I always thought this would be a campy blaxploitation piece of cheese, and it certainly delivers at that, but Blacula is a surprising piece of effective horror cinema with some genuinely freaky moments that I did not expect.
It’s also got some distasteful ones, for sure, but there’s a rough edginess to it and how it handles its portrayal of interactions between varying races, genders, and sexualities that seems radically different from the mostly white productions of Hollywood at the time. How many other films from 1972 or earlier can you say contained an interracial homosexual couple which appears unremarked? No, as ridiculous as it may sound, I hold Blacula up there with some of my favorite blaxploitation movies such as Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.
Sure, there’s some awkwardness (I don’t think Dracula cared much one way or the other about slavery, considering he was too busy fighting the Ottoman Empire), and this film is very, very 1970s and lives up to its blaxploitation reputation. But it has some great moments where it plays with vampire myth, and William H. Marshall gives a powerful performance as an African prince-turned monster who is driven by both his need to feed and his love for his long dead wife. Marshall was one of the great Shakespearean actors of his decade, lauded for his work in Othello, and he brings a capability and a charm to the low budget production that is both reserved and fierce.
Is Blacula phenomenal? No, but it’s both entertaining and far better than I expected. It’s a shame a talent like Marshall’s was largely passed over by Hollywood, and it shows how the lack of equality in film can lead to a greater cultural loss for all people.
It’s also a shame that lines like “I curse you with my name. You shall be Blacula,” don’t get the critical attention they deserve.