Blacula (1972) / Scream Blacula Scream (1973)
Director(s): William Crain / Bob Kellijan
Starring: William Marshall, Vonetta McGee & Thalmus Rasulala / William Marshall, Pam Grier & Don Mitchell
Released by: Scream Factory
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Adhering to the cries from the children of the night, Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, delivers two long-awaited blaxploitation classics! Taking place in 1780 Transylvania, Blacula centers on African Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall, Pee-wee’s Playhouse) as he seeks Count Dracula’s assistance in ending slave trade. Instead, the evil count transforms the prince into a vampire and banishes him to a coffin. Released nearly two centuries later, Blacula stalks the streets of Los Angeles for blood and a woman (Vonetta McGee,Melinda) he believes to be his reincarnated wife. Thalmus Rasulala (Willie Dynamite), Denise Nicholas (Room 222) and Gordon Pinsent (Babar) co-star. Next up, Scream Blacula Screamfinds Willis Daniels (Richard Lawson, Poltergeist), the son of a late high priestess, fuming over his cult’s decision to nominate his foster sister Lisa (Pam Grier, Coffy) as their new leader. Intending to curse Lisa with voodoo magic, Willis unknowingly resurrects the black bloodsucker, hungry for more bloodshed. Don Mitchell (Ironside), Lynne Moody (That’s My Mama) and Michael Conrad (The Longest Yard) co-star.
Released the same year as seminal blaxploitation classic, Super Fly, Blacula would not only follow suit in influencing the urban genre’s popularity but, would also become the first film named Best Horror Film of its year by the Saturn Awards. Its period piece opening with the articulate Prince Mamuwalde (Marshall) urging Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay, Brute Corps) to assist in the demise of slave trading kicks the film off on a unique note. Doused in appropriately gothic atmosphere, Dracula wastes little time feeding on his guest, transforming him into a vampire. Locked away in a coffin for centuries, two flamboyant interior decorators unleash Blacula into modern day Los Angeles where flashy clothing and jive talkin‘ is commonplace. Thirsting for blood, Blacula is quickly transfixed with the beautiful Tina (McGee) who bears a striking similarity to his late wife. As bizarre murders of victims drained of blood begin occurring, Tina’s sister, Michelle (Nicholas), and her pathologist boyfriend, Dr. Gordon Thomas (Rasulala), grow suspicious, while, Tina falls deeper in love with the true culprit. Complimented by its comical dialogue and a memorable club performance by The Hues Corporation, Blacula is slightly by the numbers but, greatly entertains thanks to Marshall’s commanding performance. With a bloody yet, surprisingly poetic finale, Blacula is an enjoyable slice of blaxploitation horror with a dignified depiction of its antagonist and an equally funky and brooding score, compliments of Composer Gene Page (Brewster McCloud). Continuously growing in popularity, Blacula would become one of the top moneymakers of 1972 and pave the way for a minor wave of other blaxploitation-horror efforts.
From the director of Count Yorga, Vampire and its respective sequel, Scream Blacula Screamblends the worlds of voodoo and vampirism to great effect. Vowing to take revenge against his foster sister Lisa (Grier) after being ejected from their peaceful cult, Willis (Lawson) uses voodoo practices in hopes to curse her. Unfortunately, Willis revives the black prince of shadows to continue his reign of terror with the assistance of an undead army. Where its predecessor may have slightly lacked in style, Scream Blacula Scream excels mixing African folklore and a more prominent blaxploitation attitude. Co-starring genre goddess Pam Grier (Black Mama White Mama, Foxy Brown), this followup contains a tighter storyline, higher body count and more memorable performances, sure to quench the thirst of viewers. As Blacula finds a kindred spirit in Lisa and sees her voodoo abilities as invaluable, her ex-detective boyfriend Justin Carter (Mitchell), finds the suspicious murders of fellow cult members far from a coincidence. After heavily researching the occult, Justin is convinced a vampire is responsible and summons his former LAPD lieutenant to help track the nightcrawler. Forever conflicted with his need to consume blood, Blacula urges to Lisa to use her voodoo spells to end his vampiric curse. With a final showdown between Justin, joined by the LAPD, and Blacula’s minions, Scream Blacula Scream is endlessly entertaining and in the rare instance, surpasses its originator.
Scream Factory debuts Blacula and Scream Blacula Scream with 1080p transfers, both sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios. While, the original film shows only minor instances of flakes and speckles with decent visibility during dimly lit sequences, both films greatly shine with bold colors, rich detail in facial features and their flashy 70s wardrobe. Undeniably, both films look wonderful in high-definition with Scream Blacula Scream squeaking by as the frontrunner with a virtually spotless appearance. Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, both films have no audio dropouts to report but, Blacula bears a noticeably tinny sound, creating an occasionally tedious echo effect, most noticeably during scenes at Count Dracula’s castle. That said, dialogue is still audible with the sequel once again reigning supreme with a tinny-less mix and effective pitch during more horrific sequences. In addition, special features include, an educational Audio Commentary with Author/Film Historian David F. Walker on Blacula, joined by a Photo Gallery (68 in total) and Theatrical Trailer (1:54). Finally, Scream Blacula Scream arrives with Interview with the Vampire’s Assistant: Richard Lawson from Scream Blacula Scream (13:35). Lawson recalls his luck of winning the part of Willis, his fond memories of William Marshall and Pam Grier as well as his thoughts on the steady popularity of the Blacula films. A Photo Gallery (69 in total) and Theatrical Trailer (2:03) for the sequel round out the disc’s supplemental offerings.
Influential in the growing success of blaxploitation, Blacula and Scream Blacula Scream are a winning duo of entertaining vampire tales with an added dose of blackitude. Intellectual and hypnotizing, William Marshall delights in his most memorable role as the African prince turned bloodsucker that stands proudly next to previous interpretations of the iconic Dracula character. While, the original Blacula sets a terrific pace, its 1973 sequel is the more satisfying entry with a tighter storyline, voodoo worship and blaxploitation queen Pam Grier making an appearance. Scream Factory debuts both films with gorgeous high-definition transfers, suitable sound mixes and a small but, worthwhile share of special features. Deadlier than Dracula, the black prince of shadows makes a bloody fun splash in his only two outings, well worth adding into your tomb of terror.
For more Blu-ray/DVD reviews from Mike Kenny, head over to Mike’s Pop Culture Playhouse!