Written by: Joan Torres & Raymond Koenig (screenplay, story) and Maurice Jules (screenplay)
Directed by: Bob Kelljan
Starring: William Marshall, Don Mitchell and Pam Grier
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“I'm sorry, I don't have any 'bread' on me, and as for 'kicking my ass' I'd strongly suggest you give it careful consideration before trying."
AIP’s follow-up to their first blaxploitation-horror hit seems like an even bigger slam dunk than its predecessor because the only thing cooler than William Marshall’s ultra-suave Blacula would be to pair him with budding star Pam Grier. Since Blacula’s love interest literally bit the dust in the first film, Scream Blacula Scream needed a female component, so Grier was the obvious fit, having already survived stints in women’s prisons for exploitation master Jack Hill. Tackling the undead probably seemed tame by comparison, especially since she brought along a fistful of voodoo to do battle against the dark prince of darkness.
She’s armed with such mystical powers because Scream Blacula Scream would have you believe that 1970s L.A. was populated by voodoo cults (which would be difficult to believe if we weren’t talking about 1970s L.A.) Anyway, Lisa Fortier (Grier) becomes heir to a voodoo throne when a cult queen dies, much to the dismay of Willis (Richard Lawson), her true successor. A scorned former shaman feels Willis’s rage and generously donates a solution in the form of Mamuwalde’s bones, which are used to resurrect Blacula. Before Willis can even finish off his can of Coors, Mamuwalde stalks through the mansion, turns his summoner into a vampire, and begins hatching a scheme that apparently involves forming a vampire horde and discussing ancient African art with Lisa.
The original Blacula was a perfect fusion of horror and blaxploitation, and this follow-up is fairly solid in that respect, though I’d say it leans heavily towards just being a classical horror film since it’s mostly stuffed up in a huge, gothic mansion and full of voodoo juju. An opening sequence feels like it could have been culled from a typical AIP or Hammer film from the same era, as a couple of soon-to-be victims skulk around the house (for what feels like twenty minutes) before finally being devoured. That said, Scream Blacula Scream looks and feels like a blaxploitation movie whenever Mamuwalde leaves his house, whether it be for a gratuitous (and gratuitously funky, much to the dismay of two white patrons) party sequence or for a stroll down the streets of L.A. The latter sequence is arguably the most fun to be found in either Blacula movie, as Mamuwalde encounters a couple of street pimps, whom he dares to kick his “black ass,” an exchange that ends with a couple of carved jive turkeys.
The cult stuff lends itself to a structure that’s similar to other blaxploitation pieces, as it subtly riffs on the gang warfare that often played out in those films. As you might expect, there’s a cop caught in between--sort of. Don Mitchell actually plays an ex-cop now turned art collector who gets caught up in this mess and eventually assumes the Van Helsing mantle, right down his wielding of crossbows in the climactic sequence that sees him storm Blacula’s manor--all that’s missing are torch (or Molotov cocktail?) bearing villagers. Oddly enough, Mitchell spends much of the time having to convince people that there’s a vampire running wild, a fact that you’d think would be common knowledge considering Blacula once roasted himself in full view of police officers. Even some of the voodoo cultists are a little skeptical, which would make sense if they didn’t believe in things like voodoo dolls. In a lot of ways, Scream Blacula Scream feels like it should be the first movie in the series for all of these reasons; even the stuff with Mamuwalde in L.A. feels like fish out of water material that you’d expect from his first outing.
Because of this, the sequel is a little bit more sluggish than the original since it gets bogged down in redundant material. Marshall is at least still at the top of his game, as Blacula has become even more smooth and confident. He’s much less of a tragically, Romantic figure this time, even though he eventually enlists Lisa’s services to rid himself of his curse (which is completely at odds with his raising of a vampire army, but that’s completely forgivable since climatic battle involves plenty of vampires getting blown to hell). Lisa ends up being more of a distressed damsel than you might expect with Grier in the role; she’s now known as the blaxploitation queen (and arguably the first female action star), but Grier was just on the cusp of playing all of those tough, bold female ass-kickers here (one of her defining films, Coffy, would also be released in ‘73). So there’s a bit of a different dynamic than you might expect; Grier of course holds her own, but it ends up being her on-screen beau (Mitchell) that ends up being Blacula’s foe for much of the film. Besides, Grier has her hands full with her own antagonist, Willis, though he’s the sort of goofball that’s difficult to take seriously, especially when he laments how he won’t be able to properly groom himself since he no longer casts a reflection as a vampire (that does bring up a good point, though--how are these guys always so suave?)
Scream Blacula Scream is also just as apolitical as the first film, even though Mamuwalde’s encounter with the pimps does include some off-hand dialogue about how these two guys have just managed to enslave their black sisters through prostitution (never mind the fact that Blacula himself directly refers to Willis as his slave, so I guess you can add hypocrisy to his list of flaws, which includes bloodsucking and homicidal tendencies). This sequel is maybe just hair off from Blacula as a whole; some stretches drag, so much so that the mere appearance of a young Craig T. Nelson is noteworthy. But it’s rather fun and gory enough to hold your attention when it wants to, though the film unfortunately peters out at a climax that doesn’t come close in rivaling the splattery theatricality of Blacula’s first send-off. In fact, I’m not sure this movie ends so much as it just freeze frames and shuttles us to the credits as quickly as possible.
The other big disappointment isn’t the film’s fault, but rather, AIP’s who apparently produced this under the title Blacula is Beautiful before settling on the generic and somewhat non-sensible moniker, though Blacula does indeed scream (so withhold any frivolous lawsuits). But, as I am fairly certain that this is the only place to see Pam Grier face off with a vampire (while using voodoo powers!), it’s required viewing for the blaxploitation canon. Released not once, but twice in MGM’s Soul Cinema DVD line, Scream Blacula Scream can be found both on a standalone disc and packaged alongside the first one. You’ll obviously want to go with the latter (since it’ll cost you about the same anyway), where you’ll find a fine transfer and an adequate mono soundtrack, with a trailer as the lone supplement. AIP might not have gone with the original title, but this sequel proves that Blacula can still be beautiful…though it helps to have Pam Grier around. Buy it!
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