Cast and Crew: Samuel Z. Arkoff (Producer); The Hues Corporation (Soundtrack); Denise Nicholas, Ji-Tu Cumbuka, Elisha Cook Jr.
What It’s About: Manuwalde (William Marshall) is an African prince who wants to end slavery, a noble goal. Unfortunately, his method of accomplishing his goal needs a bit of work. Not only does he think that he’ll get somewhere by politely asking Europeans to simply stop capturing his people and selling them abroad, but he goes to Transylvania to do it (which might be a good place to get help if the slavery he was attempting to stop involved the Ottoman Empire, but not so much for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade), and somehow ends up at the castle of Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay). To Manuwalde’s great misfortune, Dracula is not only a vampire, but an extremely racist one. After attempting to buy Manuwalde’s lovely wife Luva (Vonetta McGee), he transforms Manuwalde into a vampire and locks him in a coffin, walling up Luva in the room with him. Dracula curses Manuwalde to become…wait for it…BLACULA!, a name you will get used to hearing shouted in William Marshall’s amazing voice.
After horribly stereotypical gay interior designers unearth his coffin and ship it to L.A. during a Transylvanian antiquing expedition, Blacula nee Manuwalde escapes and begins slaking his thirst-and having confusing encounters with the modern world. Forensic expert Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) is on Blacula’s trail. Thomas numbers among his friends not only one of the interior designers, but also Tina (Vonetta McGee again) and before you can say “reincarnation of long-lost love” Blacula is playing Dracula to Tina’s Mina and Thomas’s Van Helsing (Tina is unattached, so there is no Jonathan Harker to deal with). Can Thomas stop Blacula before it’s too late? Can Blacula find a way to escape Dracula’s curse and be with Tina? Just how many helmeted L.A. cops will Blacula kill before it’s all over?
Why Watch it Today?: William Marshall was born 90 years ago today in 1924. Marshall acted on stage, screen, and television, but sadly the best showcase of his talents on film was Blacula. Marshall makes every scene he’s in quite enjoyable (and McGee and Rasulala are nearly as good as Marshall) but the film is too lazy and uneven to really qualify as a good updating of the basic Dracula tale, especially when the filmmakers stray too far into camp or allow the fact that they don’t really care to show a bit too much. When Marshall is giving his all, the film really works, and it’s worth seeing Blacula just to see Marshall’s performance.
Other Choices: Marshall also stars in Abby, where he gets shunted off into the Van Helsing/exorcist role and doesn’t get quite as much time on the screen, though he does get an astoundingly large cross in the opening as a gift (to which my friend infamously quipped “BLING FOR BLACCCCULLLAAAAA!!!!!”).