Blacula is a 1972 American blaxploitation horror film directed by William Crain. It stars William Marshall in the title role about an 18th-century African prince named Mamuwalde, who is turned into a vampire (and later locked in a coffin) by Count Dracula in the Count's castle in Transylvania in the year 1780 after Dracula refused to help Mamuwalde suppress the slave trade.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||William Crain|
|Music by||Gene Page|
|Cinematography||John M. Stephens|
|Edited by||Allan Jacobs|
|Distributed by||American International Pictures|
Blacula was released to mixed reviews in the United States, but was one of the top-grossing films of the year. It was the first film to receive an award for Best Horror Film at the Saturn Awards. Blacula was followed by the sequel Scream Blacula Scream in 1973 and inspired a wave of blaxploitation-themed horror films.
In 1780, Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) is sent by the elders of the Abani African nation to seek the help of Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay) in suppressing the slave trade. Dracula, instead, laughs at this request and insults Mamuwalde by making thinly veiled overtures about enslaving his wife, Luva (Vonetta McGee). After a scuffle with Dracula's minions, Mamuwalde is transformed into a vampire. Dracula curses him with the name "Blacula" and imprisons him in a sealed coffin in a crypt hidden beneath the castle. Luva is also imprisoned in the crypt and left to die.
In 1972, the coffin is purchased as part of an estate by two homosexual interior decorators, Bobby McCoy (Ted Harris) and Billy Schaffer (Rick Metzler) and shipped to Los Angeles. Bobby and Billy open the coffin and become Prince Mamuwalde's first victims. At the funeral home where Bobby McCoy's body is laid, Mamuwalde spies on mourning friends Tina Williams (Vonetta McGee), her sister Michelle (Denise Nicholas), and Michelle's boyfriend, Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala), a pathologist for the Los Angeles Police Department. Mamuwalde believes Tina is the reincarnation of his deceased wife, Luva. On close investigation of the corpse at the funeral home, Dr. Thomas notices oddities with Bobby McCoy's death that he later concludes to be consistent with vampire folklore.
Prince Mamuwalde continues to kill and transform various people he encounters, as Tina begins to fall in love with him. Thomas, his colleague Lt. Peters (Gordon Pinsent), and Michelle follow the trail of murder victims and begin to suspect a vampire is responsible. After Thomas digs up Billy's coffin, Billy's corpse rises as a vampire and attacks Thomas, who fends him off and drives a stake through his heart. Thomas also finds a photo negative taken of Mamuwalde and Tina in which Mamuwalde is not visible. After killing one of the undead victims in the city morgue, Thomas and Peters track Mamuwalde to his hideout, the warehouse where Bobby McCoy and Billy Schaffer were first slain. They locate and defeat several vampires, but Mamuwalde manages to escape.
Mamuwalde lures Tina to his new hideout at a nearby chemical plant, while Thomas and a group of police officers pursue him. Mamuwalde dispatches several officers, but one of them accidentally shoots Tina fatally. To save her life, Mamuwalde transforms her into a vampire. One of the policemen locates the coffin and alerts Peters. However, Peters inadvertently kills Tina with a stake, believing that Mamuwalde would be in the coffin instead. Devastated at losing her again, Mamuwalde willingly climbs the stairs to the roof where the morning sun destroys him.
- William Marshall as Prince Mamuwalde / Blacula
- Denise Nicholas as Michelle Williams
- Vonetta McGee as Tina Williams / Luva
- Gordon Pinsent as Lt. Jack Peters
- Thalmus Rasulala as Dr. Gordon Thomas
- Emily Yancy as Nancy
- Lance Taylor Sr. as Swenson
- Logan Field as Sergeant Barnes
- Ted Harris as Bobby McCoy
- Rick Metzler as Billy Schaffer
- Ketty Lester as Juanita Jones / Taxi Girl
- Charles Macaulay as Count Dracula
- Ji-Tu Cumbuka as Skillet
- Elisha Cook, Jr. as Sam
- Eric Brotherson as Real Estate Agent
- The Hues Corporation as themselves
- Rick Hochman as The Young Hoch
Many members of the cast and crew of Blacula had worked in television. Director William Crain had directed episodes of The Mod Squad. William H. Marshall's Mamuwalde was the first black vampire to appear in film. Marshall had previously worked in stage productions and in episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Nurses, Star Trek and Mannix. Thalmus Rasulala who plays Dr. Gordon Thomas had previously been in episodes of The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, and Rawhide.
Blacula was in production between late January and late March 1972. While Blacula was in its production stages, William Marshall worked with the film producers to make sure his character had some dignity. His character name was changed from Andrew Brown to Mamuwalde and his character received a background story about being an African prince who had succumbed to vampirism. Blacula was shot on location in Los Angeles, with some scenes shot in Watts and the final scenes taken at the Hyperion Outfall Treatment Plant in Playa del Rey.
The music for Blacula is unlike that of most horror films as it uses rhythm and blues as opposed to haunting classical music. The film's soundtrack features a score by Gene Page and contributions by the Hues Corporation and 21st Century Ltd.
Blacula opened in Washington, Dallas, Seattle and Oklahoma City on July 26, 1972, and in Chicago two days later. Prior to its release, American International Pictures' marketing department wanted to ensure that black audiences would be interested in Blacula; some posters for the film included references to slavery. American International Pictures also held special promotional showings at two New York theaters; anyone wearing a flowing cape would receive free admission. Blacula was popular in America, debuting at #24 on Variety's list of top films. It eventually grossed over a million dollars, making it one of the highest-grossing films of 1972.
Blacula received mixed reviews on its initial release. Variety gave the film a positive review praising the screenplay, music and acting by William Marshall. The Chicago Reader praised the film, writing that it would leave its audience more satisfied than many other "post-Lugosi efforts". Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune awarded three stars out of four, calling it "well-made and quite frightening." A review from Roger Greenspun in The New York Times was negative, stating that anyone who "goes to a vampire movie expecting sense is in serious trouble, and "Blacula" offers less sense than most." In Films & Filming, a reviewer referred to the film as "totally unconvincing on every level". The Monthly Film Bulletin described the film as "a disappointing model for what promised to be an exciting new genre, the black horror film." and that apart from the introductory scene, "the film conspicuously fails to pick up on any of its theme's more interesting possibilities–cinematic or philosophical." The film was awarded the Best Horror Film title at the first Saturn Awards.
Among more recent reviews, Kim Newman of Empire gave the film two stars out of five, finding the film to be "formulaic and full of holes". Time Out gave the film a negative review, stating that it "remains a lifeless reworking of heroes versus vampires with soul music and a couple of good gags." Film4 awarded the film three and a half stars out of five, calling it "essential blaxploitation viewing." Allmovie gave the film two and a half stars out of five, noting that Blacula is "better than its campy title might lead one to believe...the film suffers from the occasional bit of awkward humor (the bits with the two homosexual interior decorators are the most squirm-inducing), but Joan Torres and Raymond Koenig's script keeps things moving at a fast clip and generates some genuine chills." The Dissolve gave the film two and a half stars, stating that "The placement of an old-fashioned, Bela Lugosi-type Dracula—albeit much, much sweatier—in a modern black neighborhood is a great idea, but the amateurish production leaves Marshall as stranded in the film as his Mamuwalde is stranded in the times."
Aftermath and influence
The box office success of Blacula sparked a wave of other black-themed horror films. A sequel to the film titled Scream Blacula Scream was released in 1973 by American International. The film also stars William Marshall in the title role along with actress Pam Grier. American International was also planning a follow-up titled Blackenstein, but chose to focus on Scream Blacula Scream instead. Blackenstein was eventually produced by Exclusive International Pictures.
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