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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 email@example.com with
any complaints or compliments! I’m always eager and ready to converse with
another movie fan.