Things I Read Off the Screen in “Blacula”

BLACULA actually has quite a lot going for it. Er…

Well, it just flies past. And it seems to function without ever having decided whether it’s tongue-in-cheek or basically serious. And William Marshall is very good in the title role, also playing it simultaneously straight and camp. He has quite a sly way of doing this.

The first shot, in which a superimposed title identifies a rainswept model as Castle Dracula, has an amusing bare-faced cheek. Prosaic yet bizarre — that sums up quite a bit of this film.

There’s a good hammy turn from Charles Macauley as Dracula, a pervy racist who perishes offscreen during the centuries elided between prologue and seventies main feature, and then there’s an appalling animated title sequence by Sandy Dvore, which drew open heckling from Fiona (“Sandy Dvore your titles are terrible!”) who had never seen the film. (I had, but not for, umm, thirty years.) Basically the titles consist of various black silhouette cartoon bats, red silhouette ladies, and red blobs, randomly interacting amid what looks like an enlarged photocopy of a microscope slide of some plant stoma. Now, I do think you could make a very good movie out of that concept, but it doesn’t work as titles, somehow.

FRAME STAMPINGS. I have no idea what that means but it must be important.

The movie proper starts, and we learn that while during the 18th century everybody acted with rather a lot of camp relish, in the 70s, everybody’s just flat-out gay. Well, everybody in scene two.

The gay interior decorators import Blacula’s coffin to America and become B’s first victims. And they are persistently referred to as “faggots” by the cop characters, including the hero, ill-mannered pathologist Thalmus Rasulala (“That is the rudest nigger I ever saw!” remarks a black undertaker). When bodies start go missing, Gordon Pinsent actually pops the question, “What would anybody want with a dead faggot?” And Thalmus shoots him THIS LOOK –

You rascal, you.

But when all’s said and done, the film isn’t as homophobic (or racist) as, say, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN. The gay characters are figures of fun, and one-dimensional stereotypes, but they’re not bad guys and we don’t particularly want to see them get drained. The movie could have tried a little harder to transcend the easy laughs (while KEEPING the easy laughs, obviously, it being essentially a grindhouse/drive-in schlockfest), but visibility is a good thing for any minority, as long as it’s not in the form of being targeted for abuse. We can credit BLACULA for showing a mixed-race gay couple who care for each other (pathetic outsider loner freaks were more common in movies) and who have straight friends who apparently accept them readily.

Director William Crane does few things right, but he gets mostly piquant performances. There was clearly a vast talent pool waiting to get into movies, and blaxploitation offered a key (of all the blaxploitation horrors, only BLACKENSTEIN has the kind of lousy acting associated with z-movies).

On the other hand, Crain can’t find the right height for his camera in a scene where one character sits and another stands (ALWAYS go with the sitting man, Bill!), and some of the sound recording, particularly in Transylvania, is terribly boxy and reverberant in the wide shots.

The only really intriguing bit of filmmaking is the slomo plus rapidfire intercutting when the vampirized lady cab driver attacks hook-handed misogynist morgue attendant Elisha Cook Jnr (don’t ask). That reaches a kind of peak of delirium amplified by Ketty Lester as the cabbie doing a vocal version of the PSYCHO theme — “Yaah! Yaah! Yaah!”

Elisha Cook Jnr Gets the Shaft Again.

At the end of the movie, all of the vampirized characters are accounted for EXCEPT Elisha. Maybe American International had a spin-off planned for him. CROCKULA? HOOKULA? JERKULA?

Meanwhile, over at Limerwrecks, BLACULA is celebrated in doggerel form. Twice. We’ll be “rapping” on coffin lids all week, so keep checking the site.

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23 Responses to “Things I Read Off the Screen in “Blacula””

  1. Maybe some film-makers in Nollywood will one day launch a sub-genre known as ‘Whitesploitation’ – in which white actors get to play their own variation on Nigerian movie cliches.

    Or maybe actors who are terminally ill may one day win Oscars for playing people who have no diseases at all? Oh, and gay leading men may risk their reputation and public image by boldly ‘playing straight’.

    Well, we can always dream, can’t we?

  2. Nigeria already has a thriving horror movie industry, based around local beliefs.

    Bret Easton Ellis just caused controversy by saying that an out gay actor couldn’t play the lead in the Fifty Shades of Gray movie. And it was cheering to see that most of the feedback seemed to be that Ellis was being very silly.

  3. Love that Blacula clip. It’s Queer Eye For the Straight Vampire!

    Bret has been in the closet so long he has mildew. He came out after his lover of umpteen years died. For a nanosecond I thought something good might come of this. But no. He’s as resentful and paranoid as ever. Recently He claimed that he was spat uon in WeHo when he passed near a clutch of AIDS charity workers.

    AS IF!

    Scream Bret Easton Ellis, Scream might have legs as a movie project.

  4. Reminds me, there’s a book of queer readings of horror movies with the magnificent title Monsters in the Closet.

  5. I’ve never been even remotely tempted to read Bret Easton Ellis, even though my partner is a big fan. The film of American Psycho was too horrible for words, and the story sounds even less appealing in print.

    But all this gossip is starting to make me curious…

  6. Bret’s not without talent. Try Glamorama on for size.

    Meanwhile this sortie into Blacksploitation inspires thoughts of Gaysploitation.

    How’s about Neil Patrick Harris: Vampire Hunter ?

  7. Todd Haynes’ Poison is one of the few films to apply B-movie horror tropes to intelligent ideas about sexuality. Lesbian vampires are of course a mainstay, while via Anne Rice there have been gay male vampires too.

    While Stephen King argues that horror stories are inherently conservative, it’s a positive sign when alternative sexualities are portrayed in them.

    Unfortunately, for some reason now we’ve got Twilight.

  8. And “Twilight” was created by Mormons.
    It’s all about how girls shouldn’t have sex with the gay men they’re attracted to.

  9. Above: Todd and I were just discussing horror films.

  10. Gaysploitation is definitely a genre. Between the Eating Out series of microbudget rom coms, God knows what number they’re on now and all the tepid shlock horror coming out under the masthead of 1313, it’s booming business. Not only that, there’s a whole group of even more independent producers making vampire, slasher, and zombie movies for a specifically gay demographic. I’m thinking specifically of one I saw recently that was a vampire movie of unstinting ridiculousness, as it took place exclusively outside in bright California sunlight.

  11. There’s an internet gay series called The Outs that’s really quite good. It started out as a series of jokes but the most recent episode centered on a guy rescuing his drunken ex-boyfriend from a party. It was quite serioues and well-acted.

    Web series’ are an area you should think about exploring Mr. Cairns. I’ve no idea how many are currently running and what they’re all about.

  12. The Eating Out series is directed by Alan Q. Brocka — the nephew of the late great Lino Brocka. It’s mild fluff but his dramatic feature Boy Culture is truly teriffic.

  13. I’m very slowly starting to think about other forms of content delivery… but could use a wealthy sponsor to egg me on (couldn’t we all?).

    Ah, 1313 is David DeCoteau? That’s not too promising then. Bring back Linnea Quigley!

  14. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56EX9XiXXQQ&feature=related It’s Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout!

  15. I’ve read the MONSTERS IN THE CLOSET, which is not terrific, but at least it addresses the subject … which is long overdue.

    The story from it that sticks with me is about FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER (a.k.a. “The Page Cavanaugh Monster Movie”). Seems that, when the monster was created for the cameras, somebody forgot to tell the technicians that it was female rather than male. So what did they do? They simply put lipstick on it and said “Now it’s female!”

    Perhaps the pervy vampire-enabler here should be linked to the antique dealer(s) in SALEM’S LOT?

  16. Stephen King apparently sees everything… I wouldn’t be surprised if he saw Blacula and became intrigued by this minor character’s role. He’s apparently unintentionally spreading the vampire curse, but wouldn’t it be more interesting if he was doing it on purpose?

  17. If Stephen King thinks horror stories are inherently conservative, well…that may be because his really are. All the elements are there, but his people are so profoundly uninteresting!

    Anne Rice: “Stephen King writes about ordinary people. I write about EXTRAORDINARY people.”

    Modest as usual, Anne. Love you anyway.

  18. King needs to get out more. All his characters are novelists who live in Maine.

    He possibly regards conservatism as inevitable because he writes instinctively — a lot of reactionary stuff can spring from the subconscious that way. The “magic negro” stuff in The Green Mile is particularly egregious. Nobody who thought seriously about their stories from the point of view of MEANING could perpetrate that.

    But because horror is always about the downside of fantastical or aberrant situations, I can see his point. Cronenberg is pro-science personally, but all his SF movies are about inventions that go horribly wrong and lead to death and disfigurement…

  19. Thanks for all the posts, David. I watched all these when I was younger, without any of the analysis. An animated series I recently watched has a character named Jefferson Twilight and he only hunts Blaculas.

    @ David Ehrenstein – Brett Easton Ellis paranoid? I find that hard to believe from a Bennington graduate.

  20. The posts will keep coming — in fact, I think I have enough to turn this week into a fortnight! Not that I necessarily ought to…

  21. Only just seen this post but re: gaysploitation in vampire films – the original Fright Night has the lead character’s male best friend get seduced in a dark alleyway by Chris Sarandon’s vampire overlord. Of course his friend has to ram a stake through him when his now vampiric friend returns to seduce him, resulting in one of those extremely symbolic moaning, gasping death scenes.

    The actor in that part was Stephen Geoffreys, who went on to a role in James Foley’s film At Close Range, but then according to imdb swiftly went on a tangent into gay porn.

  22. I’d forgotten that! Homoerotic content in Fright Night and it’s nothing to do with Roddy McDowall.

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