Scream Blacula Scream (1973, Bob Kelljan)

Scream Blacula Scream has a dreadful moment during a crucial sequence, and even though the film takes the hit, it somehow can build up almost enough goodwill—in mere seconds—it could easily succeed. The ending’s a little too confused, though, with a very questionable end credits song and design. But the film’s excellent throughout, surviving a bold, misguided attempt at camp and then a wishy-washy seventies finish.

The film’s got five spectacular elements. First, there’s lead William Marshall. He gets to play a tortured vampire, but without a subplot about reuniting with a reincarnated wife. He’s just trying to get by in 1973, and he’s willing to manipulate, maim, and murder to do it. Scream takes almost right until the third act becomes a cop concerned about his girlfriend hanging out with a vampire and decides to do something about it. Until then, it’s Marshall’s movie, with the deliberate script giving him a lot of space to just act his way through.

Second spectacular element is director Kelljan. While Scream’s scary when it needs to be and generally disquieting when tasked, Kelljan also directs the heck out of the actors, starting with Marshall. After Marshall, Kelljan’s attention is mainly on leading lady Pam Grier, but Kelljan pays attention to everyone. He takes all the victims seriously, and there are so, so many victims in Scream. The first movie didn’t show Marshall building his army of the undead; this one does so in detail, with Marshall’s mistreatment of his “soldiers” being part of his character development.

Third spectacular is Grier. She’s either playing brainwashed, naive, or infinitely altruistic. Grier’s a voodoo priestess, and Marshall wants her to exorcize him. She can’t say no to him, even as the body count around her starts rising. Marshall’s come across Grier through his first victim, her voodoo “cult” rival, Richard Lawson. Lawson’s fourth lead, though Grier’s usually alternating with her ex-cop boyfriend, Don Mitchell.

Mitchell’s the only weak performance in the film. He’s not unlikable; he’s just not good.

However, once the fourth spectacular shows up, Mitchell becomes a lot more welcome because it means more Michael Conrad. Conrad is the police lieutenant (credited as a sheriff in the end titles, like they forgot they weren’t taking place in L.A. again), and Mitchell was his star detective. The latter retired young to get into African cultural studies or something. It’s unclear why Mitchell’s incredibly wealthy.

Conrad’s an absolute delight, and he enthusiastically lifts Mitchell in their scenes together. Conrad doesn’t believe in vampires, while Mitchell can’t think of any other explanation. Well, there’s a brief period they’re investigating Grier, Mitchell’s girlfriend, because of the voodoo, but it gets quickly forgotten thanks to vampire antics.

The last spectacular is a shared one because caveats—Isidore Manofsky’s photography and Fabien D. Tordjmann’s editing. Manofsky’s photography is absolutely fantastic and wonderfully complements Kelljan’s direction. Except for the day-for-night shots. They’re terrible, and there are way too many of them. So, caveat.

Tordjmann doesn’t have quite the same caveat because the editing’s never inadequate or inept like the day-for-night. It’s just okay. Then the third act has some breathlessly cut sequences.

Add them together, and they’re spectacular.

Good music from Bill Marx, nice supporting turn from Lynne Moody.

Scream Blacula Scream’s good. It’s nearly really good, but it’s still damned impressive.

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