Blacula Movie Poster 
 

ransylvania, 1780.

African Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) and his wife Luva (pronounced Loo-Vah, played by Vonetta McGee) are visiting Count Dracula (Charles McCauley) in his castle. After a pleasant evening, they propose that Dracula adds his support to their campaign to stop the slave trade. Dracula refuses – the slave trade has “merit”, apparently – and this disagreement turns into a heated exchange that ends with Mamuwalde pinned down by Dracula’s servants. Dracula bites Mamuwalde, then takes him down to one of his basements. Here, he puts him in a coffin, and announces that he is now a vampire: “I will curse you with my name…You shall be – Blacula!” Then he locks Mamuwalde in the coffin, and outlines his fiendish plan to lock Luva in the basement to starve to death, while her husband can only listen while she dies. He goes back upstairs with his servants, and - sure enough - they lock Luva in with Mamuwalde (in his coffin) to die…

Transylvania, Present Day (well... 1972!)

Bobby McCoy (Ted Harris) and Billy Schaffer (Rick Metzler), two of the campest men to ever grace the earth with their presence, are antique dealers. They are negotiating with an agent to buy all of the furniture from Dracula’s castle (he’s long dead by this time) – they sing the contract to take EVERYTHING, and then discover the ‘secret’ basement where Mamuwalde and Luva were locked in almost two centuries ago. They take the coffin, not worrying about opening it – they just want to use it as a guest bed (“It’s SO camp, darling…” A camp bed, possibly? Sorry, sorry, excuse the pun).

Los Angeles, still Present Day (well - again, 1972)

Bobby and Billy check their new acquisitions in their warehouse, and while they do so Bobby decides to open the coffin to see what’s in it. Although he breaks the lock, before he opens the coffin properly Billy manages to cut himself quite badly while doing something a few feet away. Bobby goes over to try and stop the bleeding, and they’re both so caught up in the drama of it all that they don’t notice the coffin creak open…and Mamuwalde make his way out…and over to them… He attacks Billy first, sucking the blood from his arm, and then kills Bobby before draining him too. Then he puts on his cape (which seems to come from somewhere below the screen), and lowers himself back into his coffin, chuckling menacingly to himself.

At Bobby’s funeral, Mamuwalde is lurking behind a curtain (he later explains his presence there by saying that he was taking care of a little business of his own). He sees Bobby’s hand move, even though Bobby is supposed to be ‘dead’. Bobby’s friend Tina and her sister Michelle (Denise Nicholas) are there – Tina (also played by Vonetta McGee) pulls back her hood and she is identical to Luva! This resemblance is not lost on Mamuwalde. Also present is Michelle’s friend and work colleague (and possibly her lover) Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala), who is examining Bobby’s body. The Funeral Director / Mortician tells Dr. Thomas that Bobby seemed to die from a ‘rat bite’ to the neck. The director hasn’t embalmed him yet. Dr. Thomas notes that Bobby has no blood in his body.

Tina is walking home, when she suddenly gets the sensation of being followed. She starts to run from the thing behind her, only to round a corner and run into Mamuwalde, who thinks she’s Luva. Now quite seriously scared, Tina runs away again and while running drops her purse. Mamuwalde stops and picks it up, only to be hit by a cab as he walks across the road. The driver (Ketty Lester) gets out and helps Mamuwalde up, only to be attacked when Mamuwalde realises that because she hit him, he’s lost Tina.

Tina gets home, uses her spare key to get in, and double locks the door – suddenly, someone starts banging on it. It’s only Michelle. Tina tells her what happened. Meanwhile, Mamuwalde makes his way back to the warehouse, and his coffin. He still has Tina’s purse.

Dr. Thomas is investigating the mysterious ‘blood loss’ cases that he has seen. He examines the body of Juanita Jones (the taxi driver) and notices that she has two small puncture wounds on her neck…and has lost all the blood in her body…Mmmmmm…could this be the work of a vampire?

The good Doctor refers the fact that there may be a connection between the deaths of Bobby, Billy and Juanita to his friend Lieutenant Peters (Gordon Pinsent). There is a delay in the investigation, though – Bobby and Billy’s files have gone missing, and Dr. Thomas can’t examine Bobby’s body again because the family are viewing it until 8pm. Dr. Thomas decides to go out as he had planned to – after all, it’s Michelle’s birthday.

When Tina, Michelle and Dr. Thomas are out at a club, Mamuwalde walks in. He finds Tina and gives her the purse back, explaining that he meant her no harm. She invites him to sit with them, feeling strangely drawn to him. Could she have met him before, somehow? Meanwhile, Dr. Thomas gets a phone call – Bobby’s body has gone missing…

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Written By: Jimmy Green [Contact]

This appears to be merely a Black version of Dracula to begin with, but don’t be fooled - this is not the case. Although it features the standard vampire iconography (bats, capes, fangs, blood, coffins), it transforms into something more than a mere carbon copy of Bram Stoker’s novel. There are several themes unusual to Dracula films of this time:

Reincarnation is bought into it, something that is hinted at in the novel but wouldn’t fully come to fruition in film until Francis Ford Coppola’s film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” in 1992. I’m not necessarily saying that Coppola stole the idea from Blacula, but it seemed to be here first.

The sociological idea of slavery is introduced, something mentioned explicitly in the fine opening sequence, and explored later on a more implicit level. (Mamuwalde ‘enslaves’ his victims, and as Mikel J. Koven points out in his rather patronising, simplified and occasionally childish book ‘The Pocket Essential Blaxploitation Films’ from 2001, Mamuwalde also acts as a link from the present to the past, literally acting as “living history for contemporary blacks”.)


On a visual level, the film has some intriguing ideas. It echoes the Universal horrors of the 30s and 40s, but with slightly more graphic ideas (similar to the UK-made Hammer films of the 50s and 60s). The opening title sequence is excellent, almost like a cartoon vampire version of Pac-Man. The sequences when Mamuwalde attacks are initially almost comical, but quickly turn effective when he bites down on his victims. At times, Mamuwalde looks almost like a werewolf, with his excessive facial hair, but William Marshall’s performance sugars this particular pill so that it isn’t as distracting as it might have been.

The soundtrack is excellent, an unjustly forgotten gem that deserves to be reissued on a wide scale – a very effective opening theme, and Gene Page’s incidental music fits the film perfectly. [Ed note: There is a 2003 reissue on CD -use our search feature to find it]

The casting of Vonetta McGee in both the role of Luva and Tina is clever, again predating the casting of Winona Ryder in a duel role in Coppola’s Dracula film by a good 18 years. Thalmus Rasulala as Dr. Thomas is not too bad, but unlike other Van Helsing characters in Dracula films he isn’t given a great deal to do other than act churlishly towards other characters.

This is a good film, although you may find it a bit amateurish the first time you see it (especially the green masks for the vampires at the beginning, which is obviously a very cheap effect), but on second watching (and beyond!) it gets better. Despite lapses into cheese at times, this film is recommended!


Rewind Factor: 8.5

Film was awarded the ‘Best Horror Film of 1972’ by the Academy of Horror Films and Science Fiction Films.

The trailer for this film was apparently so popular amongst black audiences (seeing a black horror film for the first time) that people would go to the cinemas specifically to see the trailer, much like audiences did for the newer Star Wars films. According to William Marshall, in certain cinemas the film was postponed so that people would still come to watch the trailer.

The image used to market Blacula was not one that William Marshall had posed for – it was doctored by the studio for promotional purposes. Marshall did not want the “sensationalised image of black on white lust” that the studio eventually plumped for, and it never occurs in the film at all.

The original name of Mamuwalde in the script was Andrew Brown, the same name as Andy in ‘Amos and Andy’. The name was changed at William Marshall’s insistence, and the idea that the title figure was an African Prince was also suggested by Marshall. “I suggested an African hero who had never been subjected to slavery,” he said in an interview for the book ‘What It Is, What It Was’, “an African prince travelling to Europe with his beloved wife, to persuade his ‘brother’ European aristocrats to oppose the African slave trade.”

Although William Marshall is primarily well-known as a distinguished stage actor (and as the cartoon fella on Pee-Wee's Playhouse), he has said “I daresay the vast majority of people don’t go to the theatre, 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!”

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[16:9 -Widescreen Enhanced][STEREO or SURROUND]Trailer
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Blacula Soundtrack

Excellent soundtrack, with a few hip hop producers noticing it and, erm, using sections for their productions. Very funky, very catchy, and excellently produced. Gene Page, stand up and be applauded!

2003 Reissue Track listing:

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].

Soundtrack Available: On CD

 


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"Deadlier Than Dracula!"

 
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Blacula Movie Details
Year:
1972
Studio:
AIP
Director:
William Crane
Starring:
William Marshall, Vonetta McGee, Denise Nicholas, Thalmus Rasulala, Gordon Pinsent, Charles McCauley, Ted Harris, Rick Metzler
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Genre:
Horror
  
+
Good fun, some creepy moments, an effective (and subtle) treatment of some tricky themes, and an EXCELLENT performance by William Marshall.
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Some cheesy bits: especially the green masks at the beginning, and a bit slow in places. Some pacing problems.

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