Blacula Retro Review: Dracula, Monsters, Black Experience

Director William Crain's 1972 Blacula depicts a 18th-century Nigerian prince called Mamuwalde (William Marshall), who dies in the hands of Charles Macaulay (the Dracula). He laughs at the mortal mans desperate pleas to help end the transatlantic slave trade.AdvertisementThis Transylvanian count is clear that he would love to have African enslaved persons and considers them superior beings. However, he takes a sadistic pleasure in making Mamuwalde a vampire as a final act of retribution. As Dracula and his minions lock Mamuwalde (Vonetta Mcgee) away in a tomb, he and his minions make sure they die. He is unable to feed himself and is driven mad from hunger. Blacula's core plot begins to unfold and the violence and darkness that transform Mamuwalde into his eponymous protagonist are some of the most captivating elements of the movie's ideas about power.Blacula wakes up in the present after his coffin has been found and purchased by two American antique buyers. His disorientation soon gives way to a strong hunger that allows him to see the many worlds he is now a part of. Any fears Mamuwalde may have had about vampirism vanish when he gets out of his coffin and becomes Blacula. He sets his sights on the antiquers Bobby (Ted Harris), and Billy (Rick Metzler) in their LA warehouse. Blacula's fangs kill Bobby and Billy, who are both queer by their professions and characters. However, their presence in this film is one way Blacula communicates its open views about sexuality. Blacula doesn't care about their queerness because they are a part of Blacula's recovery and help him navigate the unfamiliar land he discovers.Blacula is waiting for Bobby at his funeral, presumably anticipating his reanimation. It's there that he meets Tina McGee (Bobbys friend) whose resemblance with Luva convinces him that she is the reincarnation his wife. Blacula begins to obsess over Tina and plots how to be with them. His swag and debonair methods become deadly weapons that he uses for disarming the unsuspecting people he encounters and even murders. The murders prompt Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Raulala), and Lt. Jack Peters, (Gordon Pinsent), to start an investigation.The film's mythos draws heavily from larger vampiric legends, but Blacula's name and status are portrayed as a curse by a white man who seeks to confound Blackness with savagery or animalism. Blacula, rather than proclaiming Dracula a racist ghoul and making grand proclamations, takes control of Blacula's name and presents an alternative vision of what a mysterious, foreboding, otherworldly being can look like. Blacula is a key part of Blaxploitation's vampire canons. The movie uses Blacula's displacement in time to show how anti-Black racism continues to inflict damage on different people.Blacula's longing for Tina and willingness to kill anyone who stands in his way to pursue her is part of his still-strong love for Luva, even after he watched as she died to nothing. Tina's conflicted but still very romantic feelings for Blacula, as he enters her life under false pretenses, suggests that Luva's love for him is just as strong and that she might be the woman reincarnated. Tina, however, is her own woman, with deep connections and a life. They embody an era-specific, distinct Blackness, which subtextually clashes with Blaculas.Blacula is very conscious of his efforts to subvert and disprove the demeaning ideas Dracula cursed Dracula with. However, he does this with a respectability that is both vampire-accurate as well as true to the Black ideas about Black respectability which have often been the source of trauma and pain for Black people. Blacula is a throwback to an era long gone, but he elevates the notion of Black respectability being used against Black people by making it a central part of his operation.AdvertisementBlacula is a villain because of his inherent allure and desire to remake the world in his own way. But you won't find Blacula hardworking until the end to make it difficult for you to not see him as a sympathetic character worth cheering. Blacula's sequel will expand on these ideas and it will be fascinating to see how much of the story still holds up in an age when genre fiction is focusing on Black experiences.It will be interesting to see how MGM's new reboot of Blacula brings Blacula back on the big screen. The original Blacula is a timeless classic that you should definitely watch before the new film. Blacula can now be streamed on PlutoTV.AdvertisementAre you curious about where our RSS feed went. The new one can be found here.