DECEMBER 27, 2010
I haven't watched many (any?) so called "blaxploitation" horror movies, but I think I will remedy that if any of them are as enjoyable as Blacula, a straightforward, surprisingly not silly take on the basic Dracula tale. See, based on the title (and this depiction), I figured it would be about a pimpin' vampire, wearing a purple cape and what not, but it was actually kind of tragic, featuring one of the best "death" (in quotes because there's a sequel) scenes for the big guy in any Dracula movie, and I felt genuine sympathy for Manuwalde.
I was also surprised to learn that Dracula was actually in it. In the film's prologue, Manuwalde is an African prince who is (inexplicably) seeking Dracula's help in suppressing slave trading, to which Dracula counters by turning him into a vampire (and, because Dracula is racist, coins the title term). But then later some dudes talk about Dracula movies, so this is both our world and the world of Bram Stoker's novel combined into one, I guess? Doesn't matter, though I was disappointed that Drac never re-entered the story. I figured Manuwalde would go after him for revenge or something, but no dice.
Nope, Manuwalde is all about the ladies, or, specifically LADY, a woman named Tina who appears to be the reincarnation of his wife, who Drac killed in the prologue. So it's all very Vampire in Brooklyn-y, except a lot better. The one thing Brooklyn has over this one (besides less terrifying facial hair for the vampire) is that it wasn't as racist or hateful as this movie. Some choice quotes: "That is one rude n---er!" and "Why would anyone want a dead faggot?" (referring to the Bradley Cooper-esque dude who Manuwalde had turned and thus has disappeared from the morgue). Now, I will admit I chuckled at some of this stuff, but not at the words themselves, but more the far long gone attitudes of folks (no one in the movie has any problem with their friends' unabashed bigotry). Needless to say, uptight PC folks should steer clear of this movie.
Back to the romance though, I liked how straight he was with her (and how well she took it!). He doesn't tell her he's a vampire right away, but when it comes time to do so (about an hour in), he doesn't beat around the bush; he more or less says "My name is Manuwalde, I was a 17th century prince and now I am one of the undead, and you are the reincarnation of my wife." On that note, "undead" is a good word, because in his first kill scene he acts like a zombie more than a vampire (and mutters like Frankenstein's monster, for good measure). Other kills are more typically vampiric, with the gnashed teeth and hands raised above the neckline.
That's the other thing, it's actually kind of scary at times. There's a great moment where he goes after a photographer who snapped a photo of him, because when she sees the developed picture, sans Blacula, she will expose him. So she opens the door to her darkroom and BAM! He's on the other side, ready to strike. Good stuff. Some of the other kills are kind of botched though; there's an odd moment during the climax where they suddenly just cut to a random cop getting fried on a big electric panel - it's not even clear if the guy was just clumsy or if Manuwalde tossed him at it.
Back to the ending though (spoiler!), I loved how he chose to die, now that his love has been taken from him yet again. Throughout the movie he is tracked by a doctor who was examining some of the victims and trying to figure out what was going on, so you figure they'll have a big battle at the end since he's sort of the Van Helsing of the movie, but no. He closes in on Manuwalde (I love that name, in case you haven't figured it out yet), and Manuwalde is just like "No, I got this", and then walks out into the sunlight. Awesome.
My only real issue with the movie was that it didn't capitalize on its Los Angeles location. Since so many "modern day Dracula" movies take place in New York, I was excited to see "my" city for once, especially in the 70s. But alas, other than a sign saying "Port of Los Angeles", you'd never know you were there, as the movie largely takes place in apartment buildings and other generic locales (indeed, there is a map of New York in a cop's office, so perhaps they didn't actually shoot in LA anyway). I know it's a low budget movie, so I wasn't expecting Manuwalde to wreak havoc at the Mann's Chinese or take Tina to The Ivy, but they could have at least tossed in some generic establishing shots to sell the locale a bit more.
Otherwise, a surprisingly good, entertaining flick. I know I've said in the past that I'm sick of Dracula movies (straight or "re-imagined") but this was definitely an exception. Or maybe because I just watched those two lousy Hammer ones last week, I was just happy to see a typical vampire tale again. Either way, I'll be adding the sequel and some of the other blaxploitation takes on the classic monsters (such as Blackenstein or Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde) to my queue.
What say you?