Blacula is a 1972 American blaxploitation horror film produced for American International Pictures.
The film was directed by William Crain and stars William Marshall in the title role about an 18th-century African prince named Mamuwalde, who is turned into a vampire by Count Dracula in the Count's castle in Transylvania in the year 1780 after Dracula refused to help Mamuwalde suppress the slave trade.
Blacula was released to mixed reviews in the United States, but was one of the top-grossing films of the year.
It was the first film to receive an award for Best Horror Film at the Saturn Awards.
Blacula was followed by the sequel Scream Blacula Scream in 1973 and inspired a wave of blaxploitation-themed horror films.
The film is often considered historically significant for containing the first on-screen portrayal of a vampire by a black actor and is one of the earliest examples of a mainstream film to portray a black lead character in a dignified as well as a sympathetic light.
- William Marshall as Prince Mamuwalde / Blacula
- Denise Nicholas as Michelle Williams
- Vonetta McGee as Tina Williams / Luva
- Gordon Pinsent as Lt. Jack Peters
- Thalmus Rasulala as Dr. Gordon Thomas
- Emily Yancy as Nancy
- Lance Taylor Sr. as Swenson
- Logan Field as Sergeant Barnes
- Ted Harris as Bobby McCoy
- Rick Metzler as Billy Schaffer
- Ketty Lester as Juanita Jones
- Charles Macaulay as Count Dracula
- Ji-Tu Cumbuka as Skillet
- Elisha Cook, Jr. as Sam
- Eric Brotherson as Real Estate Agent
- The Hues Corporation as themselves
Many members of the cast and crew of Blacula had worked in television. Director William Crain had directed episodes of The Mod Squad. William H. Marshall's Mamuwalde was the first black vampire to appear in film. Marshall had previously worked in stage productions and in episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Nurses, Star Trek and Mannix.Thalmus Rasulala who plays Dr. Gordon Thomas had previously been in episodes of The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, and Rawhide.
While Blacula was in its production stages, William Marshall worked with the film producers to make sure his character had some dignity. His character name was changed from Andrew Brown to Mamuwalde and his character received a background story about being an African prince who had succumbed to vampirism
The music for Blacula is unlike that of most horror films as it uses rhythm and blues as opposed to haunting classical music. The film's soundtrack features a score by Gene Pageand contributions by the Hues Corporation and 21st Century Ltd.
Prior to its release, American International Pictures' marketing department wanted to ensure that black audiences would be interested in Blacula; some posters for the film included references to slavery. American International Pictures also held special promotional showings at two New York theaters; anyone wearing a flowing cape would receive free admission. Blacula was popular in America, debuting at #24 on Variety's list of top films. It eventually grossed over a million dollars, making it one of the highest-grossing films of 1972.
Blacula received mixed reviews on its initial release.
Variety gave the film a positive review praising the screenplay, music and acting by William Marshall.
The Chicago Readerpraised the film, writing that it would leave its audience more satisfied than many other "post-Lugosi efforts".
A review in the New York Times was negative, stating that anyone who "goes to a vampire movie expecting sense is in serious trouble, and "Blacula" offers less sense than most."
In Films & Filming, a reviewer referred to the film as "totally unconvincing on every level".
The Monthly Film Bulletin described the film as "a disappointing model for what promised to be an exciting new genre, the black horror film." and that apart from the introductory scene, "the film conspicuously fails to pick up on any of its theme's more interesting possibilities–cinematic or philosophical."
The film was awarded the Best Horror Film title at the first Saturn Awards.
Among more recent reviews, Kim Newman of Empire gave the film two stars out of five, finding the film to be "formulaic and full of holes".
Time Out gave the film a negative review, stating that it "remains a lifeless reworking of heroes versus vampires with soul music and a couple of good gags."
Film4 awarded the film three and a half stars out of five, calling it "essential blaxploitation viewing."
Allmovie gave the film two and a half stars out of five, noting that Blacula is "better than its campy title might lead one to believe...the film suffers from the occasional bit of awkward humor (the bits with the two homosexual interior decorators are the most squirm-inducing), but Joan Torres and Raymond Koenig's script keeps things moving at a fast clip and generates some genuine chills."
The Dissolve gave the film two and a half stars, stating that "The placement of an old-fashioned, Bela Lugosi-type Dracula—albeit much, much sweatier—in a modern black neighborhood is a great idea, but the amateurish production leaves Marshall as stranded in the film as his Mamuwalde is stranded in the times."
Aftermath and influence
The box office success of Blacula sparked a wave of other black-themed horror films.
A sequel to the film titled Scream Blacula Scream was released in 1973 by American International. The film also stars William Marshall in the title role along with actress Pam Grier.
American International was also planning a follow-up titled Blackenstein, but chose to focus on Scream Blacula Scream instead.
Blackenstein was eventually produced by Exclusive International Pictures.