Blacula: The Complete Collection - Blu-ray Review

 'A pair of films that survive as a curiosity from a cinematic time gone by, likely to now be of genuine interest only to genre enthusiasts'.

As part of the blaxploitation genre of the 1970s, both Blacula and its sequel, Scream Blacula Scream, by definition are low budget features that cannot rely on the intricate and expensive special effects of many other entries into the horror genre. Judging either film on their decidedly rough and ready feel seems both unfair and unwilling to enter into the spirit of the genre. The key question which must be asked of both films is whether they manage to do enough to get away with their cut-price execution.

Unfortunately, in the case of the original Blacula, the answer ultimately has to be "no". After a somewhat promising opening sequence set in 18th Century Transylvania and featuring Count Dracula (Charles Macauley) himself, screenwriters Raymond Koenig and Joan Torres fail to introduce a focused narrative for Blacula (William Marshall), or Mamuwalde as he's more often called in the film, to follow once he is awoken in 1970s America. A thin plot in which Mamuwalde believes Tina (Vonetta McGee), a friend of one of his first victims, is the reincarnation of his wife from the 1700s never convinces.

A parallel plot focused upon Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) investigating the deaths of Mamuwalde's victims - coming up with a vampire theory alarmingly quickly for a man of science - also fails to generate much interest, feeling like a drawn out supernatural episode of Quincy, M.E. The horror sequences are consistently underwhelming, and each victim's death feels fairly obvious after being signposted for at least a good few minutes before they bite the dust. The performances are largely amateurish, with only Marshall and Rasulala managing to impress. Even the blaxploitation element feels like something of an afterthought, making Marshall's black spin on Bram Stoker's infamous vampire disappointingly feel like little more than a gimmick.

Scream Blacula Scream, originally released less than twelve months after Blacula, is thankfully an improvement upon the first film in several ways. The plot here, in which Mamuwalde becomes involved in the power struggle within a voodoo cult, provides a considerably more satisfying level of focus throughout the film. The cast too is stronger overall: Marshall improves upon his strong performance in Blacula, and Pam Grier in a central role as a young voodoo queen gives a memorable turn. The horror elements are also better, although still providing campy entertainment rather than anything genuinely scary. There's even some attempt to delve deeper into Mamuwalde's character, exploring whether he is truly evil; whilst it's a thread which fails as often as it succeeds, the effort is admirable. Although as a whole it still feels a bit too thinly spread across its ninety-five minute running time, Scream Blacula Scream is undoubtedly the superior of the two films.

Evaluating the Blacula franchise as a whole, whilst the second film does something to raise the bar after the mediocrity of the first, this is ultimately a pair of films that survive as a curiosity from a cinematic time gone by, likely to now be of genuine interest only to genre enthusiasts. Marshall's performance as the titular vampire is the strongest element of both films, and there are isolated parts within both the original film and its sequel which are undeniably entertaining. In the end, however, the Blacula franchise adds very little to vampire mythology - providing the cheap novelty cinema that the exploitation genre is built upon, but never managing to surpass that.

Scream Blacula Scream

Blacula: The Complete Collection is available on UK Blu-ray from Monday 27th October 2014.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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