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The civil rights movement came to the horror film genre in 1972 via American International Pictures’ Blacula. Booming, deep-voiced William Marshall plays the African vampire, with Vonetta McGee as his old and new world love interest. Yo, Blacula!
William Crain Directs Blacula
Raymond Koenig and Joan Torres wrote Blacula for Power Productions. William Crain – making his silver screen debut – directed the funky action.
Gene Page served up the movie’s soulful music score. For added listening pleasure, the film also features an appearance in an L.A. nightclub by the Hues Corporation (their #1 hit, “Rock the Boat,” 1974), who recorded three songs for the movie’s soundtrack: “There He Is Again,” “What the World Knows” and “I’m Gonna Catch You.”
William Marshall Heads Blacula Cast
William Marshall (1924-2003) heads the cast as Prince Mamuwalde/Blacula. Prior to his stint as the black prince, Marshall, an accomplished stage actor, had also appeared in episodes of Bonanza, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Rawhide, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Star Trek and The Wild, Wild West.
Rounding out the cast are Vonetta McGee (Luva/Tina), Denise Nicholas (Michelle), Thalmus Rasulala (Dr. Gordon Thomas), Gordon Pinsent (Lt. Jack Peters), Charles Macaulay (Dracula), Emily Yancy (Nancy), Lance Taylor Sr. (Undertaker Swenson), Ted Harris (Bobby McCoy), Rick Metzler (Billy Schaffer), Ji-Tu Cumbuka (Skillet), Logan Field (Sgt. Barnes), Ketty Lester (Juanita Jones), Elisha Cook Jr. (Sam), Eric Brotherson (Real Estate Agent) and Flemming Williams & the Hues Corporation.
Blacula Filmed in Los Angeles
Budgeted at $500,000, Blacula was filmed on location in Los Angeles. One script change did occur regarding William Marshall’s character. At first, he was called Andrew Brown, which happened to be the name of a character from the Amos ‘n’ Andy radio and television series. At Marshall’s insistence, Andrew Brown became the African prince Mamuwalde, who had never been subject to slavery.
Dracula Makes Blacula
Blacula opens in the year 1780 with Prince Mamuwalde and his wife Luva on a tour of Europe. Mamuwalde has come to Transylvania in order to enlist the help of Count Dracula in putting an end to the slave trade.
The undead Count, however, proves to be just as bigoted as many of his live contemporaries, imprisoning his two Dark Continent guests. Luva dies in captivity, but Mamuwalde lives on when Dracula bites him on the neck. “I will curse you with my name…You shall be – Blacula!” the racist Count declares.
Fast forward to 1972 Los Angeles, where two gay interior decorators buy the furnishings of Dracula’s old castle. Included in the lot is a coffin, which holds the sleeping Mamuwalde inside. The lock is broken and out creeps the reanimated Blacula, who makes quick work of the two men.
Now out on the prowl, Blacula samples the trendy L.A. scene – after sundown of course. At a nightclub, the elegant vampire proves to be something of a hit with the ladies, charming a young woman named Tina who reminds him of his long-deceased wife.
But the Bloody Mary-drinking Blacula, with his old world ways and 18th century threads, doesn’t quite fit into his new L.A. digs, arousing the suspicions of his 1970s soul brothers and sisters. Eventually piecing the entire mystery together is Dr. Gordon Pinsent of the LAPD, who wants to put Blacula’s soulless corpse on ice and end his bloody feeding in the City of Angels.
Blacula Release, Reviews
Blacula made its New York City debut on August 25, 1972, opening simultaneously at the Criterion and Juliet 2 theaters.
“William Marshall portrays title role with a flourish and gets first rate support right down the line…” offered Variety (8/2/72).
Blacula Sequel, Award, DVD, Trivia
- A modest success at the box office, Blacula produced one sequel: Scream Blacula Scream (1973), with William Marshall returning as the undead African prince.
- Blacula won a Golden Scroll Award for Best Horror Film from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films.
- Blacula is available on DVD (MGM, 2004).
- Blacula served as the inspiration for several other blaxploitation horror films, including Blackenstein (1973) and Abby (1974), the latter of which was almost titled The Blackorcist.
“That is one strange dude!” a young black man declares at an L.A. night spot after meeting the unhip Blacula.
Right on, brother, but can’t we all just get along?