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Blacula(1972)

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Blacula (1972)

1972 was the same year that Hammer's varied attempts at reviving the vampire mythos had already stretched past its expiration date with Dracula AD 1972 (aka: Dracula Chelsea 72, Dracula Chases the Mini Girls, Dracula Today). The next year, Hammer would finally lay down the famous cape after The Satanic Rites of Dracula. During this time there were still plenty of other attempts at cashing in on the classic monsters of yesteryear but, after the horrors of Vietnam and Charles Manson invaded the living room, the nightmares of the country were going in new directions. Put another way: 1972 still had plenty of vampires, werewolves, devils, and demons, but it was also the same year that Wes Craven unleashed The Last House on the Left and Brian De Palma received critical praise for Sisters from such high profile critics as Pauline Kael. The blood was on the wall and the horror genre was moving toward more credible ways of scaring (and shocking) its audience. Among other cinematic developments in the early 1970's; Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and Shaft both made a splash in 1971 and proved that money could be made by targeting an urban black audience, thus giving rise to "blaxploitation" films. With these things in place it's no surprise that Blacula (1972), just by virtue of its name alone, would get made; it was born in the overlap of the fading revival of one genre and the encroaching dawn of another. What is a bit of a surprise, however, is that despite pushing Dracula's curse into the dirty streets of Los Angeles and having the opportunity to capitalize on upping the ante on spilled blood or even reworking the xenophobic tropes inherent in the original material about somebody from another country suddenly moving into the neighborhood and stealing the women, Blacula instead adheres primarily to a romantic and tragic model revolving around the doomed effort to regain a lost love.

A prologue transports us to a dark and stormy night where a title card tells us we are in "Transylvania, 1780, Castle Dracula." Inside the castle walls an African prince, Mamuwalde (dressed up in what looks like a Prom tux), and his beautiful wife, Luva, sit down for dinner with their host - Count Dracula. Mamuwalde is a leader of the Eboni tribe (the wordplay here is not very sophisticated, but you are watching a film called Blacula, after all), and he has come to Europe looking for assistance in fighting the slave trade. So you can imagine how offended he is when the Count, instead, offers to buy his wife. Those are, of course, fighting words. But before Mamuwalde can do anything the Count unleashes his goons, bites Mamuwalde on the neck, puts a curse on him - anoints him "Blacula" - and then closes him up in a coffin that is hidden deep within the castle in a secret room.

The low-budget lighting, costumes, and lackluster make-up within the prologue do not raise expectations. But then, seven-minutes in, we are treated to an inspired animated title-sequence by Sandy Dvore that shifts gears radically and suggests there might be some fun ahead; a funky score plays over a sequence that shows a bat chasing a red blob of blood through a maze of black-and-white veins - with the blood turning into a woman that is eventually attacked by the bat. This title sequence also works as a transition device from the stiff tone set by the prologue to what follows: a sunny exterior scene of the same castle, but now transporting us almost 200 years forward to "Transylvania, present day." Inside the castle two antique buyers, an ostentatious, stereotyped gay couple (wildly overacting) buy everything and ship it all back to L.A., where they open the coffin and become the first victims of Blacula's long-held thirst for blood.

Later, at the funeral home, Mamuwalde looks out from behind the curtains to see one of his victim's mourners, Tina, and identifies her as the reincarnation of Luva (yes, it's a small world, and a small budget always makes it even smaller). Alongside Tina is her sister, Michelle, and Michelle's boyfriend Dr. Gordon Thomas. Dr. Thomas is a forensic pathologist who, given how much time he is about to spend going after Blacula, may as well be the reincarnation of Van Helsing. Mamuwalde will soon chase after Tina in the dark streets of L.A., eventually meeting her at a night club. She is there celebrating her sister's birthday along with Dr. Thomas, who is suspicious of Mamuwalde. Perhaps it's the cape he wears? With those plot points out of the way we can settle into a serious seventies groove full of turtle-necks and polyester and watch as Blacula puts more moves on Tina, and puts the bite on anyone who gets in his way.

Producer: Joseph T. Naar
Director: William Crain
Screenplay: Joan Torres, Raymond Koenig
Cinematography: John M. Stevens
Film Editing: Allan Jacobs
Special Effects: Roger George
Music: Gene Page (conductor) & Al Simms (music coordinator)
Cast: William Marshall (Prince Mamuwalde, aka: Blacula), Vonetta McGee (Princess Luva, aka: Blacula's reincarnated wife, Tina), Charles Macaulay (Count Dracula), Ted Harris (Bobby McCoy), Denise Nicholas (Tina's sister, Michelle), Gordon Pinsent (Lt. Jack Peters), Thalmus Rasulala (forensic pathologist with "the Scientific Investigation Division," Dr. Gordon Thomas), Ketty Lester (cabbie, Juanita Jones), Emily Yancy (photographer, Nancy), Rick Metzler (Billy Schaffer), Logan Field (Sgt. Barnes), Elisha Cook, Jr. (hook-handed hospital orderly, Sam), Eric Brotherson (Real Estate Agent), Ji-Tu Cumbuka (Skillet), Flemming Williams (himself).
C-93m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Pablo Kjolseth

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Blacula (1972)

Blacula was directed by William Crain, whose TV work would include directing episodes of The Mod Squad, S.W.A.T. , Starsky and Hutch, and The Dukes of Hazzard.

Most critics of Blacula agree that William Marshall's central performance as the vampire played straight and with a deep, rumbling voice - is what both anchor and elevate the film to something beyond initial expectations. Marshall's background included training in Grand Opera, Broadway, and Shakespeare, and is also recognizable for his many acting roles on TV (The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Bonanza, Star Trek, The Wild Wild West, etc.) In the 1980's he was known as the King of Cartoons on Pee Wee's Play House.

Marshall is credited with suggesting his character be an African prince and that the name be changed from Andrew Brown (a reference to Amos and Andy) to Mamuwalde. He is quoted as saying: "I daresay the vast majority of people don't go to the theater, so I don't mind that I'm still so strongly identified with Blacula. I did enjoy Blacula to a great extent. Early on, young Black people who didn't know my name would yell at me on the street 'Mamuwalde, hey! Mamuwalde!' It was especially pleasing that I was being called by the African name I gave the character. I asked one young fan 'Who do you think I am?' He said, quoting from the nightclub scene, 'You know, you're the strange dude!'"

Blacula's first theatrical run was a financial success and it spawned a sequel, Scream, Blacula, Scream (1973). It also inspired many other entries in the blaxploitation/horror genre such as Blackenstein (1973), Ganja & Hess (1973), the Exorcist rip-off Abby (1974, also starring William Marshall), The House on Skull Mountain (1974), Sugar Hill (1974), Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde (1976), and J.D.'s Revenge (1976) but none were as successful at the box office as Blacula. Rumors of a film called Black the Ripper (1976) appear to be based on a Variety ad for the film's pre-production put out by the writer and director Frank R. Saletri (1928-1982), but aside from some word-of-mouth assertions by viewers who claim to have seen it no copies have yet surfaced.

The trailer for Blacula is reported to have been so popular with black audiences that many supposedly went to the cinema just to see the trailer.

Blacula's song credits, "What the World Knows," "There He Is Again," and "I'm Gonna Get You," were written by Wally Holmes and performed by The Hues Corporation who are also seen performing in Blacula. The name of this Santa Monica soul trio is a pun on the Hughes Corporation (with the word "hue" referring to their African-American heritage). They are best known for their #1 hit "Rock the Boat" (1974) and they would later share the stage with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Glen Campbell. Blacula was their first big break. The song "Main Chance" was sung by 21st Century Limited.

In 2003 a reissued CD of Blacula was made available. The track listings are below:

1. Blacula (The Stalkwalk)
2. Heavy Changes
3. Run, Tina, Run!
4. There He Is Again
5. Movin'
6. Main Chance
7. Good to the Last Drop
8. Blacula Strikes!
9. What the World Knows
10. I'm Gonna Catch You"
11. Call
12. Firebombs
13. Finding Love, Losing Love
14. Wakeeli (Swahili Farewell)

Sandy Dvore, who worked on the film title credits, was first known for designing the cover art for Buffalo Springfield's first album, and he went on to design the title sequences for TV shows (The Partridge Family) and soaps (The Young and the Restless, Knots Landing) and films (Blacula, Lipstick, 1976).

Anyone inclined toward an academic perspective with a focus on "the male gaze" can have a field day with Blacula. A scene at the nightclub is hilariously un-P.C., as the camera zooms in on a dancing woman's shaking butt and jiggling breasts. Of course, there is no "male gaze" quite like that of a vampire; once they stare deep into your eyes you become their slave and do their bidding. The last topic could have been rich fodder for a blaxploitation film but was left curiously untouched.

When Prince Mamuwalde is feeling social, he looks as dashing as he did back in 1870. But when he's angry or hungry he's Blacula - and he sports bushy eyebrows and hairy upper cheeks.

Roger George (Special Effects) got his start with Invisible Invaders (1959), and has worked on such recognizable titles as The Howling (1981), The Terminator (1984), and Repo Man (1984).

Compiled by Pablo Kjolseth

Sources:
Internet Movie Database
The Seventies Movies Rewind: Blacula by Jimmy Green
TV Guide, Maitland McDonagh

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Blacula (1972)

The central character of Blacula was resurrected for Scream, Blacula, Scream (1973).

Blacula won the first-ever "Best Horror Film" award at the 1972 Saturn Awards.

Although ignored by most critics at the time of its release, Blacula enjoyed a cult following that was given a boost in the 1980's thanks to exposure via Elvira's syndicated TV series, Movie Macabre.

Producer Paul Norbert and Dimension Productions announced Black Dracula the same year, but it was never made.

Matt Groening is clearly a fan, if the multiple references to Blacula in The Simpsons or Futurama is any sign. Wikipedia lists four:
1) In Simpson Tide, Homer is watching TV, and hears an announcer's voice say "Next, on Exploitation Theatre... Blacula, followed by Blackenstein, and The Blunchblack of Blotre Blame!"
2) In All's Fair in Oven War, a clip from the fake film Blacula Meets Black Dracula can be briefly seen.
3) In the I've Grown a Costume on Your Face segment of Treehouse of Horror XVI, Dr. Hibbert dresses as Dracula for Halloween, but Mayor Quimby confuses him for Blacula. When Hibbert appears offended by this, Quimby whispers to his bodyguard "Get him the standard racist remark apology letter. It's in the middle drawer."
4) In a segment from the Anthology of Interest I episode of Futurama, Fry's old boss Mr. Panucci states "There's only three real monsters, kid: Dracula, Blacula and Son of Kong."

Blacula film editor Allan Jacobs would later work on another vampire film this time featuring a protagonist who, while not black, was certainly known for his luxurious and dark tan (George Hamilton): Love at First Bite (1979).

In the same year as Blacula's release, cinematographer John M. Stephens (credited as John M. Stevens in Blacula), also worked on Martin Scorsese's Boxcar Bertha. He later worked for William Friedkin shooting Sorcerer (1977).

The original score for Blacula was conducted by Gene Page, who co-arranged many of Barry White's biggest hits and also worked on many of the H.R. Pufnstuf episodes as well as Brewster McCloud (1970).

Compiled by Pablo Kjolseth

Sources:
Internet Movie Database
Wikipedia

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Blacula (1972)

"Attempting to yoke the horror film with the appeal of the blaxploitation movies of the early seventies notably crime pictures like Shaft (1971) Blacula emerges as a largely unenterprising 'gimmick' movie." ... "Besides not making use of the protagonists blackness for any purpose of social or philosophical provocation, the film is dully scripted and for the most part flatly directed."
- Phil Hardy, The Overlook Film Encyclopedia of Horror.

"Racist twist on the old vampire clich: A black African Prince (William Marshall) is resurrected in Transylvania and shipped to L.A. As if the city isn't cursed enough, Prince Mamuwalde inflicts his own pain via punctures in the neck. Blacula falls for a reincarnated princess and pursues low-life types and cops through ghetto streets. It's such bloody good fun, it's a crying shame when the sun comes up."
-John Stanley, Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again

"Successful melding of blaxploitation and horror benefits from stately performance by Shakespearean vet Marshall (later the King of Cartoons on Pee Wee's Playhouse). With Denise Nichols (of TV's Room 222), Thalmus Rasulala, and Elisha Cook, Jr. (as a hook-handed hospital orderly). Followed by an inferior sequel, Scream, Blacula, Scream [1973] with Pam Grier (directed by Bob Kelljan of The Return of Count Yorga [1971] fame) and numerous pathetic imitators (Blackenstein [1973], Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde [1976], Abby [1974])." Three Bones.
- Carol Schwartz, Video Hound's Guide to Cult Flicks and Trash Pics

"Better than most of the black horror films, but besides the initial novelty, it's pretty ordinary. William Marshall is good as Mamuwalde, a vampire in modern L.A. As a former African prince bitten by the original Dracula, he's appalled by contemporary customs and morals, putting the bite on drug dealers and homosexual antique dealers to help clean things up. Thalmus Rasulala finally defeats him. With Denise Nicholas (Room 222), Elisha Cook, Jr., (with a mechanical hook hand), Vonetta McGee, and Gordon Pinsent. It was billed as the first black horror film. It wasn't. Scream, Blacula, Scream was the sequel. Music by The Hues Corporation."
- Michael Weldon, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film

"Though dated by its costumes and jive-talkin' dialogue, this remains the best of the early '70's blaxploitation horror films. Marshall is magnificent as African Prince Mamuwalde, cursed by Dracula and unearthed in modern L.A., where he puts the bite on a pair of gay antique dealers, a lady cabbie, and a night club photographer while romancing a young woman (the beautiful McGee) he takes for the reincarnation of his late wife. Sometimes looks like a cross between Count Yorga, Vampire and an episode of Good Times, but strong acting and some effective shock sequences make it a kick to watch." Three stars.
- James O'Neill, Terror on Tape

"If Blackenstein was one of the worst blaxploitation films ever made, Blacula is easily one of the best. Respected stage actor Marshall is outstanding in this subtle tongue-in-cheek version of the vampire legend... Although Blacula is surprisingly conventional (given the concept's potential) and painfully low-budget, the hammy performance by Marshall makes it enjoyable." Three stars.
- TV Guide

"Anybody who goes to a vampire movie expecting sense is in serious trouble, and Blacula offers less sense than most. But it does provide such bits of knowledge as the 'well-known fact' (not well-known to me) 'that vampires multiply geometrically . . .', or the useful information that a silver cross will also work against Third-world vampires from emergent African nations."
- Roger Greenspun, The New York Times.

"Some terrific shocks and some very lively dialogue."
- Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide

Compiled by Pablo Kjolseth

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Blacula (1972)

DRACULA (CHARLES MACAULAY): "Slavery has merit, I believe."
PRINCE MAMUWALDE (WILLIAM MARSHALL): "Merit? You find merit in barbarity?"
DRACULA: "Barbarous from the standpoint of the slave, perhaps. Intriguing and delightful from mine."

DR. THOMAS (THALMUS RASULALA): "What about the other victim, his associate?"
CORONER: "I didn't prepare that one. He was white. I don't get many whites in here."
DR. THOMAS: "Thank you for your help."
CORONER: "Glad to be of service. Any time you need my help don't hesitate to ask. I'm at your service, doctor. That's my job... (Gordon leaves)... doctor. That is the rudest nigger I've ever seen in my life."

TAXI-DRIVER (KETTY LESTER) TO BLACULA (after running him over in street while he was running after Tina): "Chasin' tail could get you killed, you know."

DR. THOMAS: "Strange how so many sloppy police jobs involve black victims."

DETECTIVE LT. PETERS (GORDON PINSENT): "There's been a lot of Panther activity lately."
DR. THOMAS: "Panthers? Come on, Jack, don't cop out. Two faggot interior decorators and a lady cabdriver? Panthers? Come on."

DR. THOMAS: "That was Swenson. Bobby's body just disappeared."
MICHELLE (DENISE NICHOLAS): "That's impossible."
MAMUWALDE: "Perhaps he wasn't dead."
DR. THOMAS: "What the hell does that mean? He was as dead as you can get. I examined him myself."
MAMUWALDE: (Stroking his lips.) "Just a passing thought."

MICHELLE: "You killed him!"
DR. THOMAS: "Michelle, he wasn't alive. He was killed by a vampire. He wasn't alive or dead. We just put him out of his misery."

DR. THOMAS: "Vampires multiply geometrically. First night there was one, second night two, third night four."LT. PETERS: "It's a goddamn epidemic."

SKILLET (JI-TU CUMBUKA): "You know, he is a strange dude."

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teaser Blacula (1972)

1972 was the same year that Hammer's varied attempts at reviving the vampire mythos had already stretched past its expiration date with Dracula AD 1972 (aka: Dracula Chelsea 72, Dracula Chases the Mini Girls, Dracula Today). The next year, Hammer would finally lay down the famous cape after The Satanic Rites of Dracula. During this time there were still plenty of other attempts at cashing in on the classic monsters of yesteryear but, after the horrors of Vietnam and Charles Manson invaded the living room, the nightmares of the country were going in new directions. Put another way: 1972 still had plenty of vampires, werewolves, devils, and demons, but it was also the same year that Wes Craven unleashed The Last House on the Left and Brian De Palma received critical praise for Sisters from such high profile critics as Pauline Kael. The blood was on the wall and the horror genre was moving toward more credible ways of scaring (and shocking) its audience. Among other cinematic developments in the early 1970's; Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and Shaft both made a splash in 1971 and proved that money could be made by targeting an urban black audience, thus giving rise to "blaxploitation" films. With these things in place it's no surprise that Blacula (1972), just by virtue of its name alone, would get made; it was born in the overlap of the fading revival of one genre and the encroaching dawn of another. What is a bit of a surprise, however, is that despite pushing Dracula's curse into the dirty streets of Los Angeles and having the opportunity to capitalize on upping the ante on spilled blood or even reworking the xenophobic tropes inherent in the original material about somebody from another country suddenly moving into the neighborhood and stealing the women, Blacula instead adheres primarily to a romantic and tragic model revolving around the doomed effort to regain a lost love.

A prologue transports us to a dark and stormy night where a title card tells us we are in "Transylvania, 1780, Castle Dracula." Inside the castle walls an African prince, Mamuwalde (dressed up in what looks like a Prom tux), and his beautiful wife, Luva, sit down for dinner with their host - Count Dracula. Mamuwalde is a leader of the Eboni tribe (the wordplay here is not very sophisticated, but you are watching a film called Blacula, after all), and he has come to Europe looking for assistance in fighting the slave trade. So you can imagine how offended he is when the Count, instead, offers to buy his wife. Those are, of course, fighting words. But before Mamuwalde can do anything the Count unleashes his goons, bites Mamuwalde on the neck, puts a curse on him - anoints him "Blacula" - and then closes him up in a coffin that is hidden deep within the castle in a secret room.

The low-budget lighting, costumes, and lackluster make-up within the prologue do not raise expectations. But then, seven-minutes in, we are treated to an inspired animated title-sequence by Sandy Dvore that shifts gears radically and suggests there might be some fun ahead; a funky score plays over a sequence that shows a bat chasing a red blob of blood through a maze of black-and-white veins - with the blood turning into a woman that is eventually attacked by the bat. This title sequence also works as a transition device from the stiff tone set by the prologue to what follows: a sunny exterior scene of the same castle, but now transporting us almost 200 years forward to "Transylvania, present day." Inside the castle two antique buyers, an ostentatious, stereotyped gay couple (wildly overacting) buy everything and ship it all back to L.A., where they open the coffin and become the first victims of Blacula's long-held thirst for blood.

Later, at the funeral home, Mamuwalde looks out from behind the curtains to see one of his victim's mourners, Tina, and identifies her as the reincarnation of Luva (yes, it's a small world, and a small budget always makes it even smaller). Alongside Tina is her sister, Michelle, and Michelle's boyfriend Dr. Gordon Thomas. Dr. Thomas is a forensic pathologist who, given how much time he is about to spend going after Blacula, may as well be the reincarnation of Van Helsing. Mamuwalde will soon chase after Tina in the dark streets of L.A., eventually meeting her at a night club. She is there celebrating her sister's birthday along with Dr. Thomas, who is suspicious of Mamuwalde. Perhaps it's the cape he wears? With those plot points out of the way we can settle into a serious seventies groove full of turtle-necks and polyester and watch as Blacula puts more moves on Tina, and puts the bite on anyone who gets in his way.

Producer: Joseph T. Naar
Director: William Crain
Screenplay: Joan Torres, Raymond Koenig
Cinematography: John M. Stevens
Film Editing: Allan Jacobs
Special Effects: Roger George
Music: Gene Page (conductor) & Al Simms (music coordinator)
Cast: William Marshall (Prince Mamuwalde, aka: Blacula), Vonetta McGee (Princess Luva, aka: Blacula's reincarnated wife, Tina), Charles Macaulay (Count Dracula), Ted Harris (Bobby McCoy), Denise Nicholas (Tina's sister, Michelle), Gordon Pinsent (Lt. Jack Peters), Thalmus Rasulala (forensic pathologist with "the Scientific Investigation Division," Dr. Gordon Thomas), Ketty Lester (cabbie, Juanita Jones), Emily Yancy (photographer, Nancy), Rick Metzler (Billy Schaffer), Logan Field (Sgt. Barnes), Elisha Cook, Jr. (hook-handed hospital orderly, Sam), Eric Brotherson (Real Estate Agent), Ji-Tu Cumbuka (Skillet), Flemming Williams (himself).
C-93m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Pablo Kjolseth

back to top