Even if many typical Halloween activities have been cancelled or deemed too risky for me personally, it’s October, damnit! The spirit of Halloween lives in our hearts, and that’s at least reflected on the Blog Collab if not in many other parts of my life right now. Since we’ve already crossed off the Snoop Dogg/Pam Grier vehicle Bones, what better way to kick off Horror Month than with another pioneer in Black cinema…Blacula?
After becoming a vampire nearly 200 years earlier, Prince Mamuwalde awakens in 1970s Los Angeles as Blacula.
The year is 1780 in Transylvania, and Dracula is meeting with two representatives of the fictional Abani nation: Prince Mamuwalde and his wife, Luva. The two seek Dracula’s support in ending the slave trade, a cause so unsympathetic to the vampire of legend that he laughs off the idea. In fact, Dracula decides that having two visitors to his estate presents an opportunity to feed. Transforming Mamuwalde into a vampire, Dracula seals him in a coffin to thirst for blood for eternity as…Blacula.
Nearly two centuries later, cringey gay stereotypes Bobby and Billy are interior decorators hoping to cash in on the campiness of antiques from Dracula’s estate. Shrugging off the warnings of the agent, the two men purchase items including a coffin, which happens to contain Mamuwalde’s undead corpse. After the coffin is sent to Los Angeles, Bobby and Billy unknowingly unleash the vampire on the city, becoming his first victims.
At Bobby’s funeral, Mamuwalde spots a mourner who looks just like his wife, Luva. Impossible, as Luva was locked in the creepy cellar in Dracula’s castle to die…or is it? The modern-day Luva is named Tina, a woman whose sister is dating an LAPD pathologist. Mamuwalde makes a bad first impression when he materializes in a dark alley, sending Tina running for her life. Conveniently, Mamuwalde is able to reconnect by returning Tina’s purse to her and explaining the misunderstanding. Though she is unnerved by Mamuwalde, Tina also feels drawn to him.
Meanwhile, the bodies pile up as Mamuwalde simultaneously feeds and covers his tracks. Dr. Thomas, the boyfriend of Tina’s sister Michelle, begins to suspect the mysterious deaths may share something similar. Researching all manner of ghoulish subjects, Thomas and Michelle investigate one of the victim’s graves after the LAPD refuses to exhume the body. There, they discover Billy’s undead corpse, which springs awake to attack them.
After an incredibly unsubtle line of questioning (“Are you into the occult?”), Mamuwalde realizes that Thomas is onto him. Just as it seems Mamuwalde has convinced Tina to join him for eternity, the LAPD interrupt, and the vampire is forced to flee. Upon following one of the vampires, Thomas and others find a den of the creatures, narrowly escaping.
With Mamuwalde on the loose, Thomas and Michelle pressure Tina to help them find and destroy him. Will Tina keep her promise or give in to the allure of Mamuwalde and the vampire lifestyle?
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
For such an iconic film, I frequently found myself struggling to stay awake…and not because of any vampiric hypnosis. This is basically a straightforward adaptation of Dracula set in the ’70s with a mostly Black cast. I was hoping for a stronger social commentary, but Mamuwalde doesn’t seem to have any secret social justice agenda, nor do any of the other characters. Even the name Blacula becomes problematic as it’s Dracula’s name for Mamuwalde rather than his own. Is it strange that I wanted a period piece set in the 19th century where Mamuwalde seeks vengeance against Dracula???
The character of Mamuwalde himself is pretty boring, though I suppose at the time it may have been refreshing to see a Black character who wasn’t a complete stereotype. He does, after all, walk around LA proudly wearing a cape. However, Dr. Thomas really takes over as a protagonist, and he’s not particularly interesting either. There’s a reason so many films about vampires focus on Dracula rather than Van Helsing–it’s so much more fun to be the creature than the force attempting to stop it.
Let’s not even get started with the characters of Tina and Michelle, who are glamorous but given virtually nothing to do. Neither has much agency, as Tina is mystically drawn to Mamuwalde, while Michelle revolves around Thomas. There isn’t really a compelling reason for Tina to feel a connection to Mamuwalde except because, you know, vampires. Either way, she doesn’t really get to make her own choices in the story and deserves better than the fate she meets.
And it’s impossible for me not to address the representation of gay characters Bobby and Billy in this film, which ages very poorly. I know most sitcoms today don’t do much better, but it’s still jarring to see these characters played purely for laughs.
Overall, the highlight is the unnecessary number of funk music interludes, which makes me suspect this would have been better as a musical.