Monday, September 28, 2009

Scream (Part 1)

On Saturday night some of my friends and I had a Festival of Bad Cinema which I am in retrospect calling ScreamFest. Not because they were particularly scary, at least not in the traditional sense, but because they both had the word “scream” in the title. I’m kinda obvious like that.

First up, we had 1973’s uniquely wonderful 'Scream, Blacula, Scream', a sequel to 1972’s ‘Blacula’. It was a clever title for a sequel, far cleverer than, say, 'Blacula II: Back in the Blood' or 'Blacula II: Bite Harder'. Although possibly not as evocative as 'Blacula II: Vascular Boogaloo'.

Irritated that his mother the Voodoo Queen has chosen to pass on her power to the lowly Lisa (Pam Grier) rather than him, Willis (Richard Lawson) uses some mysterious human bones he got from a witchdoctor to cast a voodoo spell against her. However the bones are those of Blacula (William Marshall) who arises from the dead, fangs Willis, then sets about creating a new army of the undead to do his bidding.

Sadly for Blacula, you just can't get good minions these days. For a start there's Willis, who is as whiny in undeath as he was in life. He's more concerned about not being able to see himself in the mirror than he is about being cursed for all eternity. I'd like to think that this explains his dress sense, but unfortunately I suspect it's just one of those 70s things.

Then there's Gloria (Janee Michelle), winner of the very hotly contested Biggest Hairdo of 1973 award. It's like someone stuck a grizzly bear on top of a popsicle stick.

Or Elaine (Barbara Rhoades), sporting the Auburn Tsunami over what looks like a figure hugging blue velvet hijab.

Perhaps this is why Blacula becomes enchanted with Lisa - she's the only one who dresses like a normal human being. That and the fact that she's one hot mama. Blacula may be dead but he's not dead.

Blacula hopes that Lisa will be able to use her voodoo powers to release him from the vampire curse. She eventually agrees, and there follows a lengthy ceremony that involves a lot of sweaty heaving and moaning from both parties. Unfortunately before the ceremony can reach its… er… climax, Lisa's boyfriend Justin (Don Mitchell) bursts in with a bunch of cops, hell bent on putting an end to the vampire invasion.

The cops are dispatched as gruesomely as one would expect them to be in this sort of movie, but not before they and Justin kill most of Blacula's legion. In the end, as Blacula's unholy appetite finally turns on Lisa, she dispatches him the only way she knows how: with voodoo. You don't see many vampire movies in which the head vampire is killed by someone sticking a stake into a voodoo doll dressed in an adorable little black cape.

I actually liked ‘Scream Blacula Scream’ more than the original. It had a bigger budget, a tighter script, and of course Pam Grier. There’s also a moment towards the end when Justin realises that the man he knew as Mamuwalde is a vampire, and he cries out his name. Blacula pauses, then responds; 'The name… is Blacula!' At his direst moment, Blacula identifes not with his regal African heritage but with an identity forced on him by a white man centuries ago. He's as trapped by it as his minions are by him. In a silly blaxploitation flick, it's an unexpected burst of poignant social commentary.

Or maybe I’m reading too much into William Marshall’s dark and dignified performance. Perhaps it’s not a good idea to read anything into a movie which has characters dressed like this:

And why do I have the overwhelming feeling that the guy in the pink plaid jacket is a jocular TV weatherman?

Tomorrow, the second of our ScreamFest movies: ‘Die Screaming, Marianne’.


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