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Thursday, November 11, 2021

Throwback Thursday - Blacula Blu-Ray Article


note: I had a column in Grindhouse Purgatory where I would cover new Blu-Ray releases with a focus on special features and if it was worth double dipping aka. replacing your DVD copy. Blacula is a favorite of mine so when I saw it get released on Blu-Ray I knew I had to check it out. 


The Blu-Ray report: The Blacula Series

by

John Shatzer

Every time that we get a new home video format I watch as the companies putting out movies run out of material. They end up digging up all sorts of obscure films to fill their inventories and when that fails they start to re-release stuff we already have. As a movie fan this can be both fun and overwhelming. Do I double dip on a Blu-Ray, or don’t I? What about the releases I’ve never heard of? Well fear not good readers I’m back again to help you out with the Blu-Ray report.        

Last time I did Spaghetti Westerns so I thought I’d stay in the Drive-In but check out some classic Exploitation, specifically Blaxploitation. Seeing the new Blu-Ray double feature of Blacula and Scream Blacula Scream sitting in my to watch pile was all the inspiration that I needed for this decision. Time to dive back in and see if the efforts by Shout Factory has made the purchase worth it. Be warned that my review will contain spoilers. If you don’t like that sort of thing stop reading now!

            It makes sense that I would watch the movies in order so the first that I popped in was Blacula, released in 1972. If you haven’t seen this movie shame on you! Things start off with an African Prince visiting the powerful aristocrats of Europe in an effort to get the slave trade stopped. He and his beautiful wife have the misfortune of having supper with Count Dracula! Things go sideways and Dracula makes the prince a vampire solely it seems to lock him in a coffin and have him suffer hunger for all eternity without being able to feed. He also tosses the prince’s wife in to die a slow death locked in the tomb unable to help herself or him. Dracula is kind of a jerk!

            Years later a couple of interior directors buy the contents of the castle and ship it back to the states. Sure enough they crack open the coffin and Blacula gets loose. He goes off feeding and creating his own little army of vampires. Eventually he sees a woman that looks like his long dead wife and decides that she has been reincarnated. The rest of the movie is him pursuing her while being hunting by a doctor that has figured out vampires are running around town. Not going to spoil the ending, but I will say it doesn’t end well for our vampire prince.

            I’ve always been rather annoyed with how Blacula and its sequel get treated by many horror fans. Maybe it is because the title implies that this is just a gimmick that plays on the name of Dracula, or perhaps the lack of quality of some of the movies that were “inspired” by Blacula. That said people really need to give this movie a chance. It has a great cast, some good scares, and the makeup effects are decent for the limited budget. William Marshall is amazing in the lead role of Blacula. The guy has the sort of screen presence that allows him to not only carry the movie, but command his scenes in such a way that makes the character seem larger than life. Considering he is the lead in a horror movie this is key to making the movie work. Marshall is also the sort of actor that can make his monster sympathetic. There is a beast inside him that takes over, one that exists because of what was done to him and not because of his choices. This is a theme that is dealt with more in the sequel.

            There are some decent scares and creepy bits in the movie. The first is when Blacula slowly stalks up on the decorators after they have let him loose. This could have been silly but it is shot in such a way that it works. This is also a prime example of Marshall owning the screen and being intimidating. A couple more highlights are a sequence in the morgue that I liked a lot. It is stylized with a vampire bursting from a door and has always been a treat for me. Finally, there is a bit with them digging up a corpse to prove the vampire theory. Best jump scare of the film right there.

            While the makeup in a vampire movie isn’t as important as say a werewolf or zombie movie it can still wreck things if it isn’t done well. Blacula has very simple look with the expected fangs, grayish skin, and in a neat twist more hair. When Blacula or any vampire is about to feed they get really hairy and bestial in appearance. When Blacula gets angry he gets very animalistic and damn near growls at his victims. It plays into the idea that there is a wild creature inside the vampires that escapes and takes over when they feed or get angry. I’ve always thought that this was a neat idea and wonder why more vampire movies don’t do it. Way better than the sparkly teen heartthrobs…

            Okay so now time to get to what you were all waiting for. Is this worth a double dip? First thing that I noticed before I even popped the movie in is that both are on one disc. That made me wonder how many special features we were getting. Truth is for Blacula not much. By now I don’t think that anyone considers the trailer and a photo gallery to be special features, though they are listed as such. The only other item is a commentary track with film historian David F. Walker. Honestly, he doesn’t bring much to the table. Everything that he talks about is easily found on the web and probably already known by the fans. There are also a couple of spots where he gets a bit “snarky” that annoyed me. The best thing going for this release of Blacula is the transfer. It isn’t perfect but it is noticeably better than my Midnite Movies double feature.

My final thoughts on Blacula is that from start to finish it is a solid horror flick that holds up really well more than forty years after it was made. If you have the same Midnite Movies DVD that I do this one is worth picking up for how much better the movie looks. But then this isn’t only about Blacula so let us take a look at the sequel.

The success of Blacula lead to Scream Blacula Scream in 1973. Given how final the ending of Blacula was I wondered how they were going to bring him back. I mean the ending was satisfying and in some ways sort of redeemed the character. Thankfully instead of the oops someone pulled the stake from Dracula’s heart bit that we always seem to get in the “other” classic vampire franchise the writers here are far cleverer.

Things kick off with a power struggle in a voodoo cult. The leader dies and she passes over her son in favor of a woman that she took in and trained. Her son, Willis, decides to get some revenge and is given some bones by a mysterious man. Using his magical powers, he brings Blacula back to life to use against cult. Only right away Blacula turns the tables and makes Willis his servant. If that isn’t humiliating enough for poor old Willis he has to watch as Blacula befriends his rival and asks her to use her power to free him from his curse. All he wants to do is return to his people after being rid of the beast within him.

The more I watch these movies the more I feel like Scream Blacula Scream is superior to the original. The story is even tighter and doesn’t have to spend any of its time explaining the origins of the vampire. Marshall is even better the second time around adding more depth to the character of Blacula. Between his performance and the writing, the audience gets the impression that again he is trying to fight his curse and wants to be free of it. But then again there are other times where he seems to revel in his power over his minions. There is a duality to the character that is more noticeable in this second outing. When the ritual is interrupted by the heroes coming to save the day Blacula becomes so angry that the woman he has recruited rejects him as being beyond her help.

I mentioned minions in the above paragraph and wanted to elaborate some on that. One of the highlights of this sequel is seeing Blacula interact more with the vampires that he creates. We get a brief bit in a warehouse in the first movie but here the other vampires get more screen time, especially Willis who is Blacula’s first snack after being brought back. I liked seeing these interactions because they reinforce the conflict within Marshall’s portrayal of the vampire. At times he is brutal and at other times he shows mercy. Though in the end he basically uses them all as sacrificial lambs to shield him from those trying to stop the ritual. Even in trying to redeem himself he damns himself. There is a lot of depth and thought put into the script and performances which is why these are such great movies.

Marshall is again brilliant in the role of Blacula for the reasons I’ve already mentioned above. This time they doubled down on the cast by adding familiar faces like Pam Grier who plays Lisa, the woman trying to help him rid himself of the curse. She gives her normal solid performance and is an asset to the cast. I also liked Richard Lawson as Willis whose jealousy gets the ball rolling.

I clearly enjoy Scream Blacula Scream. But what about the special features? Again, we get photos and a trailer. Though this time around there isn’t a commentary track. Instead we get a decent interview with Richard Lawson. It is less than fifteen minutes long but I thought it was a much better bonus than the commentary. He actually worked on the movie and could speak about the cast, director, and what the set was generally like. When I think about special features this is what I’m expecting and while there is only the one interview I’ll take it. I’d also like to note that the transfer is again an improvement over my old Midnite Movies double feature.

Finishing up this installment of the Blu-Ray report I’d recommend picking up the new Blacula double feature disc from Shout Factory. While I wished they had more interviews and other goodies the transfers are likely an improvement over what most of us already have. And of course, we get the Richard Lawson interview which is a nice extra. Best of all the Blu-Ray is cheap at around fifteen bucks. Worth the investment I’d say.

Well that is it for this installment of the Blu-Ray report. I hope that I was able to steer you away from wasting your money by pointing you towards the good buys. If you enjoyed this please check out my blog at horrordude.blogspot.com for more of my musings on all things movie related. As always please feel free to email me at gutmunchers@gmail.com with any complaints or compliments! I’m always eager and ready to converse with another movie fan.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

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