its neck. He seems pretty hip to this vampire shit and begins an investigation immediately.
Blacula, meanwhile, is strutting around downtown Los Angeles in full vampire regalia and with enough facial hair to send Karl Marx into a state of apoplexy but nobody seems to take any notice. He goes on a nocturnal murder spree while stalking Tina and eventually placing her under his spell and wooing her. Hell, I was under his spell too. It really is a testament to William Marshall’s excellent performance, the man commands the screen and is anything but cheesy.
Blacula and Dr. Thomas are perfect foils for each other and in one of the film’s best scenes, the two find themselves sharing a table at a nightclub, smooth talking the shit out of each other, neither revealing their full hand, in a suave game of cat and mouse.
Despite the obvious trappings of novelty, Blacula works extremely well due to solid performances and an insistence on taking itself seriously. What could have easily been a camp film instead ends up surprisingly solid. The two leads are fantastic, but ultimately, this is Blacula’s show. The filmmakers were smart to never really paint him as a villain. The ending, which could have been a complete cop-out, is perfect and really brings Blacula’s tragedy full circle. This may be one of American International’s finest moments and is definitely a cornerstone in blaxploitation film.