Black History Month

Blacula: A Cool, Sophisticated and Scary​ Cat

TDW celebrates William Marshall as Blacula for Black History Month!

8f1e2b9d7c9debbbed07133e1ff5b0aaFor the present generation, Blacula can very much come across as an insensitive name. The racial harmony in our country has never been one of our strongest qualities. So for this reasons those unfamiliar with the movies (as there are two) could very much see this as an offensive film.

Hell, I am African-American myself. I personally never saw the movie until now. I have always thought this movie was nothing more than a Black Dracula (and it was – to an extent. More about that later).

I have heard about blaxploitation movies and seen a bit of them. I am a guy who was born in the late-80s. I have always had this image of blaxploitation films as these over-the-top dramatic and cheesy dialogues with acting that was always too much. Because of these reasons I was a bit turned off by this subgenre of movies.

The name blaxploitation itself was one of the major reasons for me to not want to watch any of these movies.

However, I gave this movie a chance. After watching the movie, doing some research and listening to a few interviews with the highly sophisticated William Marshall I was really impressed overall with the whole development of the movie and more importantly the character. Blacula’s character is so intriguing.

I guess it’s true to never judge a book by it’s cover.

Blacula’s (played William Marshall) history, on-screen and off-screen was quite progressive and I have to say this movie is…Dy-no-mite.

Blacula

Blacula’s character was a somewhat noble and really sophisticated horror monster. In fact, I dare say that Blacula was very much more of a tragic villain more than anything else. And this is salient as William Marshall was one of the first prominent Hollywood actors who was an African-American who played such a tragic villain, i.e compelling and intriguing character.

There was no, “You Jive Turkey.” Blacula spoke as a highly intelligent, charismatic and sophisticated gentleman. (Why this is important you will understand later on.)

However, what I thoroughly enjoyed about Blacula, which was not so much his ethnic background, was his character. In the first movie Prince Mambuwalee, who is Blacula, was a prince of a noble and highly rich culture of a Northeast region in Africa. The story starts right away with Mambuwalee in a meeting with a man of European descent. In the meeting, Mambuwalee makes mention that he is there to try to end the slave trade.

The “man” looks surprised as he believes that Africans are a lesser people and that they couldn’t possibly understand what it is to actually feel pain. We find out that this man is non-other than Dracula (played by Charles Macaulay). And after Dracula insults Mambuwalee’s wife (Luva played by Vonetta McGee) the prince, Mambuwalee, decides to leave. It is here where Dracula gets his goons and transforms the defiant and noble Prince into…Blacula.

Okay. I am going to be honest. Personally, I love the movie and Blacula. But the name….the name. For real? It is SO CHEESY.

However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that Blacula is very much his own version of a famed vampire and not simply some rip-off character, much to my delight.

The first movie dealt with Blacula trying to get back in a relationship with this girl whom he believes is his wife. This was very much a romantic horror story. And just to sidetrack for a second, the horror was okay. The plot was good. William Marshall’s portrayal was STELLAR (And I say that not as hyperbole. That voice.). But that love story was so rushed and SO forced.

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“I love you Mambuwalee.” – Tina Williams / Luva (Played by Vonetta McGee)

Really?! It had only been like two or three days. And weren’t you scared of him the first time you met him? How did she develop this Stockholm syndrome? But I digress.

The idea to make Blacula into a tragic villain was a really nice touch – and something I loved about the character. Villians are so much more compelling when they only do what is wrong out of a necessity or because they are basically pushed into a scenario that they otherwise have no control over.

Let’s take the following Marvel Netflix shows as examples. Daredevil season one was such a great show because of Wilson Fisk (played by  Vincent D’Onofrio). Jessica Jones was such a great show because of the Purple Man/Kilgrave (played by David Tennant). The Punisher was yet another outstanding show because you had people and characters who did morally questionable acts but for reasons that they believe they had to do it or in some cases were forced into doing something.

There is no indelible line between good and evil and with Blacula this philosophical notion was displayed very well. Once a noble prince who was trying to end the slave trade now turned into a monster that fed on his own ancestors.

Having a character that you can sympathize with – when they are doing the wrong things – is not only a great display of a character but a great display of brilliant writing and an outstanding performance by the actors. Not exaggerating in the slightest – but again, William Marshall, the smooth-talking, presence taking, and the sophisticated lead figure pulled off this portrayal so well.

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Blacula’s mission in the first movie was to reunite with his love. And yes, he did kill some people – but as a vampire, we all know the lore of vampires. They need to drink blood to survive.

And I truly loved this about his character. He wasn’t merely a monster that wanted to feed on the masses. He wanted to simply to be with his former lover. And after she died he wanted to get rid of that curse.

A story is only good if it has a compelling plot and Blaucla’s tragic story, which turned him into a monster and his desire to end his need for blood, is a somewhat Shakespearean.

Very Progressive for an Exploitation Movie

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I understand at the time these movies weren’t called blaxploitation. But this movie was still progressive in SOME areas. I cannot lie, I personally did not fancy how the characters in the movie threw around the “faggot” word (a word for a person who likes the same gender).

So, it’s wrong to hate black people, but it’s perfectly okay to hate gay people? It is uncultured and unevolved in thinking it is okay to hate someone because of a skin color. And this statement is by no means a polemical declaration or me sitting on a high horse. There have been researched cases that have shown that racism is more of a feeling, and way of thinking, of people who have a lower I.Q or a more conservative outlook on life. However, at the same time, people who are highly intelligent may very well be prejudice. But to be prejudice and to be racist are not one in the same.

Racism is, “I don’t like you because you are (insert color or ethnic background) therefore I will make your life a living hell and I will look down on you.”

Prejudice is, “I have a history with people of your ethnicity and for the most part, it hasn’t always been so good so I will be on guard with you.”

But the way this movie threw around the pejorative for same-gender lovers was something that put me off. I guess it’s this undeveloped sense of the mind that “if I can’t hate this guy because of his skin color then I will hate him for who they bring to their bedroom. As long as I can hate something outside myself then I am okay.” 

One step forward just to step that SAME foot back.

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In spite of this, seeing African American’s portrayed as doctors and detectives, and people of high status, especially during that time was indeed a step in the right direction.

I for one am not wholly into the whole idea that what you see on tv or in a movie is real. However, unfortunately, a vast amount of people in the world, not just our country, are so influenced by what they see on tv and in movies.

This is a very true fact. I have traveled the world for six years and when I tell people where I am from the first thing they ask is, “Can you rap for me? Can we play basketball? Have you been in jail?” 

Really? What makes you think any of these about me when we have JUST acquainted ourselves?

“Oh, I watch a lot of American shows.” 

REALLY?!

But again, I digress.

It is for this reason that seeing African-Americans in this movie as doctors, detectives, and people having a clear, elegant, and highly sophisticated command of the language was truly pleasant to see and hear.

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Especially Blacula. That baritone voice was simply excellent. My god, William Marshall. I love Morgan Freeman but William Marshall also has an amazing voice. And his acting, except for the love scenes, was right on point. He had such a presence that was both horrifying and one that commanded respect.

And that is something that is very poignant. Fear and respect are not the same things and William Marshall was able to pull this off so well. Were there any scenes where I jumped? No. But he had a few scenes where he would look at someone, and that glare he gave off really demanded feelings that he was to be feared and respected.

He really was a great actor.

The Direction of the Movie

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The making of Prince Mambuwalee itself was also a rather courageous act on the actors part, specifically William Marshall. The directors wanted to make Blacula the way I thought it would be; a Black Dracula. But William Marshall wanted to add that his character wanted to stop the slave trade.

Of course, this was first met with a great deal of objection by the directors and the producers. But again William Marshall has such a presence and level of sophistication that he was able to add this tidbit to the movie.

I honestly loved this inclusion of his character because in the end it really added more depth to Blacula. It made Blacula a completely different vampire and not simply a facsimile of Dracula; something to which I feared would be the case. And this inclusion fits extremely well, as this movie was created during the Black Pride era.

My Overall Thoughts On Blacula: Not a Blackface Dracula

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Honestly, the movie wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I actually like Blacula and his character. For many, it may very well have been a turn off to have to insert the slave trade into the movie, but I think it equally a turnoff to have a movie that features a black vampire who is nothing more than a facsimile of Dracula. A Black Dracula is no different from a blackface skit back during the 20s and 30s.

Was this move a blockbuster? Absolutely not. But it was enjoyable. The acting from Blacula and the detective were really the highlight of the movie. I really enjoyed their little battle of the minds; the battle of wits. There were some actors and actresses where the acting at times was really, REALLY cringeworthy. The camera and special effects – well that would be unfair to make a statement on this seeing as I am a lover of horror movies from the 90s and upward, so the technology has gotten much better

If you haven’t seen this movie, I definitely would recommend it; both of them to be precise. The two stories really help to capture and display his struggles, and in the end, he feels so much more like a relatable person despite him being a vampire.

Not Simply A Black Dracula

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“You were made slaves, and you make a slave of your sisters. And now you’re just mimicking your slave master.” – Blacula (Goddamn taking lives and blowing minds.)

I absolutely loved that line.

The Blacula movie has really cemented itself in the horror cinema and rightly so. It was one of the first to feature an African-American male as a lead feature. This movie featured a monster/villain that was more of a tragic villain than a real villain. It also had a cast of excellent actors that really helped to give African-Americans a more “cultured” look.

Lastly, and I must add this bit in because I would be remiss if I left this out. That funk music…damn. I never was into funk music. Never cared for it too much. I mean there were some songs but overall funk and disco that is a 70s thing and not really my taste. However, after listening to this soundtrack, I gotta say I will start giving funk music a chance. Hell, if you didn’t like the movie you may very well like the soundtrack.

I guess it really is true not to judge a book by it’s cover. With race, unfortunately being a topic of conversation and thought in our country, very profusely I might add, to hear a name “Blacula” can really trigger a person to believe that it was just a racially insensitive title. And it was… to an extent. But after watching the movie, researching the history of the movie and listening to interviews from the actors and actresses I learned how the actors wanted to inject more culture, more sophistication and most importantly more humanity into this movie. My final words about this movie and actors/actresses are, “My hats go off to these fantastic actors.”

William Marshall: August 19, 1924 – June 11, 2003
“Maybe you find sophistication in barbarity (the slave trade) – but I don’t.” – Prince Mumbuwalaee

 

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Trel Spiegel is a lover of psychology and horror. Specifically, when it delves into the realm of psychology, neuropsychology, which most fascinates me. What is it about the chemical make up of individuals that makes one person altruistic and wants to help others and in someone else that makes it want to do the complete opposite? If ever there were monsters it is those who have no control of their minds.

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