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Non-Review Review: Scream Blacula Scream

I curse you with my name. You shall be… Blacula! Vampire!  

– the only thing worse than Dracula is racist!Dracula  

I have to concede, Scream Blacula Scream (what a title!) is actually pretty high end blaxploitation. Sure it’s cornier than my foot after a long hike, but it never truly descends into the realm of self-parody that we seem to have (at least retroactively) come to expect from such blaxploitation films. This is actually a sequel to the previous year’s Blacula. Although I wasn’t really going in expecting much, what I got was certainly better than a large portion of the generic Hammer Horror films of the era. This is certainly helped no end by the lead performance from William Marshall who – even in a silly cape – manages to lend proceedings a touch of class.  

Fangs for the memories...

Note: I have to concede that I am pretty ticked off with MGM HD. They’ve been running this as the UK High Definition Premiere of “Blacula”, but it’s actually the sequel. Not that I’m complaining too much, but it feels weird to see the sequel before the original.  

Okay, from the outset, the film is ridiculous, even by the standards of classic vampire films. But at least it’s seldom boring. From the resurrection of the title character (cursed by racist!Dracula centuries before), to party, to a confrontation with two pimps, to a police raid on Blacula’s mansion, the film never really slows down. Which is great, because if you gave yourself a moment to think, the movie might fall apart.  

Provided you don’t take the film too seriously, there’s plenty of entertainment to be had. Sure, I wonder why everybody on the cast is so quick to jump to “vampire” as the cause of homocide, as if there are a couple of dozen vampire-related homocides every year (except for the white guy, who immediately assumes “voodoo”) and I wonder how Willis takes being a vampire so well (he’s literally only disappointed he can’t see his reflection – and I quote, “I don’t mind being a vampire and all that sh!t, but this really ain’t hip. I mean a man has GOT to see his face! Sh!t!”), but it’s easy enough to role with. Of course, there are more than a few moments of pure cheese – Blacula threatens he will “pull your worthless heart out” only for his minion to reply with “Right” – but it does what it says on the tin.  

In fairness, it isn’t as though the movie takes itself entirely seriously (it just never lets things become a complete joke). Although the set design and production values don’t seem especially cheap (okay, except when Blacula becomes “Batula”, but aside from that), there’s never a sense of self-importance. Indeed, one character turns around to see a vampire bearing his fangs and cracks up, “Where did you get those teeth?”  

Is Blacula okay? He's been coffin all night!

Still, the movie does remarkably well with its material. Sure, what vampires can and can’t do change from one iteration to the next (Blacula apparently doesn’t need to be invited to show up at the party, but at one point a character asserts with complete authority that “everybody knows that vampires can’t be photographed!”), but Blacula handles the central character’s tragedy quite well. The fact that Marshall, reprising his role from the original, is a skilled thespian certainly doesn’t hurt. Blacula just wants to be normal again – his grand end design is to get the local voodoo experts to exorcise the demons from his body. Okay, so it’s not the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy, but it’s a nice angle.  

As is, by the way, the subtle portrayal of Blacula’s bloodlust as heroin addiction. Note that when the vampires don’t feed, their skin goes pale and they become almost like zombies – even Blacula looks like he’s falling apart when he needs to feed. There’s a definite social commentary running through the film, but it’s hard to take it seriously when it’s expressed through Blacula confronting a pair of pimps (“you’re still slaves”) only for them to respond in the most stereotypical fashion possible (“Or we gonna have to become anti-social and kick your ass, you dig?” one threatens). Ah, if only more social commentary were delivered by a guy in a cape beating up pimps. It’s the wave of the future, I think.  

Check out a young Pam Grier in the cast as the voodoo priestess that Blacula takes a shining to. Still, it’s Marshall himself who lends the film most of its appeal. It’s clearly ridiculous to have your character wander around the city at night in dinnerwear and a cape (in fact, the aforementioned pimps seem to be the only people who think it’s odd), but Marshall grants the film a great deal of credibility. He has a definite gravitas, but there are clearly moments where he’s simply enjoying the opportunity to be a lead in a film like this (I could almost spot a wry smile as he crossed his arms a few times).  

Scream Blacula Scream is standard run-of-the-mill seventies horror schlock, just expecuted well. If you’re in the right frame of mind, it can be a lot of fun. And to determine if you’re in the right frame of mind, simply answer this question: is the fact that Blacula gets his own song over the closing credits cool or jive?  

If it’s cool, you might just be a hip enough cat for this film.

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