Directed by William Crain [Other horror films: Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976)]
Despite the ridiculous title, Blacula plays itself as straight as any other 70’s horror, and while the movie’s not great, it’s okay, and if you’re into vampire films and have overlooked this one, I’d recommend another look.
The story here is pretty interesting, and casts a very sympathetic light on William Marshall’s vampiric character. Attempting to stop the trade of Africans, William Marshall plays an African Prince who speaks to Count Dracula, who refuses and turns the Prince into a vampire. He returns 200 years later, and the snazzily-dressed Marshall goes after a woman who reminds him of his late wife.
Blacula, as it was shot on location in L.A., really has that 70’s feeling that I appreciate. There’s some socially conscious dialogue I appreciated (such as Rasulala’s mentioning that crimes against African-Americans aren’t focused on near as much as crimes against whites), though their depiction of a homosexual couple (which was progressive for the time, to be sure) was certainly cringe-worthy. Still, credit to Ted Harris and Rick Metzler for playing (however stereotypically) a biracial gay couple.
William Marshall does quite well as a vampire here. Like I said, you can sort of feel for his character, and while he does cause multiple deaths throughout the film, you can’t help but feel just a bit sorry for him, because you can tell from the beginning of the movie that he’s a good person. Marshall had a strong personality here, and it did wonders for the film.
Also doing wonders was the main protagonist, played by Thalmus Rasulala. A pathologist for the police department, his character really commanded his screen-time, and much like how you couldn’t help but feel bad for Marshall, I couldn’t have stopped myself from cheering for Rasulala for anything. He kicked ass, sucker-punched some vampires, and really put in his all.
While it’s true that the presence of Gordon Pinsent, Denise Nicholas, and Vonetta McGee are appreciated, the only other actor that stands out here is Elisha Cook. When I first saw this film, I immediately recognized him as Pritchard from House on Haunted Hill. He definitely looks a bit older here, but he has the same face, so it was sort of nice to see him 15 years older than I usually do.
I think that, if Blacula has a main problem, it’s the lack of scares. There was a pretty good graveyard sequence, and also a scene that took place in a warehouse in which twenty or so vampires jump the main characters, but otherwise, I didn’t really get a big feeling of dread here.
Even so, there’s some funky music here (just look at that animated title screen), and the songs we heard at the club (‘There He Is Again‘ and ‘I’m Gonna Catch You‘ are both performed by The Hues Corporation, a soul trio from the 1970’s) were just really catchy, despite it not really being the type of music I generally gravitate toward at all.
All-in-all, Blacula’s not a great movie, but it can be fun, and it gets the job done competently enough, along with possessing an interesting story. As far as blaxploitation horror goes, I have to suspect this is one of the better ones, and may well be worth a watch in spite of it’s flaws.