Blacula (1972) Dir. William Crain
The premise of Blacula is a magnificent one. In the 1700s, African Prince, Mamuwalde and his wife are visiting castle Dracula as foreign dignitaries in hopes that they may enlist the Count to help stop the slave trade. After Dracula insults Mamuwalde by offering to purchase the Prince’s wife, the Count and the Prince battle. As punishment for his transgression, Dracula curses Mamuwalde to be a vampire, locking the Prince in a coffin for all eternity so he may never feed. The Prince’s wife is locked in the crypt with her undead husband, forced to hear his screams in agony until her own demise. Flash forward almost two hundred years, when a pair of antique dealers purchase the Dracula estate, coffins and all, unleashing the undead Prince on Los Angeles. As Mamuwalde cuts a swath of terror through L.A., turning his victims into undead legions, Dr. Thomas, an L.A.P.D. pathologist is hot on his tail, desperate to find the cause of the mysterious murders.
Unfortunately, Blacula never delivers completely on the promise of this concept. The intro is stagey and lacks depth of character. We are to believe that Mamuwalde adores his wife, seeking to find her reincarnated person in 70’s L.A., but we never really get a sense of their connection from the intro. All we know is that Dracula insults the Prince and his Bride by offering to buy her, because he is a rich asshole, and a racist, oh… and also a vampire. Who would have thought that vampire was the least bad thing that Dracula could be? There is also the problem with homosexual stereotypes and derogatory language toward the homosexual community. The two antique dealers that unwittingly purchase Mamuwalde, are clearly depicted as gay lovers. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but characters throughout the film keep referring to them as “fags”. You could chalk this up to being “of its time” but it is certainly a part of the film that hasn’t aged well, and makes for some very cringe-worthy moments. There are also a smattering of scenes that slow down the action. The prolonged musical numbers in the night club in particular are guilty of this. These scenes are more concerned with showcasing stage acts and musical numbers, than in moving the plot and characters forward.
However, even with all of its faults, Blacula is worth a watch. The performers in the film are terrific and raise the material with their exceptional skill. William Marshall is a particular standout as Prince Mamuwalde. He brings a Shakespearian gravitas and dignity to a part that in lesser hands would be comical. Thalmus Rasulala is also brilliant as Dr. Thomas, the man of science hunting the vampire through the city. I should also mention that this film offers some brilliant horror moments, the scene wherein the Prince dispatches the photographer in her dark room is a work of art. The slow motion sequence of the vampire taxi driver running toward camera is genuinely scary.
It should be mentioned that the title name, “Blacula” is never uttered by anyone other than Dracula at the beginning of the film. You get the sense that they had a concept they were trying to sell, and “Blacula” cuts closer to the target than “Mamuwalde: Blood Prince”, or something like that. This movie does serve to illuminate the era when horror crossed over with “Blaxploitation”. It is certainly a better film than other horror/Blaxploitation films. The Thing with Two Heads is a hysterical piece of garbage, but no one in that film holds a candle to Marshall or Rasulala.
Is it worth it? Yes. Blacula is a frustrating film to be sure, mostly because you can see potential squandered. However, the bright spots in the movie are worth your time, even if you have to trudge through some poor writing, sloppy camera work and some dull inconsequential scenes and characters. With a few modifications, the title being a big one, you could easily remake this movie into a better version, or at the very least adapt it to a fun stage musical.