What’s the difference between Dracula and Theresa May? One lies in a coffin, the other lies while coughin’. And also lies in a coffin.
As the name suggests, Blacula is a blaxploitation horror movie from 1972, which kicked-started the sub-genre that includes Blackenstein, Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde and Bluffy the Vampire Slayer. Ok I made that last one up.
The film follows an ancient vampire (William Marshall) awoken in New York, where he falls in love with Tina (Vonetta McGee), whom he believes to be the reincarnation of his wife. Just as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Hercules came to New York from Olympus via Austria, Blacula arrives from Africa via Transylvania.
William Crain’s schlocky horror is as goofy as Blacula’s teeth, but made hugely enjoyable by the funky music and sexy encounters. Imagine watching Shaft or Black Shampoo, except the main character happens to be Dracula.
There’s even a message about prejudice, with the people around Tina trying to keep her and Blacula apart purely because he’s a different race. And, you know, feeds on humans. But nobody’s perfect.
It’s also much easier to believe that people would fall in love with this vamp than, say, Gary Oldman’s sleazy, wiggy version (right). And there’s nothing in it even half as bad as Keanu Reeves in that film.
Marshall plays the vampire as a much kinder figure, employing a tremendously classical performance and a wonderfully deep voice. With his widow’s peak Afro and high-collared cape, he’s the perfect fit for a blaxploitation flick.
Blacula is fun, romantic and socially relevant in its dealings with race in policing, as the cops try to blame the Panthers for the spate of fatal bitings, perhaps confusing the activists with the big cats. It’s like De La Soul said: “Stakes Is High.”