It’s 1972, blaxploitation films are in and Pam Grier is more than a sex symbol. Also released that year is Blacula, a blaxploitation horror film that is still considered a cult classic. So why is it in this week’s The Forgotten? Because of the simple fact that Blacula, is remembered more as a funny blaxploitation flick or a Simpsons skit, rather than one of the greatest horror films ever made. You heard right. But allow me to elaborate after the jump.
Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) and his queen are on a mission to abolish the slave trade. It’s a year before the Civil War and on one unfortunate evening, they have the displeasure in meeting Count Dracula and his insidious vampire clan in the hope of gaining his signature on a wager to end slavery once and for all. However, this meeting results in their demise, as the Queen is killed and Mamuwalde is placed under a powerful curse; a curse of the undead.
Almost one hundred years later, Mamuwalde is declared by Dracula himself to be ‘Blacula’. He roams the streets of New York, with a hankering for blood when he comes across Tina (Vonetta McGee), a woman who so clearly resembles his late wife who he still loves and hopes somehow to be with again. This however is thwarted by Tina’s investigative friend Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) who is looking into the number of dead bodies left in Blacula’s bloody trail. Will they be together once again? Will Gordon Catch on to Mamuwalde and stop his murderous rampage? Can an outbreak of bloodthirsty vampires even be prevented?
Blacula is not just your ordinary blaxploitation film that has an African-American protagonist that sticks it to the man or a true form of oppression with a funky soundtrack and a slew of beautiful yet naked women. Blacula is a horror film that looks at racism, homophobia, the stain of slavery that’s left on a vibrant and diverse culture; yet at the same time has a big heart and more than a few sweet sentiments.
William Marshall is not an exploitation actor, he’s a thespian who’s more privy to a stage rather than a film camera. His performance here grounds the film almost entirely, and he pours his heart and soul into every line. Theatrics aside, he convinces you of this character’s plight and moral stance. It was at his insistence that the character of Blacula be a person before it was a ghoulish character for people to fear or laugh at.
Blacula is very much a three-dimensional character whose actual name is Mamuwalde. The importance of his character is one that invites the connotations of slavery in the film and the story’s acknowledgement of racism that never left despite the apparent influence of African-American culture in 1970’s America. I’m not making this up, it’s all in the film; but if it all seems to heavy for a film titled Blacula you needn’t worry, because the film’s greatest strength is juggling this social commentary whilst all in all being an amazing piece of entertainment.
Blacula welcomes the cheesier moments of horror where vampire henchman clearly have green make-up and rubber fangs attached to their face. It gets every convention of blaxploitation right, there are even staged musical performances during that correlate with the films tone and it’s a sight to behold. It’s sweet, tender moments are just that; and a beautiful love story exists within the fun and cheese and you welcome it from minute one. Why? Because Blacula wants to be a good film, and I believe it certainly is. It’s a sweet and contemporary horror flick that does everything in its power to say something, be different and entertain us to no end. This is exactly what s missing from so-called “fun” films of today.
By Chris Elena