1972’s Blacula and 1973’s Scream Blacula Scream are prime examples of the blaxplotation genre from the 70’s. Known to follow the same rules of the exploitation films of the same time but typically made for a black audience, the films featured funk and soul music with black casts. William Crain (Bracula) and Bob Kelljan (Scream Blacula Scream) directed two films that featured William Marshall in the title role as Blacula. The sequel film is best remembered for starring Pam Grier when she was first starting off her career.
In the 18th century, Mamuwalde (Marshall) vists the home of Count Dracula with his wife, Luva (Vonetta McGee). They drink and talk, but when the couple realise it is time to leave, Dracula has other ideas in store. He attacks Mamuwalde and imprisons him in a coffin below the ground, bearing the curse that when he one day wakes, he will be subjected to the same torment as Dracula. Luva is forced to sit alone by the coffin in the room, where she will take her last breath. Fast forward a couple of hundred years and funk has taken off. Parties of people dance to this music and black culture is really coming into its own. A gay couple (wonderfully stereotypical as they own an antique store) find themselves in Dracula’s home where they wake Mamuwalde from his sleep and they become his first victims. Dr Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) starts to worry when bodies start to turn up with bite marks in their necks and other bodies start to mysteriously disappear; he believes something supernatural is at work and will go to any extremes to prove to Lt. Jack Peters (Gordon Pinsent) what is going on.
When Mamuwalde joins a group at a club, he instantly falls for Tina, who looks exactly like his wife (also played by McGee). The rest of Blacula is the story of Thomas on the tail of the vampire and Mamuwalde trying to figure out whether he can reveal his true self to Tina. Her friends worry about her but she seems comfortable around him; perhaps he can persuade her to let him bite her?
The film ends in a violent showdown between the police and Mamuwalde. Tina is killed in the chaos, despite Mamuwalde’s best efforts to keep her alive both as a human and then a vampire. But in the end, he must lose. He has lost his love again and he hands himself over to the light.
A year later, a sequel, Scream Blacula Scream was made. This time, Mamuwalde’s spirit and bones are stirred when a voodoo spell is cast to bring him back to life. As a voodoo queen dies, she bequeaths her throne to Lisa (Pam Grier) but another, Willis (Richard Lawson) is outraged as he believes he is the true heir. When Mamuwalde bites Willis and makes him a slave, a whole new spate of vampire related killings start to pop up over town. Justin (Don Mitchell), a collector of African antiquities and believer in the occult starts to investigate the killings and soon meets Mamuwalde. His girlfriend, Lisa grows particularly interested in Mamuwalde and when she finds out what he really is, he asks whether she can rid him of the curse.
As a pair, these films are an interesting and important key into two genres within film history; both the blaxplotation genre as mention but also b-movie horror, which was growing more popular and remains so. For an audience today, these films do require the audience to remember they were made in a time and in an industry where racism was openly accepted. This matter could be translated in the stereotypes that the films work with and yet at the same time, they were also key in pushing forth a sense of equality within film and to help bring black audiences into the cinema.
Of course today, they seem really quite outdated and funny to watch but they are also well made and produced films. Opening a door into another era of films and filmmaking, Blacula is certainly one for the enthusiasts to watch and savour.