Saturday, February 21, 2015

BLACULA (1972) / SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM (1973)

BLACULA (1972) / SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM (1973)
SCREAM FACTORY DOUBLE FEATURE 

Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: March 3rd 2015 

Duration: 189 Minutes
Region Code: A
Rating: PG
Video: HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Director: William Crain, Raymond Koenig
Cast: Denise Nicholas, Thalmus Rasulala, William Marshall, Vonetta McGee, Charles Macaulay, Gordon Pinsent, Michael Conrad, Don Mitchell, Pam Grier, Richard Lawson


BLACULA (1972)
William Marshall appears as African Prince Mamuwalde in BLACULA as the funk soul brother of his white bread progenitor Count Dracula, whom you might be surprised to learn was a racist. At the start of the film Prince Mamwalde is turned into a bloodsucker by Dracula and imprisoned for nearly 200 years inside of a coffin until he is accidentally released by a pair of gay decorators, who purchased the coffin at an estate sale. Of course they are the first to fall victim to his blood thirst. The vampire adjusts to life in modern L.A. with surprising ease and soon encounters an attractive young woman named Tina Williams (Vonetta McGee) whom he believes to be the reincarnation of his beloved wife Luva.

The two soon start to date but Tina's sister Michelle (Denise Nicholas) and her pathologist boyfriend, Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala), suspect her new beau may be the culprit responsible for a series of strange murders, notably the deaths of the decorators. Michelle and Gordon visit the grave of one of the decorators and discover him to be a blue-skinned bloodsucker, learning the supernatural truth of the matter they set out to save Tina from the vampire. 


No one will ever accuse the Blacula films for being politically correct, from the very start we have the white bread Count Dracula scoffing at the idea of stopping the slave trade pitched to him by the African Prince Mamuwalde, who is in turn made a vampire and dubbed "Blacula" by the white prince of darkness, which is pretty funny, c'mon folks, loosen up. Then you have the stereotyped portrayal of homosexuals and suspect black culture references but that's par for the course for a blaxploitation film so you just have to roll with it on this one, it was the era and if you can just except it there's a lot of fun to be had with this funk soul cinema fright fest. 

Marshall cuts quite a figure as the soul brother bloodsucker, a proud, deep voiced vampire, whose baritone easily draws comparisons to Hammer's own bloodsucker extraordinaire Christopher Lee. If you close your eyes you would be hard pressed not to make the comparison yourself but I cannot imagine Christopher Lee saying most of these lines. Marshall brings gravity to the role that could have easily been played for laughs in less capable hands, a proud figure that commands respect, not laughs. 

Loads of side characters bring some fun to the film, notably Ji-Tu Cumbuka in a memorable appearance during a dinner scene whom calls Blacula "one strange dude", and Thomas Rasulala is pretty great in the role of vampire hunter. One of my favorite scenes is that of one of the bloodsuckers victims reanimating at the morgue and attacking the morgue attendant in slow motion, very creepy stuff, but the following scene with the vampire yelping like a chihuahua is cringe worthy, it's a film of lows and highs that way.  

The film has a fantastic soul soundtrack and offers a unique take on the vampire lore with a sweet blaxploitation bent that covers familiar ground but also adds a few new flavors to the mix to keep it interesting. I have to imagine that a strong black character killing white L.A.P.D. officers with impunity must have been quite a scene and offered some much need escapism during a tumultuous era, and framed within the context of a supernatural thriller maybe didn't draw too much attention to itself.

Don't be put of by the corny title, BLACULA is a solid vampire tale with a groovy musical score, some sweet '70s threads and a smattering of social commentary, a film well worth your time. 


SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM (1973)In the sequel Mamuwalde is resurrected through a voodoo ritual by a guy named Willis (Richard Lawson) who wishes to use the bloodsucker  to usurp the throne of newly crowned voodoo priestess Lisa Fortier (Pam Grier). However, Blacula turns Willis into his own vampire minion which displeases the young man who can now no longer adore himself in the mirror, just one of the many curses of the damned. The addition of Pam Grier as the voodoo priestess definitely amps this one up to the next level, a truly excellent castingg decision from the filmmakers. 

In the role of vampire hunter this time we have Lisa's boyfriend, Justin Carter (Don Mitchell), a former LAPD officer and avid collector of African art who becomes hip to Mamuwalde's bloodsucking ways following a series of strange murders which leave the corpse drained of blood... the victims becoming one of Blacula's resurrected bloodthirsty minions. 

While I enjoyed the first film this sequel is even more enjoyable, and not solely for the addition of the black beauty of Pam Grier as the voodoo priestess. The story arc is far superior this time around and I loved the addition of the voodoo angle, the one area this does not improve upon is the demise of Blacula, the stop-frame end was a real bummer.

I do love how he acquires a horde of bloodsucking minions this time around who take up
residence in a mansion and do his bidding, the blue skinned ghouls look great on film and I love the exaggerated incisors which reminded me of Hammer's TWINS OF EVIL. Again we have a funk soul score but nowhere near as enjoyable as the first film in my opinion, but overall this is the better film of the two with a more enjoyable story and just better execution.

BLU-RAY
BLACULA and SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM share space on a dual-layered disc from Scream Factory with a very nice presentation that does not appear to have been scrubbed of grain or manipulated unduly. Detail and color reproduction are strong, with some modest depth and clarity to the image, a surprising amount to be honest, the source material used for this master was in great shape. The DTS-HD MA Mono track does a fine job exporting dialogue, effects and the sweet funk score, optional English subtitles are provided.. 

Extras on the disc feature an audio commentary on BLACULA from author/film historian/filmmaker David F. Walker, who offers a fun and fact-filled commentary that doesn't get too bookish, he manages to keep it conversational and comes across as more of a fan, not just a well-studied scholar. Additionally there is a photo gallery containing 70 images and the theatrical trailer for the film.

Onto the extras for SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM we have a brand new video interview Actor Richard Lawson who speaks of losing out on the role and then having it offered to him once production began on the film. Again we have a photo gallery and a trailer for the film. 

BLACULA SPECIAL FEATURES
- Audio Commentary With Author/Film Historian/Filmmaker David F. Walker (Reflections On Blaxploitation: Actors And Directors Speak)
- Photo Gallery (70 Images)
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Minutes)

SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM SPECIAL FEATURES
- New Interview With Actor Richard Lawson (13 Minutes) 
- Photo Gallery (71 Images)
-Theatrical Trailer (2 Minutes) 


VERDICT
After a couple of somewhat mediocre double feature releases I am happy to report that Scream Factory have done a fine job with this BLACULA double feature, a very fine presentation of two solid blaxploitation horror spins. The HD transfer is not eye-popping but I suspect it does accurately reflect the source material and they've done a damn decent job adding a brand-new audio commentary and the interview, plus trailers and galleries. William Marshall is a memorable bloodsucker and if you needed more convincing, all I have to say is Pam Grier in HD! Hope to see more blaxploitation titles from scream Factory and very pleased to see them digging into some Italian schlock in the near future, these are two avenues worth exploiting on Blu-ray. 

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