American International Pictures made its name in the ’50s with horror films and troubled teen movies. They had a major hit when they merged the genres with I Was A Teenage Werewolf. AIP was riding high in the early ’70s with urban action movies starring black actors. It seemed natural to infuse a touch of horror into the explosive hood. What sort of supernatural creature could scare audiences used to Jim Brown and Fred Williamson? TV’s Dark Shadows had made vampires cool with Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas Collins. This was the right monster to lurk around a downtown neighborhood that only comes alive at night. The key to any AIP release was a great title that could get people talking. They stuck gold when they named went with Blacula for their version of Count Dracula. Things got even better when they cast William H. Marshall in the title role. The Shakespearean actor brought the same essence to his Prince of Darkness that Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee exuded. Blacula & Scream Blacula Scream is a double feature of urban horror that lives up to the undead glory promised.
Blacula starts with Dracula. Prince Mamuwalde (Marshall) and his wife (Repo Man‘s Vonetta McGee) visit Transylvania in order to find support to end the slave trade. Little does he know that his royal host doesn’t care about politic. He wants African blood. Their visit ends with Mamuwalde turned into a vampire by Dracula and locked in a coffin. Centuries past and a couple arrives to buy the antiques of Dracula. They eagerly buy the coffin containing Mamuwalde and ship it back to Los Angeles. When they open the coffin, they get a horrifying surprise for Mamualde is now the undead Blacula. He’s eager to suck blood. Complicating his life in the modern world is discovering Tina who looks just like his precious wife (and is also played by McGee). Thalmus Rasulala (Bucktown) is a doctor who works with the police. He’s investigating a rash of deaths that involve bloodsucking. Can he figure out that the new guy with the cape in the neighborhood might be the prime suspect?
Blacula succeeds thanks to the screen presences of Marshall. They could have just slapped fangs and a cape on anyone. Marshall has the charm and manners of a prince. He also has the ability to get sinister when it’s time to suck the necks of his victims. He doesn’t get hammy or campy. He plays it like the star of a Hammer Horror. The Hues Corporation (“Rock the Boat”) appear in the nightclub scene. They are rockin’ the dance floor. While critics of this era claim that white people made these movies to exploit the black audience, Blacula‘s director William Crain is black. He would go on to make Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde with Bernie Casey.
Scream Blacula Scream opens with a family power struggle. Before she dies Mama Loa appoints Pam Grier (Coffy) to become the new voodoo queen. This pisses off Richard Lawson since he’s Mama Loa’s son. His anger allows him to bring Blacula back from the grave. Little does he know the price of being turned into a vampire. He gets extra angry since he can no longer check his hair in the mirror. Lawson is a sharp looking man so losing his reflection hurts. But he still wants to get his power back from Pam so he’ll take the deal. The plans goes odd when Blacula finds himself attracted to Pam. But this interest doesn’t stop the body count. There’s a fine scene with Blacula has to take out two wannebe pimps on the streets of Los Angeles. The deaths do attract the attention of the authorities. One of the cops investigating is Michael Conrad from Hill Street Blues.
Scream Blacula Scream has a better pacing than the original. This can be attributed to director Bob Kelljan who had just finished the double feature of Count Yorga, Vampire and The Return of Count Yorga for AIP. Oddly enough, Kelljan would direct Conrad in an episode of Hill Street Blues. The script is also better since Blacula isn’t the complete focus of the action. The voodoo versus vampires angle uplifts the pace and adds more drums to the soundtrack. The sequel also gets a major pump from the arrival of Pam Grier.
Blacula & Scream Blacula Scream is a fine double feature of the undead from this era. These are much better than the Twilight films. This is what you’d desire from a cross of Shaft and Dracula. After playing the Black Prince of Darkness, Marshall would become a royal figure for the next generation. In the early ’90s, Marshall he would become beloved as The King of Cartoons on Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. for both films. The 1080p transfers bring out the details of the early ’70s in downtown Los Angeles. The audio is DTS-HD Mono. You can get the true feeling of Marshall’s powerful voice. No wonder women couldn’t resist him. The movies are subtitled.
Audio Commentary by David F. Walker is not a major fan of the movie. Director Crain once yelled at him. Walker still has a lot of informative information about the film. He wants to turn Blacula into a comic book so he likes parts of it. He says that Marshall was the driving force behind the opening scene with Dracula.
Blacula Trailer (1:54) reminds us that Blacula was made and named by Dracula.
Blacula & Scream Blacula Photo Galleries include lots of shots from the shoot.
Scream Blacula Scream Trailer (2:03) lets us know that the Black Prince of Darkness is back thanks to voodoo. Does not sell the Pam Grier angle.
Richard Lawson (13:25) covers his time as Willis. He has quite a few great stories from the era. Turns out he didn’t originally get the role, but the actor dropped out. Lawson understood the dynamics of sucking blood.
Blacula & Scream Blacula Scream allows William Marshall to be the Black Prince of Darkness on the silver screen. Two films that will please both fans of horror and ’70s urban action.
Scream Factory presents Blacula & Scream Blacula Scream. Directed by: William Crain & Bob Kelljan. Written by: Joan Torres, Raymond Koenig & Maurice Jules. Starring: William Marshall, Vonetta McGee, Pam Grier, Michael Conrad & Richard Lawson. Boxset Contents: 2 movies on 1 Blu-ray. Rated: R. Released: March 3, 2015.
Tags: Blacula, pam grier