31 Days of Horror Cinema

Scream Blacula Scream (1973): 31 Days of Horror

#5. Scream Blacula Scream (1973)

Nature of Shame:
Since I watched Blacula, I had to watch the sequel, Scream Blacula Scream. Obviously.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1970’s
Black director or predominantly black cast

It’d be a more interesting story if I’d seen Scream Blacula Scream but not the original Blacula. Alas, I have no such story and predictably, prosaically, I’ve not seen the sequel. I do, however, as a copyeditor have license to question the title’s use of commas, or lack thereof. The vocative comma is necessary for direct address in the would-be title Scream, Blacula, Scream. That’s assuming, of course, that the title’s telling Blacula to scream — something I’m not sure we can assume since it shouldn’t be Blacula experiencing fear. He can’t even see himself in a mirror. How is he supposed to quake at the sight of his own visage. (The title actually comes to fruition by film’s end, but I’ll get back to that in a bit.)

If we’re to assume that his victims are doing the screaming, perhaps the title should have been Scream! It’s Blacula! (and then add that final Scream! if absolutely necessary. That scenario actually sounds more like the introduction of a late night talk show host a la “Heeeeeeeeere’s Johnnny.” I can’t deny that the title rolls off the tongue, but making heads or tails of its intentions is an entirely different matter.

I happened to glance at the MGM Soul Cinema DVD that I borrowed from the library and the title on that DVD features the vocative commas. (See cover art above left.) What ho?! Even though they’re not on any of the original poster art or in the movie’s title card, they appeared on the covers of the 2004 DVD and 2009 re-release.

Original poster art: 

scream blacula scream

The title sequence from Art of the Title:

Scream Blacula Scream Elevator Pitch

A dying voodoo queen chooses Lisa (Pam Grier) as her successor, overstepping her son Willis (Richard Lawson) and legitimate heir. To get revenge he buys the bones of Blacula/Mamuwalde and resurrects the vampire to do his bidding. Fatal flaw in his plan, however — Mamuwalde comes back to life and bites his petulant ass, turning him into a subservient vampire. Just follow this next part to the best of your abilities because it’s about to get bumpy.

Justin, an ex-cop with a collection of African antiquities, investigates Mamuwalde’s murders. The two meet at a party, discuss his artifacts, and Mamuwalde spots pieces of jewelry worn by his late wife. At this same party (dude obviously knows how to party), he meets Justin’s girlfriend — the newly christened voodoo priestess with the afro that launched a thousand ships — and asks for her help in lifting the vampire curse placed upon him by Dracula. Mamuwalde has to evade Justin’s investigation and protect Lisa from his ever-increasing vampire army if he has any hope of resting peacefully.

scream blacula scream 1973

Mamuwalde? I hardly knew ye!

In his review, Roger Ebert wrote that the film shows evidence of having been made in a hurry with limited funds. And the first one was what, exactly, if not a cheap production made fast and cheap to capitalize on fleeting cinematic trends? I don’t always agree with Roger, but he usually makes some kind of sense.

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. It’s not a gaze of the leering variety. Through the movie’s perspective (and the perspective of most vampire films), this gaze craves control and places the viewer on the same wavelength as Mamuwalde.

Mamuwalde seeks control over his curse. He’s Dracula’s disciple, a monster created by a racist European, and must manage his thirst for blood in order to win the sympathies of Pam Grier’s voodoo priestess. The movie’s greatest bits of trickery? Withholding Pam Grier so that the audience also desperately craves her return and the fact that Scream Blacula Scream actually more resembles a story about addiction than a 1970’s cheapie horror film sequel.

So Scream Blacula Scream is actually Leaving Las Vegas?

I’m not going to tell you how to read the film — and I can’t even claim to know with any certainty that the filmmakers had this in mind when they made Scream Blacula Scream. Directed by Bob Kelljan (Count Yorga, Vampire — a movie with an appropriately placed comma) and written by Joan Torres, Raymond Koenig, and Maurice Jules, Scream Blacula Scream offers a much tighter production than its predecessor, but also a more ambling narrative. Without building predictable horror beats, Kelljan has made a character study about Mamuwalde overcoming bloodlust to save his soul.

We’ve seen dozens of stories about conflicted vampires. Scream Blacula Scream, by emulating and riffing predictable horror tropes without the ultimate gory payoff, transcends genre even as it cannot escape its considerable era-specific Blaxploitation style. The result? A dated sense of sameness consistently undermined by the movie’s stubborn resistance to convention. Mamuwalde struggles against his nature (rampant, random bloodsucking) in order to remove the shackles placed on him by his ersatz slave master. He must feed, but he also must struggle against his cravings to preserve his relationship with Lisa. Without Lisa he cannot be liberated. Without blood he goes mad. It does not end well.

Final ‘Scream Blacula Scream’ Thoughts

I don’t mean to spoil the outcome I teased with my comma argument earlier, but there is a moment at the end of the movie where Blacula does indeed scream. His fate left uncertain, his soul still without rest. I suppose it’s not-too-spoilery to state that the addiction wins in the end. Mamuwalde will continue to hunt the blood of the innocent, just as most addicts return to their drug of choice, alienating friends and family until no one is left on their side.

pam grier scream blacula scream

Where Blacula felt cheap and generally routine, the sequel waltzes around without a direct through-line from one scare to the next. This might sound like a backhanded compliment, but Scream Blacula Scream marginally and universally improves upon the original. It looks like a horror movie, but it doesn’t act like, well, much of anything in particular. If you like your horror-ish movies aimless but with a heap of swagger, you should check your resistance to movies without the appropriate vocative commas (but please try to control your thirst for Pam Grier) and give this Blacula double bill a viewing.


blacula blu-ray

Scream Blacula Scream is available on a Scream Factory Blu-ray alongside Blacula.

2019 @CinemaShame / #Hooptober Progress

  1. Shocker (1989) // 2. Etoile (1989) // 3. The Phantom of the Opera (1989) // #4. Blacula (1972) // #5. Scream Blacula Scream (1973)


31 Days of Horror Cinema

Blacula (1972): 31 Days of Horror

#4. Blacula (1972)

Nature of Shame:
Clearly I should have watched Blacula by now, right? I thought so, too.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1970’s
Black director or predominantly black cast

If I were interviewing myself for the Cinema Shame podcast I’d have to ask why — why did it take so long to get around to viewing the Blaxploitation Dracula. I love 70’s horror. I dig a good Blaxploitation outing. So, I don’t really know? These movies were just never in front of me. Hootober, as it tends to do, gave me reason to order them up from my local library to fulfill my quota for a film featuring a predominantly black cast or black director.

The Blacula Elevator Pitch

Do you want the short or the long version? Short? It’s Dracula… except he’s black! Now the long, too? Okay. In the year 1780, the Abani African nation sends Prince Mamuwalde to request Count Dracula’s help in suppressing the slave trade. Dracula scoffs at his request and sorta kinda threatens to enslave his wife. Mamuwalde takes offense and fights back against the racist creature of the night but is quickly restrained by Dracula’s minions. Dracula transforms the prince into a vampire, curses him with the name “Blacula,” and seals him in a coffin beneath the castle. In 1972, two homosexual interior designers (depicted in such a way that might make our contemporary hairs stand on end) purchase the castle and unleash the cursed Prince Mamuwalde and his instantaneous vampiric muttonchops.


Even Dracula’s a Racist

The most interesting takeaway from Blacula is how 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. Our goodwill might waver, however, as his killing spree becomes very equal opportunity.

Nevertheless, it’s a potent foundation that suggests the subsequent 80 minutes might be more a little more carefully plotted and that American International Pictures wasn’t just trying to capitalize on the stateside success of Hammer horror titles and the Blaxplotation movement.

Once the film leaves Castle Dracula, the slavery/racism as plague metaphor gives way for narrative convenience and equal opportunity vampirism. Director William Crain appears mostly content to let the jokey title carry the film. There’s some style to his production (the title credit sequence is a beautiful thing), but the overall package suggests inexperience with the genre and the filmmaking that inspired Blacula. Loose editing and amateurish acting in supporting roles highlight the film’s budgetary constraints, and unlike those shoestring directors of Hammer, Crain seems unable to masque the film’s shortcomings. Of course, some of the film’s lasting appeal derives specifically from these ambling and only intermittent production qualities — and he can’t be faulted for pointing his camera on William Marshall and letting him work his magic.

Blacula works in as much as its star Marshall can channel his virility through the camera lens. As the title menace, he’s a powerful screen presence that elevates the film whenever he’s spreading his plague throughout the urban landscape. The tragic figure of Blacula feels more Count Yorga than Count Dracula, and Marshall transcends the typical pitfalls of Blaxploitation in crafting his character.

It wouldn’t be a difficult argument to make that Blacula isn’t actually a Blaxplotation film at all, but rather just a horror film featuring a predominantly black cast. To make the argument you’d have to really dissect representation in Blaxploitation films and to whom films like Shaft and Coffy are actually catering through their more exploitative urban elements. (I don’t have that kind of time this afternoon — sorry!) Mamuwalde’s a statement of black pride and power gleefully unshackled from the complicated expectations that come along with the kitschy tagline about him being “Dracula’s soul brother.”

Final ‘Blacula’ Thoughts

Wonderful elements abound — aesthetic style, Marshall, Marshall’s vampiric muttonchops, the score, Elisha Cook, Jr., the zip-bang of the final showdown in the chemicals plant — and Blacula didn’t disappoint, but the high points just couldn’t transcend the sloppiness of the overall production and second-act aimlessness.


blacula blu-ray

Blacula is available on a Scream Factory Blu-ray alongside Scream Blacula Scream.

2019 @CinemaShame / #Hooptober Progress

  1. Shocker (1989) // 2. Etoile (1989) // 3. The Phantom of the Opera (1989) // #4. Blacula (1972)