Tagline: Blacula! – Dracula’s Soul Brother!
The African prince, Manuwalde (Marshall), and his wife, Luva (McGee), visit Dracula (Macauley) at Castle Dracula in Transylvania in 1780 to discuss a treaty and slavery. Everything goes well until Dracula says that he wants to continue slavery and Manuwalde wants to end it. Dracula wants to turn Manuwalde into a vampire to serve his needs but Manuwalde resists and Dracula curses him to become the vampire, Blacula, and imprisons him in a coffin to starve for blood. Dracula also imprisons Luva in the tomb beside her husband to die.
The present-day (1972) has two gay antique dealers buying items from Dracula’s castle, including the coffin of Manuwalde, and shipping them to Los Angeles for resale. They open the coffin and unleash Blacula to prey upon several victims as he tries to regain the love of Tina (also McGee), who looks like the split image of his long deceased wife Luva. Tina’s friend, Dr. Gordon, is suspicious of Manuwalde and after some investigation discovers that he is a vampire and hunts him down with the aid of his assistant, Michelle (Denise Nichols).
“Blacula” (1972) is the epitome of blaxploitation during the 1970s. Blaxploitation is a form of exploitation film that exploits the stereotypes of the era, in this case African American with Afros, bellbottoms, disco, and basic stereotypes of the day. This movie exploits black people but it also has a lot of gay stereotypes portrayed as well. It really would not make it past the censors today. However, looking back at it, blaxploitation films do need to be watched to study filmmaking at the time and to see how far filmmaking and society has progressed (if you call it that). A majority of the cast of “Blacula” is African American, so, in that respect, the cast deserves to be seen as performers of the era.
I first watched “Blacula” when I was a kid and the movie seemed a bit scarier then even though I was laughing at the strange juxtaposition of 1970s disco era combined with a Gothic vampire — these 2 things just do not go well together and results in a humor that shouldn’t exist but does. My family only sees this movie as being scary and does not understand what I find so humorous about it. Just hearing the plot makes it sound humorous!
Upon watching “Blacula” just last week, I really see nothing scary about this movie. In fact, I laughed more now than the first few times I saw it. I guess some things are funnier as you get older and know more.
“Blacula” is produced by American International Pictures (AIP), a company known for putting out a lot of crappy movies. They were the Troma of the 70s. “Blacula” has better acting for the most part compared to most of either company’s films.
With the runtime of 93 minutes, this movie really doesn’t have time to drag. It moves at a pretty fast pace for the most part and there are not too many really slow scenes. I was never really bored because I was too busy laughing at the absurdity of the story and characters.
“Blacula” is far from politically correct but it’s to be expected from the time period in which it was made. We have the “N” word and the “F” word for gay people among other colorful phrases. Even the police characters use the words. If you are easily offended by either of these words, I don’t recommend watching this movie.
The storyline is very flimsy at best. But after really thinking about it, it does seem to be really, really loosely based on the story of Dracula with some major changes. We have a vampire coming to America on a ship, men going to Transylvania to put Dracula’s affairs in order, and a vampire pursuing a woman. These are the basic components of Dracula somehow thrown into a blender with a disco ball to get “Blacula.”
Most of the acting in this movie is mediocre or worse with the exception of William Marshall, who stars as Blacula. Marshall’s acting is superb even though the movie is pretty awful. Some background on Marshall deserves to be said.
William Marshall was an African/Cherokee-American actor who was trained in Shakespearean acting and performed on Broadway and in several movies over his lifetime. At the commanding height of 6 foot 5 inches, he often played a leading man and other characters in such movies as “Lyndia Baily” (1952), “Something of Value” (1957), “To Trap a Spy” (1964) and “The Boston Strangler” (1968) with Tony Curtis. He was known for his rich bass voice, classically-trained style, and great performances on stage and television as Shakespeare’s Othello.
Marshall became popular with several “blaxploitation” films during the 70s with “Blacula” (1972), its sequel “Scream Blacula Scream” (1973) and “Abby” (1974). He is also known for his role as the King of Cartoons on the 80s children’s show, “Pee Wee’s Play House,” a role he took because of his grandchildren. He was born in Indiana and died in 2003 from Alzheimer’s at the age of 78.
Based on the story and much of the other cast members’ characters and acting ability, “Blacula” is almost a slap in the face for someone of Marshall’s talent and acting ability. My guess is that he had to resort to movies such as this to earn a living. He did have some good roles before this but the 70s were a time of change even in the movie industry, so strange anomalies like this exist.
I really think Marshall would have done well in a serious vampire movie set in the 19th century or earlier. He has the perfect look and voice to give a commanding performance as a blood-thirsty vampire with a level of decorum suitable to a gentleman of the Civil War era or earlier.
The rest of the cast is not very recognizable but a few need mentioning.
Vonetta McGee plays Luva and Tina, Blacula’s past wife and present “reincarnate,” is known for her roles in “L.A. Law” and “Bustin’ Loose.” Her performance is adequate but nothing stellar. It is unclear in the movie whether or not she is Luva’s reincarnation, blood relative, or just someone who resembles her — it doesn’t really matter. McGee recently passed away on July 9, 2010 at the age of 65.
Denise Nicholas who plays Michelle, Dr. Thomas’ assistant, is most known for her role in “In the Heat of the Night” and “Room 222.” Her performance in this movie is minimal, so it’s not really fair to judge.
Thalmus Rasulala plays Dr. Gordon Thomas with some conviction, so his acting is somewhat believable. His career is made up mostly of guest appearances on TV shows.
Charles Macaulay plays Dracula well I thought. He was an actor for 11 years before this movie, so he is pretty much a veteran here. I really thought he made a great Dracula even if it was only for a few minutes. This isn’t the first time he played a vampire either — he played The Count in an episode of “Night Gallery.”
The two gay antique dealers deserve an honorable mention. Ted Harris plays Bobby, the black guy who looks like a black version of Richard Simmons. I just can’t help but make the connection because he is almost a dead ringer for Simmons, not only with his hair and face but also with his mannerisms and body language. Rick Metzler plays Billy, the white partner who looks a little bit like Dirk Benedict a.k.a. Face from the A-Team. They make a hilarious pair — Richard Simmons and Dirk Benedict. Just typing that makes me laugh! They really do make the movie just that much more fun.
The introduction is a corny cartoon with a bat flying around and turning into a vampire. The cartoon is not that bad but the accompanying music is horrendously bad. Disco, disco, disco! It really sets the mood.
The audio quality is decent for the most part except for the opening scene set inside of a castle in 1780. The sound echoes so much during these few minutes that I could barely understand what the characters were saying. Luckily, it does get better later after this scene.
The music in “Blacula” is pretty awful. It contains all disco, 70s type stuff. I thought I was watching an episode of “Charlie’s Angels,” “C.H.I.P.S.,” or maybe “Buck Rogers.” The music might fit the 70s but in no way mixes well with horror at all. It’s kind of difficult to take a vampire seriously when he is coming at you with Disco Inferno playing, although that can be quite scary in itself. But it just ruins the whole atmosphere of everything.
Some of the original music is composed by Gene Page who worked with Barry White, Barbra Streisand, The Righteous Brothers, did some music for H.R. Pufnstuf, among a few other pieces. His music in “Blacula” is definitely not as good as his other work but I am not a fan of 70s disco type music, so I am a bad judge of this.
There are really no special effects worth mentioning except for Blacula’s makeup which is truly great and really makes him look terrifying. It’s too bad that it’s wasted on this movie but Marshall seems to be a professional in anything that he does regardless of those around him or the comical stories. His image has gained somewhat of a cult following because he even has his own 12 inch doll of the market — if I collected vampire toys rather than werewolf toys, I would definitely buy this.
Most of the special effects are just in the props. The fight scenes are ridiculously bad. In the beginning when Dracula has his henchmen attack Manuwalde, you can see the vase smashed over his head misses by about two feet but the close-up of his head shows blood on it. Yes, really realistic! I didn’t really see much blood during the movie.
One thing that astounds me is that the actors keep their faces looking serious. That seems like an impossible task to me because I would be laughing too much to keep a straight face if I were one of the actors. I bet they had to do a lot of re-shoots due to the cast laughing at the lines and corniness of everything.
Overall, “Blacula” is quite bad and can only be enjoyed for being campy and somewhat humorous. It is definitely “MST3K” material to be laughed at and mocked almost continuously. Marshall is definitely great and a very professional actor even in the face of a movie such as this — how that is dedication to the art! Do not watch this movie if you want to see a seriously terrifying film. If you are a fan of campy movies and schlock, “Blacula” is right up your alley!
The budget for “Blacula” is an estimated $500,000.
Waitress: [to Mamuwalde] Hi! What’ll you have?
Mamuwalde: Make it a Bloody Mary.
Dracula: You shall pay, black prince. I shall place a curse of suffering on you that will doom you to a living hell. I curse you with my name. You shall be Blacula!