Scream Blacula Scream (1973)

The dark force of Blacula returned to cinema screens just one year after the initial release and success of Blacula (1972), with Scream Balcula Scream (1973). In the second installment we follow the old prince Mamuwalde from his rebirth with voodoo to his pursuit of freedem from the vampire curse, which has haunted him for centuries. With the help of a far superior and tight script and the casting of new starlet Pam Grier, Scream Blacula Scream, is far greater than the original Blacula and represents the height of Blaxploitation film.

The first Blacula made American film studios sit up and take notice of the potential that Blaxploitation films had to offer. The film grossed triple the measly $500,000 budget and saw production company American International Pictures finance many other classic horror stories with a black spin on them, most notably: Blackenstein (1973), Abby (1974) and Dr Black, Mr Hyde (1976).

However, Roger Corman led, American International Pictures, knew that another Blacula movie had the potential to reap far greater rewards than the other horror imitations they had in the works, but they had to act fast to keep the audience’s memories fresh and avoid seeing the current horror trend slip away.

Great credit should be awarded to AIP as they approached Scream Blacula Scream in a far more methodical manner than with the first installment of the franchise. They took the opportunity to hire a more experienced director in Bob Kelljan and capitalised on teh new up and coming talent of Pam Grier, casting her as Lisa Fortier, a character who would offer Blacula salvation, yet be his eventual downfall.

The film begins like all Dracula sequels, with the revival of the dark prince, although by rather  amusing circumstances. Blacula is revived by the disgruntled Voodoo practitioner Willis Daniels, who aims to use Blacula to destroy his rival Lisa Fortier (Grier). However he resurrects Blacula  with the blood of a bird and not that of a human sacrifice, like what we see in the first Dracula Hammer sequel Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966). Whetehr this was chosen for budgetary reasons or comic effect, it certainly achieves the latter.

Once alive once more, Blacula goes on the obligatory killing spree to prolong his tortured existence, starting with the weak minded  Willis, who will become his first undead follower. Blacula stumbles through the early scenes of the movie picking off victims to add to his undead army in his newly acquired home, that of Willis.

Blacula is once again halted by beauty, like in the original film, when he comes across Lisa and her husband, who conveniently collects ancient African artifacts, among which is the necklace of Mamuwalde’s former love Luvu.

Blacula  befriends the couple as he continues his rampage through the city. The similarities of death of those murdered raises suspicions in the police force, which calls for Lisa’s husband to come out of some kind of bizarre premature retirement to track down the killer.

As Lisa’s husband searches for the killer and follows the trail of corpses, which seem to disappear after death, Blacula builds his relationship with Lisa and discovers that she could be the key to his salvation, due to her mastery of the dark art of voodoo. This is in fact where Scream Blacula Scream succeeds where the original Blacula failed, the constant crosscutting between the murder investigations and Blacula and Lisa’s relationship, creates palpable tension and keeps us engaged in the story. This coupled with the far improved combat scenes and cinematography, makes the opening two acts very watchable.

The trail of bodies of course lead closer and closer to the mysterious Mamuwalde, causing Lisa’s husband to become suspicious of the large cape and pointy teeth of their new friend. His suspicions unfortunately fall on deaf ears of the white police chief, who represents the ever present ‘whitey’ character in Blaxploitation films, a powerful, brash and insensitive figure, too dumb to see what the hero has to offer them.

As the walls begin to close in on Mamuwalde he must take the chance to free himself from his dark path and return to normal noble life in his native Africa. The key to his salvation is held by the reluctant Lisa, who eventually agrees to attempt to save his sole. What follows is the best scene in the movie, with a voodoo ritual in a small room of Blacula’s stronghold between Lisa and Blacula, as the police break in and put Dracula’s followers to a second death.

The psychedelic ritual with blurs, quick camera movements and drug taking like reactions of Lisa and Mamuwalde, is cut with the war going on downstairs between the police and the undead followers of Blacula. Both elements of the scene work exceptionally, along with the rhythmic pounding music. As the ritual goes further, the reactions of Mamuwalde become more and more extreme, orgasmic, lucid, until failure, as Lisa’s husband bursts in having defeated all of the followers. This is bittersweet, we sympathise with Blacula as he is trying to escape his forced affliction, yet his destruction must come, due to his horrific actions, he seems more like the floored figure of Frankenstein here or Lenny from Of Mice and Men.

Blacula tosses Lisa’s husband aside as he tries to make a desperate last stand and escape with his treasure, Lisa. Blacula’s continued violence breaks Lisa out of his grip and brings her back to reality, she must protect her loved ones. Lisa makes her choice to remain and thwart him to the dismay of Blacula, who cannot bring himself to harm her, although he knows that she possesses the power to kill him.

The vicious lust for killing and survival of Blacula is finally brought to an eternal end with an arrow through the heart of his voodoo doll. Lisa releases Mamuwalde by bringing his killing blow both physically and spiritually, but cannot give him a real life, for which he had yearned.

Scream Blacula Scream defies the unwritten rule, especially of horror films, that the sequel is always worse than the original. The second installment of Blacula is polished an nuanced, as much as the ridiculous nature of it’s premise will allow. The direction of Kelljan and performance of Grier give the sequel new life, far better staging and cinematography and an engaging screen play. Blacula has remained dead and at rest since 1973, going out with a solid horror entry and one of the most memorable of the Blaxploitation movement.

 

Rating: 6/10

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