Thursday, October 18, 2007

"THIS ISN'T SOME NUT FROM A HALLOWEEN PARTY! THAT MAN IS THE REAL THING!" And I don't mean Coca-Cola. For today's fanged feature, I'm choosing "BLACULA" which has always been rather lumped in with all the other "blaxploitation" films of the time. Because of this people tend to dismiss it or howl with derisive laughter at the mention of the title. But when you actually sit down and watch it, you'll find it's one of the better vampire movies of the decade. Shakespearean actor William Marshall, with his booming resonant voice, portrays Mamuwalde with an authority that tends to silence any guffaws.
In a pre-credit prologue during the 1700s, Mamuwalde and his wife Luva (Vonetta McGee) arrive at Dracula's castle in Transylvania to protest the slave trade. Dracula, hankering after Mamuwalde's wife like the racist cracker that he is, vampirizes Mamumalde and chains him inside a coffin to endlessly thirst for blood. Dracula also locks Luva into the secret room with Mamuwalde's coffin so she will slowly die. It's at this point the King of the Vampires curses Mamuwalde with his name and dubs him "Blacula". Oh yes, that's right. Drac actually calls him that in the film. But other than that, the character is referred to as Mamuwalde throughour the rest of the film. The animated credit sequence rolls -- and it reminds me an AWFUL lot of the similar credit sequence in "The Dunwich Horror", also an AIP film, from a couple years before. I wonder if the same artist did both???
Back in the present day (1972), a pair of HIGHLY camp antique dealers buys the contents of Castle Dracula and ships it all to America. Inside a dark warehouse, one of the fellows gashes his arm while prying open a crate. Mamuwalde, newly loose from his chained coffin, puts the bite on both antique dealers and takes off. Later, Mamuwalde spots some friends of one of the dead antique dealers coming out of the funeral parlour -- and one of them is the spitting image of Luva. Mamuwalde and Luva's double Tina fall in love amidst all the biting and slaying and he plans to vampirize Tina so they will have an eternity of love. Gee, sounds like much the same plot as the later horror comedy "Love at First Bite", doesn't it?
William Crain's direction is steadily moving and kinetic throughout and he shows a nice hand at the "horror moments". Some concession to the more "blaxploitation" style is seen amongst the peripheral characters but the main cast plays it as the serious horror movie that it is. And speaking of the cast -- it's wonderful. Besides perfectly cast William Marshall (he really anchors the film and holds it all together) we have the always reliable Thalmus Rasulala as the intrepid vampire fighter and his girlfriend Michelle (played by my old boyhood crush Denise Nicholas). Vonetta McGee is suitably beautiful but a little less heavyweight in the acting department -- although not enough to damage the movie. Also among the supporting characters is good ole twitchy Elisha Cook Jr. (from movies ranging from "The Maltese Falcon" to "House on Haunted Hill") and Charles Macauley as an OK but forgettable Dracula. There are even a couple songs performed by The Hues Corporation. The film also contains some of the better "man to bat" transformations of the era. And William Marshall is powerfully believeable in his fisticuffs!
While "Blacula" is no bonafide classic, it is a LOT better than most people give it credit for. It's a hell of a lot of Halloween fun you don't wanna miss! Turkey!

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