The “blaxploitation” trend in the 70s is a lot like disco in that it was big for a while, but when it died everyone tried to pretend it never happened. However, like disco, there were a few good things that came out of it– namely Luke Cage (even though he’s a comic book character), and a couple of vampire movies.
The first movie told the story of Prince Mamuwalde, a 17th century African prince and activist, trying to end the slave trade. Unfortunately, he took his petition to Dracula. The vampire wound up desiring Mrs. Mamwalde, turning her husband into a vampire and cursing him with the name “Blacula” before sealing him in a coffin for centuries. The first movie was pretty good, all things considered, and even started the tradition of a vampire searching for the reincarnation of his lost love. But it’s the second movie, Scream Blacula Scream (yes, it’s a godawful title), where praise is truly deserved.
The movie begins with the death of a voodoo priestess in LA. Her son, Willis, immediately demands leadership of her cult, but is overwhelmingly opposed by everyone else there– most of whom favor his stepsister, Lisa (Pam Grier). Furious, he goes and buys a bag of bones from an old enemy of his mother’s, and performs a ritual over them. Mamuwalde rises, and bites the young man, turning him into a vampire. Willis is supposed to go to a party thrown by Lisa’s ex-cop boyfriend, Justin, and he and Mamuwalde bite the friends who were to pick him up.
At the party the prince impresses the guests with his knowledge of African art, charms Lisa, and manages to drop a vampiric double entendre when invited back the next afternoon; “I’m rather a night person.” Then one of Lisa’s friends cuts her hand, and his bloodlust is aroused. (These movies are interesting in that the vampires become completely monstrous when thirsty.) Anyway, he leaves the party, sneaks back in, and attacks the friend. Leaving the scene of the murder, he turns into a bat and returns to human form in the red-light district, where he is accosted by and in turn kills two pimps who get angry at him for ignoring the prostitute. These two scenes would be mercilessly spoofed by Love At First Bite later in the decade.
The vampire turns to Lisa for the use of voodoo to free him of his curse. She agrees, but Justin and the police, now realizing that Mamuwalde is a vampire, interrupt the ritual. Minor vampires (like Willis) and cops kill each other, and Lisa refuses to aid the prince further after seeing him kill. Enraged, Mamuwalde moves to attack Justin, but she stabs his voodoo doll through the heart just in time.
I had to cut the synopsis short to praise the vampire. Mamuwalde is kind of in a league all his own as a vampire. Being a political activist (campaigning to end the slave trade) got him cursed, but he still retains his principles. In the scene with the pimps, he tells them off for “making a slave” of the prostitute. Yet is not at sea in the 70s. He can say “hi” and mimic the slang of the people he talks to without sounding artificial or silly. Try imagining any other scary vampire telling someone not to try “kicking my ass.”
He’s charming and aristocratic, but can be imperious and cruel, too. When he gives the other minor vampires a verbal dressing down, telling them that they are vile, disgusting, and corrupt, and that he despises them, the audience believes it and does not want to experience the “everlasting torment” he promises if they step out of line. Also, there is absolutely no reasoning with him when his hunger arises.
Awesome vampire and pretty good movie out of an embarrassing trend. And a horrible title. The movie is worth seeing anyway. It even bucks the “sequels are never as good” trend. Don’t take my word for it; see it yourself.