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Blacula / Scream Blacula Scream – Double Feature (Blu-ray Review)

Blacula ThumbThere are two things I’ve always been clamoring for on Blu-ray; more Blaxploitation films and more Pam Grier.  Which, yeah a lot of that is one in the same.  And this new release from Scream Factory covers both!  “Dracula’s soul brother”, Blacula is here in high definition.  Yes, I’m very aware of the title, but note that these were different times and the Blaxploitation era was all about taking things and making it their own.  You’d find many a spin on titles like this.  The success of Blacula even spawned a Blackenstein.  These Blacula movies are somewhat a relic of another time, but I also find them to be plenty enough of a campy hoot to enjoy.  A fun trivia fact, Blacula himself is also the King of Cartoons from Pee-wee’s Playhouse (The guy from the second season onward).

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Blacula 

Prince Mamuwalde of the Abani African nation visits Count Dracula to ask for his assistance in getting rid of the slave trade.  Dracula refuses and in turn curses  Mamuwalde to be of his own ilk, dubbing him “Blacula”.  Basically he turns him into a vampire and seals him in a coffin.  Flash forward to 1972, and after an estate purchase that includes the coffin, two dumb dumbs open it up and Blacula is out on the prowl.

That’s sort of the gist to how things begin.  He also spots a woman who is the splitting image of his wife as Mamuwalde.  His wife, who was imprisoned by Dracula until her death while Mamuwalde lie sealed in the coffin.  So, naturally, Blacula begins to stalk and woo this young woman while her friends are skeptical of him.

What will probably prove surprising to someone who has never seen the original Blacula film, is that aside from the film’s title and its promotional material, this isn’t the type of thing you’d expect at all from a Blaxploitation film.  Its pretty straight-laced and more of a traditional vampire/Dracula story.  In fact, its so early in the fad, that its actually one of the pioneers and trend setters when on the outside it looks to be one of the cash ins.  After Blacula, many would take something and spin the title with “Black” being inserted (Like Blackenstein or Black Caesar).

While I find Blacula to be a pretty solid vampire tale, its not really all too great.  Its bogged down with just hanging out and a little too into 60s type teen psychadelic movie tropes where people just sit and hang out because it looks cool or something.  There were a lot of people in this movie that worked in television and the film does really look like a glorified television episode in terms of its aesthetic.  And anyone can tell you, the 70s were not the hey day for fantastic television.  Thought, I do think the effects (Especially Blacula’s demise) look rather groovy.

The best thing about Blacula is the prince of darkness himself, William Marshall.  He’s very debonair with his approach.  But what’s great is that he manages to switch to menace in quite an instant.  He’s also got some really intense (And hairy) vampire make up and prosthetic effects that provide a unique flavor to his vampire as opposed to the people he turns.  The actor was also pretty instrumental in making this film not as cooky and ridiculous as it could have been.  For instance his character’s last name was originally “Brown” but he changed it to Mamuwalde.  Marshall also has a fantastic voice which I think could entertainingly narrate anything, dictate children’s books or even read the phone book.

When it all comes down to it, Blacula is a decent slice of vintage entertainment, but it is lacking in being a good film.  Much of it drags in the middle, because I don’t think they really had enough there to make a full on film, but decided to just fill with needless conversation and police investigation to get the time to work.   Overall, for what it is, I think most would be surprised at how much better and competent it is than the title would suggest.

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Scream Blacula Scream 

Willis feels betrayed by his cult after his mother passes and they vote his foster sister to be her heir and leader.  Through the practice of voodoo, he winds up resurrecting Blacula from the dead to walk again.  He immediately takes Willis for the undead and begins building up his own army and following.

This sequel comes in the heart of Blaxploitation, so its more of what you’d expect from the genre.  Plenty of tossing back and forths of the word “jive” and many other staples take their place here.  It adds to a more goofy and campy affair than the previous entry, and for me, a more enjoyable film.

Scream Blacula Scream features a lot more going on this time around aside from just “Look, a vampire in modern times”.  The story is less about Blacula and more about a conflict within this voodoo cult at the forefront of the film.  There are multiple conflicts and players, then you throw Blacula and vampires in the mix.  Maybe the first film is one you can take more “seriously”, but this one’s enjoyment factor is almost double.

It also features a much more enjoyable and talented cast than previously.  One big reason, is they have Pam Grier in the mix.  This is the film that she followed Coffy with.  I’m sure she was doing this film before Coffy even dropped, but it added a nice boost to the marketing for this one.  And as always, the woman has some damn fine screen presence.  Unlike the other films, no one could really go toe to toe with Marshall, but here he’s given Pam Grier and it makes for some rather fun onscreen sparring.

Aside from Blacula’s demise, I think this film is a bit ahead of its predecessor in almost every way.  I’m sure some could argue the first a better film and this one more schlcok, but if its more entertaining and enjoyable, I’ll take the schlock.  This is definitely one in the Pam Grier’s line of 70s classics as well.  Its a rather fun movie, and one that gives us plenty of vampire and blaxploitation action/tropes that we’re hoping for when looking back to one of the films of this 70s fad.

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Video 

Both features contain the same video specs.

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail:  Both films feature very similar looking transfers.  While folks aren’t going to be going “Holy Sh**, did you Blacula on Blu-ray”, this transfer really did open my eyes and impressed.  I never imagined these films looking this good.  My experience with both films had been on ratty old VHS tapes.  Here, everything looks pretty clean, detailed and sharp (for what it is).

Depth:  The film looks slightly above averages.  Its not something I’d call completely flat.  There are some interior moments that do impress.

Black Levels:  Blacks are deep, and some of the time its pretty consuming and minimal detail can be lost.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are very 70s looking in that they are kind of bright in idea, but sort of faded in execution.  These films feature a lot of browns and blacks.  The blue faces of the vampires pop rather nicely.

Flesh Tones:  Natural and consistent.  Close ups reveal plenty of detail, hair and blemishes.

Noise/Artifacts:  Grain and specs/dirt throughout on both films.

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Audio 

Both features contain the same audio specs.

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics:  This audio is good, but it does have a sort of dated sound to it, which probably lies in the source material.  There are some areas of possible peaking.  The track does get pretty loud and works at times for its jumps.  Areas where the voice, music, effects sort of sound like a blended sound do occur, but other areas balance them decently.

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  For the most part, you get some clear and clean dialogue, but there are a few instances where it has that dated “muffled” sort of sound to it.

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Extras 

The reverse side of the cover art features additional promotional/poster images from each film.

Blacula

Audio Commentary

  • With Author/Film Historian/Filmmaker David F. Walker (Reflections on Blaxploitation: Actors And Directors Speak)

Blacula Photo Gallery – 66 images of promotional photos, behind the scenes and poster art.

Blacula Trailer (HD, 1:54)

Scream Blacula Scream

Interview With Actor Richard Lawson (HD, 13:25) – “Willis” himself talks about how he original lost out on the role until shooting started and how his landlord for his apartment was the director of the first Blacula.  He goes on to discuss Pam Grier and his work on the film and career in general as well.

Scream Blacula Scream Photo Gallery – 67 images of promotional photos, behind the scenes and poster art.

Scream Blacula Scream Trailer (HD, 2:03)

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Summary 

This Blacula double bill from Scream Factory brings one of the Blaxploitation era’s most known series to Blu-ray for the first time.  There is fun to be had in both films.  And they look pretty awesome on Blu-ray.  Who would have imagined these William Marshall vampire tales to look so good ever?  Bonus points to Scream Factory because they released a 70s Pam Grier film as well.  There’s both a nice commentary and a new interview that give each of the films a nice compliment.  I found this to be a fun release.  I’m sure its not for everyone one, but this Blu-ray should keep fans pretty happy.

Blacula-Double-Feature-Blu-ray

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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