Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Blacula


***½ / *****
Marshall, regal in manner and speech, his prince approaching Dracula as Mamuwalde with certain confidence that he'll secure support to end slavery, rises from his coffin not especially happy. Dracula taking advantage of an all out assault that Mamuwalde was unable to outfist, not only insulting him about the benefits of slavery but biting him out of spite, this opening immediately establishes the lead as a victim of circumstance. Below, the brass tacks:

Count Dracula bites a Nigerian prince,Mamuwalde(William Marshall) just for the sheer pleasure of it, entombing him in a secret chamber along with his wife Luva(Vonetta McGee) in his Transylvanian castle. Centuries later, two homosexual interior decorators(haha)purchase the castle and it's contents, shipping the casket containing the body of Mamuwalde(..along with other relics from the castle)to a warehouse in New York City. His casket unlocked, Mamuwalde bites them awakening in a brand new era, the groovy & hip 70's, finding a woman who carries the exact likeness to his beloved Luva, Tina. But, Tina's sister, Michelle(Denise Nicholas)is married to a forensics pathologist, Gordon(Thalmus Rasulata)who pursues the mysterious deaths of bitten victims of Mamuwalde finding out that indeed, as unbelievable as it seems, a vampire is on the loose in New York City. Gordon will have to convince Lt. Jack Peters(Gordon Pinsent)of New Yor City police that an epidemic of vampirism will soon spread if they do not find the vampire biting necks. A domino effect, following the path of victims left by Mamuwalde, will inevitably lead to a showdown between the police and the vampire in a chemical warehouse. Even more urgent will be stopping Mamuwalde from taking Tina, who has fallen in love with the vampire, as his undead bride.

Well, to me, Marshall is the African-American equivalent of Christopher Lee. He's a formidable presence, with a deep voice, handsome, charismatic, and ferocious when biting the necks of those who threaten to either expose him or his union with Tina. Sure, the film's make-up for Marshall and the vampire brood plagued from his bite is rather theatrical, but I didn't mind that. Obviously, the African-American "blaxploitation" take on Dracula, centered around the black culture of New York City, is definitely a draw, giving the vampire genre a refreshing flavor. The dialogue, dress, & music all reflect the African-American culture, which I feel give it a unique boost for fans of vampire films craving something different than the norm. Mamuwalde, unlike Dracula who put the vampire curse on him, is a sympathetic figure, who has an uncontrollable evil coursing through his veins. That lends a tragic element to the film as he pursues a union with Tina, but as a threat to society, this will obviously go unrequited as Gordon understands what it takes to kill his kind. It's only a matter of time before the police finally figure out his hiding place. Great showdown in a warehouse where a group of vampires threatens the life of Gordon and Lt. Jack, where our heroes use fire to destroy them. The chemical plant climax is rather nifty as well. Marshall really cuts a great form as the vampire. Great attack on Elisha Cook, Jr(..playing a grumpy coroner)who doesn't listen to Gordon, leaving the cooler unlocked with an undead cabbie-turned-vampire charging at him in slow motion. Another cool attack on a photographer in her studio as Mamuwalde takes her life because of a picture taken that would threaten to expose him. The animated bat, representing Mamuwalde, is superb and far more life-like than the usual rubbery one. Cool face-melting-into-a-skull scene which closes the film.












I did notice that homosexual men are not held particularly in high regard. The way police mention them with distaste while searching for Mamuwalde is evident of that. This genre opened up to starring a mostly  African-American cast primarily using the Dracula formula with Marshall commanding the screen is definitely a cool updating of the legend, with 1972 Los Angeles replacing London. I think once again the vampire count gets a balanced treatment of sympathy for his unfortunate situation and dread for how much of a menace he can be when burdened with the lust for blood. His need to feed and quest to be with his *new* Luva creates quite a predicament for Gordon and law enforcement. Luva ultimately drawn into the search for Mamuwalde as guns fire by police trying to stop him produces tragedy. Her staking is pure Hammer and Marshall would have made quite an adversary for Cushing's Van Helsing. Maybe a bit low budget dark but the warehouse of vampires emerging from the shadows scene is a gnarly example of how such a small production using locations not studio in nature can not always be such a liability.

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