DraculaWilliam MarshallPam GrierLynne Moody
Scream Blacula Scream
Medium: film
Year: 1973
Director: Bob Kelljan
Writer: Maurice Jules, Raymond Koenig, Joan Torres
Keywords: Blacula, horror, vampires, Dracula, blaxploitation
Country: USA
Actor: William Marshall, Don Mitchell, Pam Grier, Michael Conrad, Richard Lawson, Lynne Moody, Janee Michelle, Barbara Rhoades, Bernie Hamilton, Arnold Williams, Van Kirksey, Bob Minor, Al Jones, Eric Mason (the American one), Sybil Scotford, Beverly Gill, Don Blackman, Judith Elliotte, Dan Roth, Nicholas Worth, Kenneth O'Brien, Craig Nelson, James Payne, Richard Washington, Robert F. Hoy, James Kingsley, Anita Bell
Format: 96 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070656/
Website category: Horror 1970/80s
Review date: 18 April 2010
That was a bit disappointing. It's not terrible, but I kept being tempted to pause the film and do something else. For those who just came in, this is the 1973 sequel to 1972 blaxploitation horror movie Blacula. The big guy gets raised from the... uh, wait. The big guy gets reanimated by voodoo, in a film released the same year as Live and Let Die. I'd recommend doing them as a double bill, except that that would mean recommending this film. It wouldn't be a complete dead loss, but it's clearly a step down from the original.
The best thing here is the mighty William Marshall as the only successfully tragic vampire I can think of in cinema to date. We've had whining moaners feeling sorry for themselves, but they don't count. Marshall on the other hand is doing the full Christopher Lee as a classy but badass mass murderer who can go through his enemies like a knife through butter, but he's also an intelligent man who didn't choose to become a monster. An early flashback sequence carefully reminds us about Mamuwalde being turned into Blacula (enslaved!) by Dracula. Furthermore he's even more clearly the main character than last time. More specifically he's the hero of a tragedy in which the protagonist's tragic flaw is that he's a horror movie monster, as in Karloff's Frankenstein films. Whatever else it is or isn't achieving, the movie's doing that in earnest and for that at least deserves respect.
Furthermore, Marshall's just plain cool. Again he gets away with the full Hammer outfit in a blaxploitation film, although admittedly it's not hard to look less silly than co-stars dressed up like your mother's curtains. That voice! It's a joy to listen to those rich Shakespearian tones. He really knows how to sell a key line, e.g. "I neeeed you" or "You're going nowhere". He's smooth when turning up to Pam Grier's party and culturally aware. Possibly his best and most difficult trick though is convincing us that he's a vampire against his will, yet is both (a) really going for the killings and (b) never making us roll our eyes and ask "why doesn't he just go out in the sun again?" That's what sunk any number of big-name actors in Interview with a Vampire, to name but the most obvious example.
In other words, Marshall is the man. The scene where a prostitute and two pimps come on to him is hilarious, for instance. "I'm sorry, I don't have any 'bread' on me, and as for 'kicking my ass' I'd strongly suggest you give it careful consideration before trying."
The vampire elements are good and bad. I really like the zombie-vampires, which look ugly and nasty. That's what I call a bad hair day. Vampire women are traditionally beautiful and dressed in see-through nightgowns, but not here. There's also a creepy "I've got to sit with the body" scene for Pam Grier, while in the overlong finale the vampires find all kinds of cool ways of jumping on policemen. I also liked the quick shot of a corridor of coffins. The traditional rules are being adhered to (bats, mirrors and by extension cameras), while it's clear that the director's put effort and energy into ensuring that the audience have lots of vampire fun.
However there are a couple of downsides. The big one is people who get bitten and then afterwards are exactly like their old selves and complaining that they can't see themselves in a mirror. Where's the horror if vampirism is being made to look like a cheap ticket to immortality? That's only done a couple of times, but it still annoyed me. The lesser one is the director's reluctance to leave subtle scary things in the background of a scene, despite the fact that our eyes are glued to them. Instead he'll zoom in for a close-up.
The story though just isn't very well put together. Halfway through we learn that one of the main characters is an ex-cop, whereupon he turns into Thalmus Rasulala from the first film. The opening scene has an idiot shouting at everyone that it's his birthright to become the new voodoo heir and that he's going to make them all sorry when he gets the power, despite the fact that there's going to be a vote on it. Great public relations there, dude. (The deceased is visibly breathing, by the way.) At one point the police turn up with warrants to take away Pam Grier because the film wants to do a Blacula arse-kicking scene, despite the fact that Grier hasn't done anything! There's a post-facto attempted explanation in the following scene, but no. The scene of those first two victims blundering into the Death House goes on too long, although it's arguably worth it for the sake of establishing the Death House as the Death House. How did all those doors get locked, by the way? The vampires were upstairs. Basically it's a film cobbled together from bits of other films, often the previous Blacula movie.
Then there's Pam Grier. She's a hugely important figure in cinema, called the first female action star by Tarantino and since raised to mainstream attention by him in Jackie Brown. In that film, she's great. Here, not. She's playing a fairly passive role and neither taking her clothes off nor kicking arse. The film's not allowing her to be cool, basically. She's also a bit crap when trying to use her psychic powers, although in fairness there's not much anyone could have done with lines like: "I'm frightened. For the first time in my life, I'm frightened."
Hill Street Blues fans might be interested in seeing Sgt. Phil Esterhaus, though.
Overall, I couldn't recommend this. Again no nudity, by the way. The title sequence is reminiscent of the original but less cool, which is the whole thing in a nutshell, really. William Marshall's every bit as great as last time and the main reason to watch, but he deserved a better movie.