The Films (3.5/5, 4/5)
I lived at the video store as a kid, and as a horror brat used them to seek out new scary and shocking things. From the age of 12-18 I made it a personal mission to see every single horror, cult, sci-fi, and war tape in the extensive selection of the Video Library nearest my house in SW Florida. The store seemingly had hundreds of tapes in the horror section, and since I was desperate to always see something new this was a positive. I remember deciding with some friends to rent both Blackenstein and Blacula one night. I didn't enjoy comedy in my horror as much as I would eventually grow too, and thought both sounded ridiculous. I went into Blacula expecting a bunch of comedic nonsense. When the film began I found myself within moments sucked into a truly atmospheric vampire-horror experience, yes it was set squarely in the fashion of the 70's, but Blacula had the atmosphere of a Hammer Horror film. Needless to say I dug up Scream Blacula Scream as fast as I could.
William Marshall (Pee Wee's Playhouse) plays Prince Mamuwalde, an African Delegate on a diplomatic mission to Eastern Europe to help put an end to the slave trade. After a day of meetings he is invited back to dinner to the home of Count Dracula, the dinner ends in a frustrating argument between the Prince and Dracula. Dracula wanting to punish the Prince for his behavior turns him into a vampire, and then locks him in a coffin and hides it in a secret chamber within the castle, his wife his only company as she starves to death in his coffin bound presence. The film then picks up 200 years later. A pair of Dracula historians buy the coffin, and take it back to 1970's L.A., they open it, and find that inside is Blacula, a vampire that is over 200 years old, and has never fed. After taking care of the buyers that set him free he begins to wander L.A. violently attacking anyone that bothers him, and finding the reincarnation of his lost love in a modern woman.
Blacula was made in 1972 just as the Blaxploitation genre was just beginning to gain popularity in response to this AIP combined the up and coming genre with one of their tried and true successes (horror) to create something that would prove to be one of the great box office hits of that year. If you go by the title on the box, one might expect Blacula to be quite a silly, comedic affair, and while the film certainly has comedic elements, Blacula would fall more squarely into the tragic vampire genre. The Blacula character from the film's opening is played as tragic character, one who is tortured for his beliefs, and separated from his love by centuries. Like the Frankenstein Monster he is not evil at heart, he is in love and just wants to find the reincarnation of is lost beloved.
Blacula definitely does not betray it's low budget origins, the film looks like it was shot fast and cheap. However, the central performance by Marshall helps to ground the film, and bring it into more serious horror territory. One must remember that this was the same era that Hammer was making it's lesser Dracula films such as Dracula A.D. 1972 and Satanic Rites of Dracula, and regardless of the quality of the films, Christopher Lee helped to elevate those as William Marshall does here.
Blacula was a box office smash in 1972, AIP knew a good thing when it had one, so in 1973 it brough Scream Blacula, Scream into the world. William Marshall came back, and with him came blaxsploitation goddess (and soon to be Foxy Brown) Miss Pam Grier. Where Blacula was a serious affair, this sequel has larger comedic overtones. Of course, being a sequel to a very successful film AIP put in more money to this ,and even an non-observant viewer can see that on screen. The acting prowess is kicked up a notch, this could of course, just be the power of having a wonderful actor like William Marshall paired with someone like Pam Grier.
Death has never kept a good monster down, and it's certainly not going to keep Blacula (William Marshall), whose bones fall into the hands of the heir of a voodoo cult. He is angered, because the late queen of the cult chose Lisa (Pam Grier) to succeed her. In order to take Lisa out, and obtain power, he uses the bones of Blacula to resurrect the vampire from the dead. He expects to have Blacula under his control, however, things do not go according to plan he is bitten by the vampire and becomes one himself. Blacula then finds himself acquainted with an ex-cop that has artifacts from the time and place in Africa where he originally hails from. From this connection he finally meets Lisa, and learns of her voodoo powers, and she of his vampiric nature. After things begin to go out of control, they begin to look for a ritual to cure Blacula/Mamuwalde of his curse.
Audio/Video (3.5/5, 4/5)
Scream Factory have presented both films in their original 1:85:1 aspect ratio in quite decent 1080p transfers. Neither one of these films will ever looked like polished Hollywood affairs, but both look like quite natural presentations. Blacula is quite decent looking with stable natural colors, a nice grain field present, and solid blacks. There is some damage and dirt present from the source materials. Scream Blacula, Scream comes off as the better looking of the pair due to the higher productions values present in the production, colors here are more sharp, detail is a bit better, and it's all around more cleaner.
Both films are presented with DTS-HD MA tracks in English. The dialogue, score, and effects in both are mixed clearly and are quite audible throughout. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
Scream Factory have presented Blacula with a commentary by film historian David Walker. There is also an interview on Scream Blacula, Scream with Richard Lawson, and theatrical trailers for both features.
I have always had a special love for the Blacula films. They mix the comic and the tragic, blaxploitation and horror. The A/V transfers from Scream Factory are quite decent, as are the extras though limited are quite nice. RECOMMENDED.