Highly sophisticated African Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) gets bitten by Count Dracula, and his fate is sealed forevermore as a vampire. Two centuries later, Mamuwalde is unwittingly transported to modern-day Los Angeles, where his bloodletting soon brings new meaning the city’s nickname — City of Angels! This 1970s blaxploitation flick is something you can really, uh, sink your teeth into.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Waitress: Hi! What’ll you have?
Mamuwalde: Make it a Bloody Mary.
American International’s producer Samuel Z. Arkoff’s title character of Blacula gets an animated, funky, cool and pretty inventive Saul Bass-like title opening sequence. The opening comes after, just like the Bond films do, a sort of intro of how Blacula came to be. Played rather effectively by the deep voiced, classically trained thespian William Marshall, Prince Mamuwalde is running an errand for his country to the racist pig Count Dracula to oppose the slave trade with his Princess wife, Luva. Offended by this proposal Dracula takes action and curses Mamuwalde to an eternity of hunger and desire for human blood by making him a funky-ass Vampire. Little did Drac know, though, that Mamuwalde would reawaken in the glory days of the 1970’s ready to party, suck some blood and get down!
All derision about the potential campiness of Blacula aside, this film is actually enjoyable on a couple levels. First and foremost is the dignified Marshall who plays the African Vampire Prince very straight. When he is angered or scared or even saddened by the events surrounding him you really feel it and he emotes very well. It is his voice that carries the entire performance and he commands every scene he is in. One scene in a loud club stands out when he is annoyed and bothered by extra dinner guests and having his picture taken he turns very animalistic and scares the pants off the viewer. This film, for a blaxplotation classic, does have enough creepiness and good scares for a mainstream horror audience and upon watching it again I became engrossed by the few tense moments and well done stunt work in the climax of the film which included a well staged vampire confrontation scene. I almost forgot I was watching a campy B movie.
Don’t get me wrong,though. There are so many social no-no’s and stereotypes here to cringe and just laugh at despite the attempt to set the story with an anti-slavery theme. There’s the jive-talking, hustling, club gigolo named Skillet, a scantily dressed nightclub photographer, a fast talking female cabbie who loves to run down strange caped men, a straight-laced white cop, two homosexual interior decorators and even a Gladys Knight and the Pips knock off funk band to please the club goers at Blacula’s fave drinking joint. So in the end Marshall glues together this camp classic with his charismatic performance and the rest is just cheesy, exploitative funky 70’s horror with some unintentionally comedic dialog to go with it. You can’t take just one bite.