By Kurly Tlapoyawa
Directed by William Crain
Cast: William Marshall, Vonetta McGee
These days you can't pick up a horror magazine without reading about 2008 being the “year of the vampire.” From the moody emo kids in the blockbuster tween-fest Twilight to the hip darkness of HBO’s “True Blood”—not to mention the unmatched masterpiece of Swedish vampire goodness that is Let the Right One In—last year was lousy with bloodsucking night dwellers. So in keeping with that trend, I’ve decided to dip into one of my favorites from the golden era of Blaxploitation: Blacula.
You see, Blacula comes from a long line of great Blaxploitation horror flicks. And while grindhouse classics like Abby, Ganja & Hess, Sugar Hill, Blackenstein and, of course, Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde pack a potent punch, none of them can compare to the Prince of Night!
Let me lay something heavy on you. It seems that back in 1780, the noble African King Mamuwalde (played by none other than William Marshall, the King of Cartoons from “Pee-wee’s Playhouse”) and his bride Luva (Vonetta McGee from “L.A. Law”) paid a visit to Europe to protest the evils of the slave trade. While on their diplomatic journey, their pleas were ignored and they were ambushed by Count Dracula himself! Drac murdered Luva and turned King Mamuwalde into a vampire, sealing him in a coffin while the muffled cries of his wife could be heard outside. What an asshole. Flash forward to 1972, when two flamboyant antiques dealers purchase the coffin containing Mamuwalde and have it transported to Los Angeles, where they open it and unwittingly unleash the wrath of King Mamuwalde onto the unsuspecting masses. Enter Blacula!
After dispatching an annoying yet foxy cab driver, Mamuwalde comes across the lovely Tina (also played by Vonetta McGee), who just so happens to be the reincarnation of his dead bride. Elated by his discovery, Mamuwalde starts making the moves on Tina, while feeding on various homeless people and waitresses in order to sustain himself. Lucky for Tina, her brother-in-law Dr. Thomas is the medical examiner assigned to figure out the rash of murders. You would think Dr. Thomas wouldn’t have such a hard time tracking down a vampire, considering there is a guy who dresses exactly like a vampire hanging out at all the locations where people are going missing. I’m just saying, the guy wearing a cape and speaking in an accent is a likely suspect. Or as the barhopping ladies’ man “Big Skillet” so eloquently puts it: “Man, that is one straaange dude!”
Eventually, Dr. Thomas pulls his head out of his ass and figures out that Mamuwalde is, in fact, the vampire they are looking for, and the chase is on! The police soon track Mamuwalde to his warehouse lair, only to be attacked by all the vampires that Mamuwalde has turned. After a pretty cool action sequence, the minor-league vamps are dealt with, but Mamuwalde makes his escape.
Dr. Thomas and his foxy lady (seriously—is an afro, hoop earrings and a miniskirt the best look ever, or what?) set up a trap for Mamuwalde using Tina as bait. Things end badly for human and vampire alike. But fear not, my friends, the Blac returns in 1973 to take on Pam Grier in Scream, Blacula, Scream!
Sure, William Marshall falls far from filling the shoes of Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, but his silky-smooth interpretation of the vampire myth is definitely worth a look-see. The DVD presents the film in a gorgeous anamorphic widescreen transfer. The color is rich and clean, and the audio is a solid mono mix. Like all MGM discs, extras are nonexistent, with only the trailer to offer. To be fair, the trailer is pretty freaking sweet. The tagline of “He was Dracula’s soul brother" is reason enough to check it out. Grab the DVD, round up some friends and dig into the awesomeness that is Blacula. Solid! (MGM $9.98)
Upcoming DVD Releases:
The Dead Don’t Scream (Celebrity)
Frozen River (Sony)
My Name Is Bruce (Image)
Otto; Or, Up With Dead People (Strand)
Tales From the Darkside: The First Season (Paramount)
Feast III: The Happy Finish (Weinstein)
Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder (Fox)
The Haunting of Molly Hartley (Fox)
The Long Hair of Death (Ryko)
Hermosa Juventud/Beautiful Youth at National Hispanic Cultural Center
Part of the May film “Ciclo Cine Español Contemporáneo” program. Tickets available one hour before screening.
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