As Blood Bath unspools, it becomes even more incoherent and tonally muddied. Moments of dire seriousness back up against jokey comic relief, and the vampirism angle feels tacked on like Nic Cage’s fake teeth in Vampire’s Kiss. It also rips concepts and beats verbatim from other, better horror films. It’s Frankenstein’s monster in form and function. No amount of massaging Blood Bath could cloud the fact that this was cobbled together from multiple unrelated concepts.
Sharks are drawn to the Brody family like their family tree leaks blood. One might imagine they’d move to Kansas to escape the carnage, but no, Ellen Brody and family will not run with her tail between her legs! So the shark comes for her younger son. Bloody carnage! She believes a shark appearance gave her beloved husband Martin a heart attack. Does she leave after deciding that the shark is carrying some personal vendetta? No! She decides to take a vacation. Canada, perhaps? No! The Bahamas!
Scream Blacula Scream, if nothing else, has the added benefit of Pam Grier — who amplifies production quality just by appearing on screen. As Lisa, she’s an ideal counterpoint to William Marshall’s sympathetic villain — a confused voodoo priestess who’s just coming into control of her powers. The camera worships her just as William Marshall works the lens to magnify his powers of audience seduction, directing a version of male gaze inward and outward at the same time.
The filmmakers have made vampirism a stand-in for the historical and insidious plague of racism. Though the metaphor wavers as the film unspools, Blacula has made its most profound statement by the end of the opening scene. Like the classic Universal monsters, Prince Mamuwalde/Blacula has been rendered a sympathetic villain; sent to stem the tide of slavery, Mamuwalde has been made a slave of Dracula himself.
Originally a Cannon release, the film changed directors and shifted to Menahem Golan’s 21st Century Film Corporation when Cannon went bankrupt. During the transition, the screenplay gained the modern framework and the expectation of a sequel called A Phantom of the Opera 2: Terror in Manhattan, which feels a little too close to a real-life Hamlet 2 for comfort. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) the sequel never came to pass and all that we’re left with is this surprisingly competent adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel.