Plan 9 Cinema: Scream, Blacula, Scream

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October 19, 2011 by abbyo

A few years ago, I was working at a college radio station and was searching around for some good instrumental music to play while I announced weather and events in between sponsor breaks and programming. Deep in the bowels of the station’s music collection, I found the soundtrack to “Blacula,” a 1972 Blaxploitation vampire movie featuring the sweet soul sounds of Gene Page and Hues Corporation. It quickly became my go-to album for voiceover music. It was kitschy. It was full of attitude. It was surprisingly good. I was hooked like a bloodsucker jonesing for an O-positive fix. Somehow, I had to find out more about this strange character marketed as “Dracula’s soul brother” and experience a Blacula movie for myself.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get my hands on a copy of the original “Blacula” for this week’s entry. But I was able to see its sequel, 1973’s “Scream, Blacula, Scream,” and while the music may not be quite as good (Bill Marx, you’re no Gene Page) it fulfilled my expectations in pretty much every other way. It’s about what you’d expect from a 70’s horror-Blaxploitation movie: low budget, ridiculously dated language, and fantastically horrid costumes and production values.

Here’s the story: After the priestess of a voodoo cult kicks the bucket, her followers decide to let leadership pass to Lisa (Pam Grier) a talented and kindhearted member of the group, rather than the priestess’ no-good hustling son, Willis. Angry at the decision, Willis gets aid from an enemy voodoo priest to raise help from beyond the grave in the form of Blacula, nee African Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall). It doesn’t take long before Blacula converts Willis into a vampire–seriously, how exactly did Willis think he was going to control a super-strong undead bloodsucker?– and starts raising his own army of vampiric soul brothers, pimps and hip young ladies.

The best reason to watch “Scream, Blacula, Scream” apart from William Marshall’s acting (which is really very impressive) is to check out the amazingly dated fashions and talk. For an example, check out the scene below, where Blacula takes out a couple of tough-talking pimps:

Also note: according to this scene, Blacula can kill a man with a single bitch-slap. Skills!

The second best reason: effects. “Scream, Blacula, Scream” has every kind of low-budget special effect you could hope for in a movie of its type. When Blacula and his victims turn into vampires, for instance, they spontaneously sprout extra facial hair. Blacula in particular gets some intriguing extra sideburns that I’m pretty sure you don’t find in nature. Willis’ eyebrows not only get super bushy, but appear to change direction completely. Then there’s the bat transformation, which appears to be an animated black speck that’s drawn onto the film—I have to hand it to the filmmakers, however, it’s a lot better than a black speck dangling from a string. We also get treated to stiff-looking dummies thrown from stairwells, and vampires gliding on tracks.

Script-wise, you’ve got your basic gaffs: exposition conversations that seem to come out of nowhere, characters whose appearances are completely unexplained, and some who just disappear entirely after a single scene. But man, William Marshall really sells it as Blacula. His regal presence and James Earl Jones-style bass voice elevate the movie to a whole new level of class. He’s a ton of fun to watch. Overall, “Scream, Blacula, Scream” is your basic bad movie wad of cheese. It’s an entertaining watch, and also an interesting historical artifact from the world of cinema. Check it out, you jive-ass turkeys.

Random observations:

Before “Scream, Blacula, Scream,” the only other Blaxploitation movie I’d seen was one that parodied the genre, the great “Black Dynamite.” I had never realized until now how accurate Scott Sanders’ film was in aping these movies—he really got everything right!

In all seriousness, the soundtrack to “Blacula” is some awesome music. To this day it remains one of my favorite albums. If you can get a hold of it, listen to it.

Fun fact: IMDB tells me Craig T. Nelson is in this movie somewhere, in his fourth screen appearance. I couldn’t find him. See if you can!

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