Blacula (1972, William Crain)

Blacula gets by on novelty and hero Thalmus Rasulala’s effortless charm. Rasulala is a medical examiner with the LAPD; the movie’s got a hilariously silly name for the job and department; it just means he gets to go around and flash an ID card and get things done. He’s also the only Black cop in the movie; all the rest of them, including the numerous extras, are white.

While there’s a “romance” in Blacula, Rasulala’s investigation is the main plot. Even though Vonetta McGee, as Rasulala’s girlfriend’s sister, brings Rasulala into the story, she’s going to get less and less as the film goes on. Conversely, the sister—played by Denise Nicholas—will get to go along with Rasulala on most of his vampire hunting. Including when Nicholas has a panic attack upon her first vampiric encounter, something cop Gordon Pinsent will also suffer. Only Rasulala is cool enough not to have a panic attack. Oh, and McGee. She’s fine with vampires.

William Marshall plays the title character; in the eighteenth century, African prince Marshall goes to Europe to ask Count Dracula (a bad but effective Charles Macaulay) to pledge to ending the slave trade. Macaulay responds by turning Marshall into a vampire and locking him in a coffin (where’d Macaulay get African soil? Don’t ask; barely any vampire rules here). Then Macaulay locks Marshall’s wife, also played by McGee, in a room with the coffin so she can starve to death, listening to him starve in undeath. Really, really shitty thing to do. And even though the film’s got direction problems from the start, it also gets Marshall and McGee some fast, deep sympathy.

Only when Marshall wakes up in L.A. he’s an entirely different character. I mean, he’s still in love with McGee, but he doesn’t seem phased by the two-hundred-year time difference or the reincarnated wife or being a blood-sucking vampire, killing people left and right. Plus, one of Blacula’s few vampire rules has them changing immediately, so Marshall’s putting together an undead army.

So he’s not sympathetic. Maybe if he and McGee had some great chemistry, but she’s flat in all her scenes. When she’s vaguely brainwashed, it’s okay; when she’s trying to endear her character, not so much.

McGee is a trooper, though. Director Crain shoots the film in lengthy medium shots, where the actors have to move around the frame a couple times, keep up with the camera, and do foreground and background work. Blacula’s stagy, which seems to be the curse of the vampire movie.

Crain’s also not able to do horror. He can do a little supernatural action, but only a little. Editor Allan Jacobs has some almost okay sequences, but Crain’s footage is working against him. John M. Stephens’s photography is fine, and Gene Page’s music is pretty good a third of the time, which adds up since almost every scene has background music. The best technical is easily Sandy Dvore’s playful but ominous opening titles sequence.

Marshall’s an imposing villain without being a compelling one; it works out since Blacula’s a police procedural with monsters.

There are a handful of notable bit parts. Ji-Tu Cumbuka is a lot of fun as a random friend, Emily Yancy’s good as one of the eventual vampire brides, and Elisha Cook Jr. phones in a tepid but memorable cameo.

Blacula’s got the insurmountable problem of budget and director Crain, but it’s entirely watchable with an outstanding leading man performance from Rasulala.

One Comment

  1. Vernon W

    Hmmm, I remember this being parodied in Cracked magazine when I was a kid, but now I think I’ll actually watch it. Thanks!

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