Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Film: "Blacula"

Later on the same day that I saw Countess Dracula, I found myself back in the IFI to see Blacula. This is an odd attempt from the 1970s to combine a vampire-horror film with the blaxploitation film then in vogue. The film begins with an African prince visiting Count Dracula in Transylvania, as part of an anti-slave trade tour of Europe. Sadly, he angers Dracula (a cheesy bloke with bouffant hair and a beard) such that Dracula drinks his blood and turns him into vampire. "You shall bear my name," he cackles. "You will be known as – BLACULA". Apart from that, no one in the film actually refers to the African vampire as Blacula, though for clarity I will here.

Blacula is accidentally disinterred by two gay antique dealers who have transported the contents of Dracula's castle to Los Angeles. After killing them (and turning them into gay vampires) Blacula embarks on a reign of terror, leading to an ever increasing number of mostly African American people being drained of their blood and transformed into the undead. But he also discovers that his long-lost love has been reincarnated, and he endeavours to win her heart. Apparently Blacula is the first vampire film to go for the whole love-beyond-the-ages angle that climaxed in the horror that was Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula.

There are a couple of things to bear in mind with this film. First of all, it was made for ten pence, so its production values are not very high. Nor is the script of the highest quality, though some of the actors are surprisingly impressive (particularly William Marshall as Blacula himself). The general cheapness of it all means that much of the time the effect is more comic rather than horrific, with the appearance of Dracula's vampire slaves being an early indicator of what kind of schlock we are looking at here. Still, this can be borne, and for all the cheapness of the effects and script, the film has a certain charm. The other odd thing about it, though, is its casual homophobia. The aforementioned antique dealers are very much played as comedic stereotypes, with their homosexuality serving almost to justify their deaths. When the film's hero (a black Van Helsing figure) starts to investigate odd aspects of their murders, he comes up against a brick wall of homophobia. "Who cares about two dead faggots?", he is told. Later, when the cops are looking for one of the undead gays, they think they see him cruising in the gay part of town. "Is that the faggot we're looking for?", they say.

Now, it may be that the film is here satirising the homophobia of the authorities, but it does seem to be buying into it without offering any challenge. For me, of course, as a 100% heterosexual man, it is easy to fall into finding the homophobic language as entertaining as the bad special effects and hokey costumes. I would probably see things different if I batted for the other team myself.

With that caveat, I still recommend the film. It hovers in the weird borderland between things that are so-bad-they're-good and things that have unexpected moments of genius. This kind of shotgun marriage of genres is always fascinating, making Blacula the kind of curiosity that any true film aficionado should love.


mylescorcoran said...

"A 100% heterosexual man"

Surely 110% at the very least, Ian.

ian said...

Actually, that should have read 1000%.