Jill and I tackle a B-movie legend this week. Whether or not it’s considered a true classic, I’m really not sure but it definitely boasts an intriguing premise and a pleasing super 70s aesthetic – and paved the way for a slew of Black horror movies, many of which we are slowly working our way through on our very own blogs.
I have things to say about it though. Lots of things.
An ancient African prince, turned into a vampire by Dracula himself, finds himself in modern Los Angeles.
Manuwalde (Marshall) is an African statesman visiting with Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay), though we don’t know it’s Drac until a few minutes into the introduction. Manuwalde’s mission is to convince the big man to help him end slavery but he fails to convince. Dracula insults his guest by suggesting he’d like to buy a night with his lovely wife, Luva (McGee) and argues that there’s still a place for slavery in the world.
Manuwalde is obviously outraged and makes to leave immediately but the Prince of Darkness has other ideas. He turns M into a vampire, christened ‘Blacula’ and entombs him in the castle’s dungeon to hunger for human blood for all eternity. Luva is also thrown into the bargain, where she starves to death.
Two hundred years later, a pair of interior decorators – Bobby McCoy (Ted Harris) and Billy Schaffer (Rick Metzler) – visit Drac’s estate with the sole intention of bringing a catalog of tasty antiques back to L.A. The draw of their former owner proves too delicious and amongst the pieces is a little ol’ coffin that would look just darling in a guest bedroom setting as a traditional bed alternative. Alas for our sweet pair, Blacula awakes with an unquenchable thirst and they’re soon toast.
After his first snack in two centuries, Blacula/Manuwalde spots a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife Luva outside the morgue where her friend Bobby has been laid to rest. The woman in question is Tina (also McGee), who understandably freaks the fuck out when he chases her through the streets. In the kerfuffle, she loses her purse and all her ID – and fears he’ll come for her at her apartment.
Stressed at losing sight of his lady love, Blac takes his frustration out on the throat of a wonderful, scene-stealing cab driver who ends up in the morgue. This sudden influx of corpses with unusual neck injuries captures the attention of a pathologist, Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) who’s starting to put two and two together. Thomas just happens to be Tina’s brother-in-law too – small world, huh?
Later Tina is on a night out with her sister Michelle (Nicholas) and Gordon at possibly the best movie nightclub I have ever seen. The group are mourning Bobby’s death over drinks. Blac is a smooth operator and rocks up with Tina’s bag, full of apology for scaring her that night. She easily forgives him and welcomes him to join them at the table. While she’s quickly smitten, Gordon is suspicious and the group generally think he’s a weirdo. It doesn’t help when he freaks out over a photograph taken by a club hostess. Later said hostess is turned into a vampire in her own home.
From here I guess all you really need to know is that Blac is killing and turning people indiscriminately, while romancing Tina – who now knows the truth and believes him when he tells her she’s his wife reincarnate. Gordon’s on the case with the help of Lt. Jack Peters (Gordon Pinsent) though and it all comes to a head when Blac reveals his army of undead buddies.
Will lovesick Tina do the right thing and hand Blac over for the good of mankind – or will love rule all?
Look, this is fun to a point and I can understand how important it was at the time. But I was disappointed and maybe my reasons for not being crazy about it aren’t fair.
I get that Blacula would be seriously fucked off by the cards dealt to him but I wish his victims had all been white. As Manuwalde, he’s a prince with an agenda and it’s a good one – to end slavery once and for all. So I expected more from Blacula’s motivations – how great if he’d chosen his victims with the purpose of turning that on its head? An army of white undead slaves would have been poetic AF (though probably wouldn’t have got the film made, let’s face it). I’m aware though that this is probably a bit rich expecting our Black antagonist to have a moral compass/palatable agenda when his white counterparts get to do whatever the fuck they want.
The film is also very liberal with the ‘f’ word – that’s not FUCK but f*ggot – a word I can’t even bring myself to type in full. I hate it so much and it’s thrown around a lot. Sure, maybe it’s a sign of this time period and a way of illustrating the prejudice suffered by its gay characters, but can we not?
Meanwhile, the female characters aren’t very well-rounded. Tina is beautiful but she’s not given much to do beyond be Blacula’s raison d’etre. Her sister Michelle is a little cooler but doesn’t feature nearly enough. Can I also state here that if anyone deserved a spin-off from this it should have been the cab driver, who is magnificent in every way. What a babe!
It’s also a tad boring in places and the end is poignant but for nothing. There are sequels so I don’t know if they lead us further into the story but I honestly don’t know if I can be bothered to explore them.
HOWEVER. This is undoubtedly essential viewing for blaxploitation horror fans and thank God it exists. I’m very happy that it does and I can imagine it was quite something to behold back in ’72. There are also some wonderful observations made – in one scene, Gordon ponders why investigations into the murder of Black victims are always so bodged.
Exactly, Gordy. EXACTLY.