I had seen this back in the day and not been too impressed, then watched it again in the presence of friends, when it was marginally better. We open back in the day in Transylvania, where William Marshall as Mamuwalde and his wife are the dinner guests of Dracula. Mamuwalde wants Dracula’s help to combat the slave trade, but Dracula says “Slavery has merit, I believe.” Invective soon gets even harsher, as we discover that Dracula was a racist! It is TOO shocking. Mamuwalde makes to leave, but Dracula locks him in and deploys his vampoid minions, who hold him in place while Dracula curses him to walk the earth till eternity, etc. Then they lock them both in the vault, which was a dining room in use, I believe—Dracula better not do this too often or he’ll curse himself right out of his living space.
Then we have these fabulous [but too long] black-and-white animated credits that are obviously heavily influenced by Saul Bass, set to the cool and grooving Blacula theme by Barry White collaborator Gene Page, who did all the music for this film.
So in the present day, that is 1972, two super swishy interior designer gays, one with a big fro and one with long blond hair, buy up the contents of the Castle Dracula for a pittance, saying what a high price they’ll be able to get for it all in America. So it is shipped to L.A., where one of them says what a fabulous bed the coffin would make. They open the coffin, then run off to look at something else, simply not noticing the large vampire rising from his coffin and making his way over to them. Soon they’re dead—or undead, as the case may be. We now join the awesomely named THALAMUS RASULALA as Gordon, the policeman on the case. Mmm-mmm, Thalamus is a FINE slice of man, even though he never even takes off his shirt here, which is the least he could do—especially if he’s not going to rub hot oil on his body while slowly licking his lips. Anyway, Gordon looks at the two puncture woulds on the neck and thinks it’s almost like—but, no, it couldn’t be! Then we have another rip-off of the walking scene from Cat People [I’m really going to have to start compiling these], although I forget who was being stalked. Oh, now I know—it was Tina, the woman who looks exactly like Blacula’s wife from back in the day—mainly because she’s played by the same actress—and she drops her fuchsia purse in her rush to escape. Then this crazy-lookin’ female cab driver hits Blacula, gets out to try to help him… then starts to suggest he get on his way, as she senses something creepy about him. Maybe it’s the inexplicable eyebrows he has on his cheeks. I think they’re supposed to make him look more fearsome. Instead the effect is to make you stare at the screen like “Is that…? Are those…?”
So Gordon and his wife Michelle join Tina at this nightclub where The Hues Corporation [the group that brought you “Rock the Boat [Don’t Rock the Boat Baby]” is performing. If you look [and you don’t have to look too hard] you’ll notice the love tool of one of the singers hanging right down the leg of which tight white pants. At least SOMEONE knows how to dress, and as Donna Summer once so elegantly put it: “Baby if you got it, you have got to flaunt it, yeah.” You are also sure to be stunned by the choreography on display here. The same way you might be stunned if you got hit in the head with a frying pan. The song, entitled “There He Is Again,” is specifically ABOUT Blacula, is sung from Tina’s point of view, and I regret to say, is not that bad.
SPOILERS > > >
Anyway, so Mamuwalde [that’s Blacula when he’s not Blacula] introduces himself to Tina and gives her back her purse. She feels foolish for being frightened, and now REALLY likes him. She invites him to sit with them, which he does, none of them finding a thing odd about his full Dracula costume and cape [are all vampires issued capes?]. This club features women in skimpy getups who walk around taking photos they later try to sell to you—kind of like at the amusement park—and one of them takes a picture of Tina and Mamuwalde. He takes off right away, and wouldn’t you know, the photographer gets off work just a few minutes later. It seems like she lives right next door, and she goes in her darkroom—she has a special darkroom that you can walk in and out of while film is developing—and a few seconds later has a picture of Tina… but wait! Where’s that guy she was with? How come he didn’t show up in the picture? Then, of dear, it seems that the killer is inside the house.
After killing the photographer, Mamuwalde stops by Tina’s apartment. He lays on Tina that she’s the reincarnation of his dead wife, and all that jazz. She listens impassively until he says he was trying to stop the slave trade, and which point she snaps to life and responds: “The slave trade!?” It mad me laugh; it’s like the one thing she understands. Anyway, he must be working some hoodoo on her, because the next night she is telling Gordon and everyone how she loves and believes Mamuwalde. Gordon, meanwhile, is beginning to catch on to this whole vampire business, and goes out to dig up the white gay dude from the beginning who, sure enough, is mighty vampy. He calls in to the morgue and—wait a minute, is that Elisha Cook, jr., from The Maltese Falcon and The Killing? It sure is. He gets killed by the vampire of the cab driver.
So they put a big police stakeout on Tina, who is wearing some kind of head lace thing that makes her head look like the modern dome of the Reichstag. She sneaks out to go a’walkin’ after midnight, while Gordon runs off to the warehouse where it all began. Blacula has taken care to move his coffin in advance of their visit, but they still encounter lots of vamps that have been turned by the original interior decorator with the fro. This all leads to some nearby industrial plant, where Mamuwalde finds that cruel fate can once again deprive him of his true beloved, so he decides to commit vampire seppuku by walking into the sun, where he dies. Until the sequel Scream, Blacula, Scream, that is.
< < < SPOILERS END
I liked it better this time than upon first viewing, but it’s still not great horror or great blaxploitation, and is only pretty good as far as cheese. It doesn’t really have a decent story to tell and has a very clumsy way of telling it. Mamuwalde/Blacula is not very compelling as a character, he has no resonance as a tragic figure, and he’s not scary. Tina is a total blank and there seems to be nothing to their relationship. Is she supposed to be in thrall to him, or is she just really dumb, or is the movie simply poorly made? Or all three? Gordon’s character never really comes into focus. So it’s got a lot of silliness, but it’s inert as a story.
I know, you’re saying “Yuh! It’s a blaxsploitation film about a vampire!” but look, compare this to Sugar Hill, which manages to be even CHEESIER, and has an even more ludicrous plot [woman raises zombies to kill her enemies], but is fun and engaging throughout because the characters are a little more understandable, the story is clear and straightforward, and the filmmaking has a lot of zing and energy that keeps it going and makes the cheesy highs HIGHER. Here things are super cheesy, but somehow they aren’t as amazing as they should be because the story is such a clunker. Yeah, it’s fine, but there are a lot of better blaxploitation movies out there.
If you like, but you’ll definitely live if you skip it.
SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM is the sequel, and stars pre-Foxy Brown Pam Grier [NOT in ass-kicking mode] and is all-round rather tepid.