Blacula (1972)

I had long dismissed Blacula as some sort of blaxploitation equivalent of Dracula: Dead and Loving It. I thought it was a silly movie. I thought it was a joke. I often confused it with A Vampire in Brooklyn. It was only recently that I heard more about the movie through Horror Noire. Horror Noire is a documentary made this year that covers the history of Horror in Black Cinema. It introduced me to movies that I had never heard of and movies that I had only heard of in passing. It covered movies that I had seen like Candyman and Get Out. As a white person, I have tried to seek out movies that are somehow removed from my life experience. I want to see movies with people of color in them but I also want to see movies made by people of color. I have a long list of movies that I want to see and documentaries and even listicles help me focus that list.

My first experience with vampires was reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula during the summer when I was ten. It was after I had read Frankenstein and I was once again enthralled by a story of pure gothic horror. The story was scary to me as a little kid. The idea of being like Jonathan Harker and being trapped in a castle of vampires was horrible. The idea of being stalked like Mina Harker, never knowing what was out there in the shadows, sparked my imagination. But really, the worst was the idea of being turned like Renfield or Lucy Westenra. Losing my mind like Renfield and being a creature that fed on spiders and rats like some sort of rabid thing is a horrible thought. The idea of turning like Lucy and not being able to help myself from preying on the weak and then having my former friends kill me. I shudder. I feel like turning is scarier than being killed by a vampire.

The first thing I noticed was that this was not just a palette-swapped version of the Dracula story. In fact, they go to a good deal of trouble to connect the history of Blacula (not his actual name) with that of Dracula. This pleased me as a fan of the original book (and many adaptations) and it made me instantly want to see more of the story. The story also ties into the slave trade and colonialism which I should have expected (as exploitation films of the time tried to address such issues). There is definitely a hokey atmosphere involved. I mean, it is rated PG which still confuses me as it has plenty of blood. Different standards, I guess. It also is able to tie the myth of Dracula to the modern-day while also making the main character somewhat sympathetic. All of this is done in a style that manages to mix the exploitation style with something similar to Hammer Films. The music is also super funky in places and tense in others which makes for a fun mix.

Part of what makes this movie so good is the strong acting. William Marshall plays the title role and he is so commanding and charismatic. At times, he is also very sympathetic and charming and very human (as funny as that sounds). Vonetta McGhee plays his intended victim, a demure woman with plenty of curiosity. He is opposed by Thalmus Rasulala who plays a stern but funny Police scientist who is not only dealing with Blacula but also with the incompetence and spitefulness of the White police. Denise Nicholas plays McGhee’s best friend and Rasulala’s girlfriend who does not know how to deal with the weirdness (except with the occasional joke). Finally, there is a white cop played by Gordon Pinsent who just cannot be bothered. The cast adds so much to what could have been fluff but ended up being scary and interesting. They go for a joke to relieve the tension but they keep the scares going when they need to.

Overall, I loved this movie way more than I thought I would. There was enough action to keep me interested but also enough story to make me happy that I was hooked. It was a pleasant divergence from the traditional Dracula mythos while still staying true to its spirit. It was full of dark romance and plenty of danger.

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