For Black History Month I'm writing about a blaxploitation film every Thursday in February. Next up, Blacula.
I'd let him bite me, TBH. Courtesy of MGM
Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall), the center of William Crain's 1972 blaxploitation horror film Blacula, has one of the most compelling villain origin stories I've seen.
In the late 18th century, the African prince travels from his native country to beg Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay) for his help in stopping the slave trade that's ravaging his people (nevermind what Dracula is doing in the slave business). Offended by this request, the count turns Mamuwalde into a vampire, locking him up in a coffin underneath his mansion for eternity while his mortal wife Luva (Vonetta McGee) starves to death beside him. Dracula christens his creation Blacula before locking this poor couple up for centuries. All for asking for a helping hand! Capitalism and white supremacy make me sick!
The prince then ends up in modern-day Los Angeles when an antiquing gay couple buys up the inventory in Count Dracula's house, including the coffin that contains our Prince of Darkness. Mamuwalde then makes his way out, acting on a centuries-long thirst for blood while a handsome pathologist, Dr. Gordon Thomas, tracks him down. Marshall plays the prince with such Bela Lugosi-inspired gravity and dignity that he seems more awkward than menacing. It's honestly kind of cute to see him stooped over with his cape in a disco club next to shimmering girls in sequins. And he's so sweaty—do vampire have sweat glands?
Despite it clearly being filmed on a shoestring budget and essentially abandoning the promising slave trade plotline, Blacula was one of the highest-grossing films of 1972 and went on to win Best Horror Film at the very first Saturn Awards. Being one of the first representations of a black vampire, the film's success inspired a wave of blaxploitation horror films (remember Abby? Marshall starred in that one too!) despite Blacula's lack of blood, sex, and, well, exploitation. In any case, Blacula has a lot of heart, great scenes, and compelling performances that make it an excellent late-night watch.