02nd Nov2014

‘Blacula: The Complete Collection’ Blu-ray Review

by Phil Wheat

Urban action and fatal attraction give rise to a groove from beyond the grave in this funkadelic, fangadelic blaxploitation double-bill from Eureka Entertainment, which sees the eternally cool William Marshall put a fresh spin on the age-old legend of the vampire, condemned to wander the earth with an insatiable lust for blood as Blacula.

Produced at the height of the blaxploitation era, the Blacula movies are the perfect blend of genre and social film making, the types of which hadn’t been seen before… or since!

Blacula-CC-cover

Blacula (1972)

Stars: William Marshall, Vonetta McGee, Denise Nicholas, Thalmus Rasulala, Gordon Pinsent, Charles Macaulay, Emily Yancy, Ted Harris, Rick Metzler | Written by Joan Torres, Raymond Koenig | Directed by William Crain

In 1780, African Prince Mamuwalde (Marshall) pays a visit to Count Dracula in Transylvania, seeking his support in ending the slave trade. Instead, the evil count curses his noble guest and transforms him into a vampire! Released from his coffin nearly two centuries later by a pair of luckless decorators, Mamuwalde emerges as “Blacula,” one cool, dressed to kill, dude strollin’ the streets of L.A. on a nightly quest for human blood and fine women!

Scream Blacula Scream (1973)

Stars: William Marshall, Richard Lawson, Pam Grier, Don Mitchell, Michael Conrad, Lynne Moody, Janee Michelle, Barbara Rhoades, Bernie Hamilton, Arnold Williams, Van Kirksey | Written by Joan Torres, Raymond Koenig, Maurice Jules | Directed by Bob Kelljan

William Marshall returns as the noble African prince turned bloodthirsty fiend in this hair-raising sequel to the terrifying hit Blacula and only the legendary Pam Grier (Foxy Brown) has the power to deep-six his reign of terror! This time, it’s voodoo power versus vampire fury when Willis (Lawson), the son of the late high priestess, seeks revenge on the cultists who have chosen his foster sister Lisa (Grier) as their new leader. Hoping to curse Lisa, Willis unwittingly resurrects Blacula’s earthly remains and lets loose the Prince of Darkness and his freaked-out army of the undead!
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The 70s were a time of social upheaval in American cinema – Shaft and, to a lesser extent, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, had broke the “black cinema” mould and led to films such as Superfly, Coffy, Foxy Brown, Cleopatra Jones and its sequel, and Black Caesar. However spinning out of the streetwise blaxploitation films came movies that crossed-over with the then-popular horror genre (remember The Exorcist had hit it big in the 70s too), films like Blackenstein, Dr. Black Mr. Hyde, Abby (a personal fave) and the reason you’re reading this review, Blacula.

As a genre fan, I’m ashamed to admit I never gave the Blacula movies much credit in my younger days, after all they are products of a certain time and feature themes that didn’t resonate with me, but re-watching them for this review, both movies struck a chord with the B-movie lover in me, much moreso than their blaxploitation brethen; and I’ve come to appreciate both films as HORROR movies rather than anything else. As new takes on the vampire legend, not entries into a small, but well-loved cinematic sub-genre.

Maybe its because I’ve been watching a lot of 70s horror recently – all thanks to the current crop of Blu-rays being released across in the UK by the likes of Eureka and Network – but looking at Blacula and it’s sequel Scream Blacula Scream with fresh eyes has made me realise they are really up their with Hammer’s take on the vampire mythos. And it goes without saying (although I’m saying it now) that William Marshall’s take on Dracula, even in a blaxploitation setting, is as regal and theatrical as anything Christopher Lee did in the 50s and 60s.

Interestingly Blacula still has the power to shock, even today. As I’ve already said, these are a product of a different time and both films are not ones to shy away from racially-charged and bigoted language, the type of which you wouldn’t typically find in today’s politically correct cinema. But it’s not just the language that shocks. There are some incredible set-pieces in both movies – none more than a scene in the first film in which a defrosted vampire cabbie runs down the hall in slow motion towards her intended victim. It’s both eerie and awe-inspiring at the same time!

Thankfully Eureka have given the Blacula films the respect they deserve and this new Dual-Format release not only features the world première of both films in high-definition (with progressive encodes on the DVD version) but also a new and exclusive introduction to the films by critic and author Kim Newman; trailers for Blacula and Scream Blacula Scream and a really rather superb 32-page booklet with new writing by Josiah Howard, reprints of original Blacula ephemera and rare archival imagery.

An essential purchase for genre fans, Blacula: The Complete Collection is out now on Dual-Format Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment.

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