Blacula – The Complete Collection

Blaxploitation habitually made itself a wide open target for parody and mockery, take the newly released Blacula directed by William Crain, it sounds like a joke rather than something conceived from a creative mind. Even the trailer made at the time of release called Blacula, “Dracula’s soul brother”. That sentence alone makes this a bizarre choice for the boutique home label Eureka to be spending their attention on.

William Marshall stars in the titular role as 18th century African prince Mamuwalde ruler of the Abani African nation, seeking the help of Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay) in suppressing the slave trade he is turned into a vampire and locked away in a sealed coffin. 200 years later he is awoken in 1970s Brooklyn; we know that to be true as the first person the slumbering vampire sees is a flamboyant afro wearing black man and a strong/feisty black woman taxi driver – this is Blaxploitation it would be foolish to anticipate subtlety. The vampire curse not only took away Mamuwalde’s kingdom it also took away his wife Luva (Vonetta McGee). Moments after feeding on human blood for the first time, he meets the reincarnation of his wife, Tina (also McGee), whom the vampire prince spends all of his waking time and affection on.

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Outrageously flashy plot concepts aren’t the only identifier of Blaxploitation; they’re also rife with continuity errors and mistakes. Blacula is no different. The sound quality is horrid at the best of times, intensified by a lack of [Blu-ray] subtitles. This sound issue can only be described as if the only microphone they had been placed near the camera regardless of where actors were stationed, hence sometimes the sound is perfect and other times it’s only audible by amping up the volume. The other happenstance is far sillier. Club performers sing as clear as a bell over full band accompaniment without microphones, only for the error to be fixed in the next scene. This is evocative of everything the Blaxploitation scene stood for, extremely low-budget films developed by inexperienced hands but as 2009’s Black Dynamite hilariously articulated these errors make the films all the more endearing.

One of the core constituents of film criticism, or any criticism for that matter, is to find the bad in the good and the good in the bad. Blacula is more generous on that front than most. The film is scored by the smoothest of soul music; it’s a Blaxploitation film that’s the least you’d expect. And while the film is full of holes it does have William Marshall whose beautiful voice and classical acting background lend the film a class that it doesn’t really deserve. Further still, Mamuwalde is no monster (just like this is no horror film); other members of the cast continuously refer to him as ‘one weird dude’. Like all heroes of Blaxploitation his violence is instigated by ‘the man’ whether it’s thru the mamarginalizationf his people or the likes of Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) preventing him from being with the reincarnated love of his life. This may all be true, but the single point that keeps ‘Blacula’ sympathetic is the towering performance from William Marshall.

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Blacula is unquestionably terrible when one applies any critical faculties, but amazingly Blaxploitation is one of the most consistently critic proof pockets of cinema history. The reason is unambiguously simple, as bad as all these films are each and every single one is massive fun to watch – especially when Marshall’s vampyric metamorphosis is communicated through bigger sideburns.

The package that Eureka has put together is tremendously basic. 1972’s Blacula has a fantastic 1080p high-definition transfer, trailers and a newly recorded interview with Britain’s primo horror critic and author Kim Newman. The only major thing left to speak of is the [also included] 1973 sequel Scream Blacula Scream. The sequel doesn’t warrant its own review – simply as it is more of the same only with the never-endingly charismatic Pam Grier playing opposite a returning William Marshall. As often is the case with cult films, this is a piece of fan service that’ll be lapped up by the hardcore.

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Blacula – The Complete Collection EXTRAS

  • Brand new 1080p high-definition transfer
  • Progressive DVD encodes
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Trailers for both films
  • New and exclusive introduction to the films by critic and author Kim Newman
  • 32-page booklet featuring new writing by Josiah Howard, author of Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide; reprints of original Blacula ephemera; and archival images.

Blacula – The Complete Collection is out now on Eureka Video Dual Format (DVD/Blu-Ray)

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