Taller, Darker, Stranger
SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM surpasses the surprisingly appealing BLACULA by virtue of being a bit better made, and because original writers Joan Torres and Raymond Koenig are building on what they achieved last time (a fun, silly, unusual supernatural-blaxploitation farrago) and getting more ambitious. This one has actual emotion and more of a character arc for Mr B.
It also allows His Sexual Majesty William “King Dick” Marshall to get even more Shakespearian (critic Harold Hobson called him the finest Othello he’d seen), and surrounds him, as before, with a high calibre of supporting player, all of whom are better when they have Marshall’s example to play off. Marshall just makes acting better, even other people’s.
Since the previous movie ended with Prince Mamualdi (who never calls himself ‘Blacula’ in that film — it’s like a slave name given to him by the original Drac) meeting his death by sunlight more or less voluntarily, the question of how to bring him back must have been a vexed one. Torres and Koenig devise a voodoo sect riven by internal rivalries, itself a good enough concept to base a decent movie on. Ousted by the membership (who understandably favour Pam Grier), Richard Lawson (EXTREMELY funny in this) discovers a ceremony which can bring forth Blacula from his bleaching bones. Thus reluctantly resurrected, Mamuladi promptly sinks his fangs into Lawson, thus making him his
bitch vampiric acolyte.
The two then set up house together, an uncomfortable menage to say the least. Hilarious scene where Lawson complains he can’t admire his pimp duds in the mirror as he’s lost his reflection. As with the first film, the movie is funny AND serious at more or less the same time, and doesn’t care whether you respect it for being witty or despise it for being silly. There’s nothing quite as suggestive as Marshall biting the two gay stereotype interior designers in the first film, but he clearly digs guys just as much as the ladies.
Watching Marshall dominate the whiny Lawson is sadistically amusing. “I will slit open your body and tear out your worthless life,” intones Mamualdi. “I’m having an orgasm,” complained Fiona. Listening to William Marshall speak is a pelvic floor exercise unto itself.
It’s perhaps not surprising that the film captures dysfunctional relationships so well, as co-scenarist Torres appears to be the same person who co-authored Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them.
Then there’s this AMAZING scene —
Marshall’s disgust here is fascinatingly undercut by the fact that he’s building up a stable of slaves himself, whom he lords it over rather like a violent pimp. His moral beliefs are totally alien to the behaviour induced by his vampire curse (which can stand for a metaphor for anything you like: perhaps man’s violent or sexual instincts, or the anger that comes from oppression), and the conflict between the two intensifies until he finally takes the name of Blacula and surrenders to evil.
Pam Grier, meanwhile, is unusually muted and fully-clad, but again comes to life in Marshall’s presence for a show of truly convincing terror. Acting honours, however, go to Janee Michelle. Her role might seem like nothing on paper, but she gets two great scenes, or rather, she makes them great. When Marshall bites her, she plays not just terror but revulsion, making it seem like a rape. This causes us to lose sympathy for Blacula in a big way, something the film shrugs off as he goes back to being cool and badass and dignified right away, but it’s sewing the seeds for the film’s climax, when the good and bad sides of the character come into stark relief. It also revivifies a very familiar horror movie scene by adding an element of recognizable emotional reality. It makes the whole thing uncomfortable, which it should be. (A film called BLACULA should be nothing BUT uncomfortable.)
Michelle’s second showstopper has her sitting up in her coffin and trying to seduce Pam Grier. There’s no way such a scene could ever NOT be good, one would think, but I was unprepared for how strong it could be — the vampire make-up isn’t great, but it does make her look ILL, and her performance capitalizes on this, giving the lesbian overtones and sickly, necrophile edge.
There’s also Don Mitchell as the smart-guy hero, who’s just about clever enough to work out that the bloodless corpses with bat hairs on them might be the work of a vampire, and that the guy with the cloak is a likely suspect. As ever, the modern vampire movie has the problem of how to deal with the fact that Dracula, in our reality, is a well-known media character — Torres & Koenig elect to just go with this — Dracula is a famous fictional character, but he was also real.
Mamualdi realizes that the voodoo which raised him from death can also cure him of his curse, and so engages Pam in an orgiastic ceremony to purge his soul — much sweating, panting, and clutching of a posable Blacula voodoo doll (Little William, as I call him). If this doll still exists somewhere, I want it. I’m perfectly serious. I’m willing to pay. I’m just not ABLE to pay.
It’s a grand climax. Fiona wanted Blac to win, which is what you’re supposed to want, but had he been cured, a sequel would have been impossible. Bob Kelljan, this movie’s helmer (who’s quite a bit slicker than predecessor William Crain), had already made two COUNT YORGA movies, and a team-up was envisaged. I would be TOTALLY on board for that. Robert Quarry is cool. But alas, United International’s money troubles put paid to the idea, the same way it scuppered PHIBES TRIUMPHANT I guess.
The blaxploitation-horror movie would evolve in a different direction…