During the 1970s, when Blaxploitation films joined the mainstream, filmmakers realized that the urban action films that dominated the genre had to expand.
The answer: Take the rudiments of Blaxploitation — the funk and soul music and the stereotype of the black male stud — and transpose them to other genres, such as horror and Western.
One prime example of brewing all these elements was evident in “Blacula,” released by American-International Pictures in 1972.
The story is simplistic: In the late 18th century, an African prince and his wife visit Count Dracula in Transylvania to solicit his support for the abolishment of the slave trade. After Dracula insults the prince and makes advances to his wife, a melee ensues in which Dracula puts the bite on the prince, curses him with the name Blacula, locks him in a coffin in a secret room and leaves the grieving wife there to do as well.
So, who knew Dracula was a racist pig?
About 200 years later, two antique dealers buy all the stuff in Castle Dracula, including the coffin. They ship it all back to Los Angeles. There, they open the coffin and out pops Blacula who dispatches both men — one white, the other black and both gay. Blacula then takes to the streets and winds up in a nightclub where he sees a young woman who is the exact image of his late wife. So, he puts on the charm and they become lovers.
Yes, this vampire it seems can have sex. Blood may not run through his veins, but something must run somewhere.
The sets are cheap, the soundtrack echoes and the acting is elementary, but the film actually ends on a touching note of self-sacrifice. Also, William Marshall brings a sense of dignity and tragedy to his role as the vampire. When in non-vampire mode, he is charming and sophisticated. When the fangs come out, he growls and hams it up a bit. Thalmus Rasulala is the medical examiner who figures out what is going on, while Vonetta McGee is the young woman under the vampire’s spell.
“Blacula” works as a horror film and a Blaxploitation feature. It has soul music, performance interludes at a nightclub, actors dressed in Afro-centric costumes and stock characters from the genre, most notably the horny brother who hits on mostly every woman he sees.
The film spawned a sequel, “Scream Blacula Scream,” and opened the door for other black-themed horror outings, such as “Blackenstein.”
Viewed today, “Blacula” does make you squirm at times, but for the most part — and largely because of Marshall — it is a fun vampire flick to watch.
Bob Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. He reviews movies, Blu-rays and DVDs for ReelBob.com., The Film Yap and other print and online publications, He can be reached by email at email@example.com. You also can follow Bloom on Twitter @ReelBobBloom and on Facebook. Movie reviews by Bloom also can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.