Thursday, November 5, 2009

Blacula (1972)

Before Anne Rice exposed the real-world emotional trials of fictional creatures, and Stephanie Meyer used the undead as an analogue for her stifling and misguided views on sex, vampires used to be fun. Vampirism was not an affliction destined for the sympathies of pubescent girls, but a totally awesome stroke of luck used to exploit the ignorant and terrorize normal society. Vampires were arbiters of evil on the fringes of society, and no amount of therapy, abstinence or self-reflection could replace a nice stake through the heart.

This harsh ostracism seems tailor-made to the struggles of the black community, which is why 1972's Blacula fits perfectly into this folklore. In 1780, a well-spoken and commanding African Prince (William Marshall) travels to Europe to demand an end to the oppressive slave trade. His request is denied by none other than Count Dracula, whose neck-scarfed goons rough him up and transform him into a practicing member of the vampiric arts, forever known as Blacula.
Despite the film's initial progressive racial attitudes--using vampirism to represent the evils of slavery and racism--Blacula moves on briskly to modern day, where two ridiculous gay stereotype antique dealers travel to the castle and buy up all of Dracula's campy treasures. The film decries racism while casually referring to the dealers as "faggots." Apparently discrimination is a terrible thing unless buttsex is involved.
Blacula wakes up and does away with his queenish compatriots (the film predated AIDS by almost a decade so I'll resist making an off-color comment about the bloodsucking), puts on his fashionable black pimp vampire cape, and trolls 1970s Los Angeles for more victims. His bloodlust seems tangentially related to the length of his sideburns, though the film never addresses the matter and looks more like a continuity error than a contribution to the folklore.
He comes across a beautiful woman named Tina (Vonetta McGee) who bears a striking resemblance to his dead wife Luva, right down to the haircut and fact that she's played by the same actress. Tina further whets his appetite by wearing a frightfully inappropriate bright purple hooded minidress to a funeral.
Blacula emerges from the shadows to reunite with his reincarnated wife, only to see that nightstalking is no longer in vogue. She drops her purse and runs away in terror with surprising speed, given her 5-inch platforms.
Later at the club, Tina celebrates her roommate's birthday amidst soul music, comforted by the singer's wooden stake hidden in his pants.
Blacula returns Tina's purse and calmly explains that he's an 18th century African prince transformed into a vampire who roams the streets sucking the blood of innocent victims and chased her down because she's pretty. She understands, and the two begin a healthy relationship built on trust, commitment, and turning people into blaculas.

Tina's friend, Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) doesn't understand their eternal love, bringing up irrelevant nonsense like "he's a vampire" and "he murders people" and "he's a lapdog of Satan." Tina ignores him, and Thomas must use his own resources to stop Blacula, such as seducing his girlfriend into digging up corpses, yelling at honkey police chiefs, and befriending hook-handed coroners.
William Marshall is an excellent Blacula, who never pines too long for his dead wife, instead finding solace through murder. He takes his rage out on subjects stereotypically detested by the black community: cops, gays, and women. He just needed to take out a Jew, Klan member, and jar of mayonnaise to fulfill the offensiveness quotient.

Blacula is a fun film. It presents itself earnestly but never takes the action too seriously. It has aspirations of social commentary, but then simply breaks down and sets a bunch of blaculas on fire. The screenwriters came up with the title first and went from there. Blacula hits the 90 minute mark and goes "welp guess we better end this." Like most double-feature exploitation films, it leaves you wanting more, but not that much, since Blackenstein will play immediately after.

What to drink:

A Bloody Mary (ho ho!)

Quotable quotes:
Dracula: Slavery has merit, I believe.

Dracula: I curse you with my name. You shall be... Blacula!

Bobby McCoy: You are obviously not attuned to the antique market. You see where we come from now honey the legend of Dracula, that's the créme de la créme of camp!

Dr. Thomas: Strange how so many sloppy police jobs involve black victims.
Lt. Peters: You're getting paranoid. Schaffer wasn't black.

Dr. Thomas: Bobby's body just disappeared.
Michelle: That's impossible!
Blacula: Perhaps he wasn't dead.
Dr. Thomas: What the hell does that mean? He was as dead as you can get. I examined him myself.
Blacula: Just a passing thought.

Lt. Peters: Who the hell would want a dead faggot?
Arbitrary rating system:

O Negative (oh ho ho ho ho!)

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