|Directed by||William Crain|
|Cinematography||John M. Stephens|
|Edited by||Allan Jacobs|
|Music by||Gene Page|
|Distributed by||American International Pictures|
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.
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.
This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (August 2021)
In 1780, Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) is sent by the elders of the Nigerian Ibani 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 open overtures about enslaving his wife, Luva (Vonetta McGee). After a scuffle with Dracula's minions, Mamuwalde is bitten by Dracula and transformed into a vampire. Dracula then 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 same crypt and left powerless to help until she finally starves to death.
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 inside a Los Angeles warehouse only to become Blacula's first victims. At the funeral home where Bobby McCoy's body is laid, Blacula 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. Blacula is startled to notice that Tina appears to be 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. Blacula precedes to follow Tina after she leaves the funeral home, but unintentionally frightens her, and Tina runs from him, dropping her purse in the process. He loses her when a cab strikes him while he crosses the street. The female cabbie, Juanita Jones (Ketty Lester), openly berates Blacula when she realizes he is uninjured, which angers him enough for him to attack and kill her.
Blacula continues to kill and transform various people he encounters, including Nancy, a photographer at the nightclub where Dr. Thomas, Michelle and Tina celebrate Michelle's birthday, and where Blacula shows up to return Tina's purse she dropped the night before. While Dr. Thomas receives a phone call from the funeral director, Mr. Swenson, informing him that Bobby McCoy's body has gone missing, Tina is clearly taken with Blacula, who asks to see her again the following evening, but they are interrupted by Nancy taking a photograph of them together. Soon after, Blacula attacks and kills Nancy in her nearby home, and destroys the photo of Tina and Blacula she just developed, which shows Blacula conspicuously absent. The next evening, Blacula visits Tina at her apartment, and shares with her how he and his wife Luva were enslaved by Dracula, and how he was cursed into vampirism. Tina initially rejects Blacula's request for her to rejoin him, as he believes Tina to be Luva reincarnated, but Tina is also beginning to fall in love with him, and asks Blacula to stay the night with her.
Dr. Thomas, his colleague Police Lt. Jack Peters (Gordon Pinsent), and Michelle spend that night following the trail of murder victims as Thomas begins to suspect a vampire is responsible. After Thomas digs up Billy Schaffer's coffin, Billy's corpse rises as a vampire and attacks Thomas, who fends him off and drives a stake through his heart. Thomas then calls ahead to the morgue, and alerts Sam (Elisha Cook, Jr.), the attendant there, to take the cabbie Juanita Jones' body out of deep freeze and to leave the room and lock the door behind him. He rolls her body out, but distracted by a phone call, Sam neglects to lock the door, and while on the phone, Juanita Jones rises and immediately attacks and kills him. Dr. Thomas, accompanied by Lt. Peters, arrives at the morgue to find blood smears on the corridor wall near the pay phone where Sam answered the call, but no sign of Sam himself. They walk into the exam room by the freezer, where Lt. Peters sees a sheet-covered body lying on a gurney and pulls the sheet back to reveal Juanita Jones rising up to attack him. Dr. Thomas keeps her at bay with a large crucifix long enough to open the window blinds and expose her to the morning sun's rays, which quickly destroy her.
That evening, Dr. Thomas, Michelle and Tina are enjoying drinks at the club when Blacula arrives to pick Tina up. Thomas uses the opportunity to question Blacula of his knowledge of the occult in general, and vampires in particular. Thomas makes it known that the police are planning a search for the vampire's coffin before Blacula and Tina make their exit. The fact that Nancy, the club photographer, hasn't been seen since Michelle's birthday celebration is also discussed amongst them. Soon after, Dr. Thomas conducts a search of Nancy's house and finds a photo negative of Tina standing in front of the invisible Blacula. He then correctly deduces that Blacula himself is the vampire they have been seeking, and that Blacula and Tina are still together. Dr. Thomas rushes to Tina's apartment, finding them embracing. Thomas and Blacula briefly struggle, but Blacula nearly knocks Thomas unconscious and flees, killing a police officer in a nearby alley as he escapes. After reports of seeing Bobby McCoy walking the streets of Los Angeles come in, Thomas, Lt. Peters and several police officers track Blacula to his hideout, the warehouse where Bobby McCoy and Billy Schaffer were first slain. They locate a nest of several vampires there, including Bobby McCoy, and destroy them, but Blacula manages to escape.
Blacula uses his vampiric powers of hypnotic suggestion to lure Tina to his new hideout at a nearby underground chemical plant, while Thomas, Lt. Peters and another group of police officers pursue him. Blacula dispatches several of the officers, but one of them accidentally shoots and mortally wounds Tina. To save her life, Blacula transforms her into a vampire. As Blacula proceeds to brutalize many police officers, one of the remaining policemen locates the coffin and alerts Dr. Thomas and Lt. Peters. However, Peters kills Tina with a stake, believing that Blacula would be in the coffin instead. Devastated at losing her again, Blacula tells Thomas and Peters there is no need to pursue him further, and 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, the nightclub photographer
- Lance Taylor Sr. as Swenson, the funeral director
- Logan Field as Sergeant Barnes
- Ted Harris as Bobby McCoy
- Rick Metzler as Billy Schaffer
- Ketty Lester as Juanita Jones / Taxi Cabbie
- Charles Macaulay as Count Dracula
- Ji-Tu Cumbuka as Skillet
- Elisha Cook, Jr. as Sam, the morgue attendant
- Eric Brotherson as Real Estate Agent
- The Hues Corporation as themselves, the performers at the nightclub
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, Bonanza, Star Trek and Mannix. Thalmus Rasulala, who plays Dr. Gordon Thomas, is best known for roles in episodes of The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, Rawhide, Roots (1977 miniseries) and What's Happening!!.
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 features a funk soundtrack, 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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...opens for the first time Wednesday (26) in Washington, D.C., Dallas, Seattle and Oklahoma City...
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