The year is 1790 and Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) is in Transylvania visiting one Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay) with the hopes of securing his signature on a petition he has drawn up to stop the slave trade. However, the evening takes a nasty turn when the previously civilised Count voices his opinion that he sees nothing wrong with slavery, and even says that he would be happy to have Mamuwalde's wife Luva (Vonetta McGee) as a slave. The Prince is outraged, but Dracula has the upper hand and his servants overcome him while he is vampirised to become... Blacula!
Now if you thought Blacula was the bloke out of Quantum Leap and Star Trek: Enterprise, then this blaxploitation horror should set you straight. Scripted by Raymond Koenig and Joan Torres, both of whom had this film's sequel as their only other credit, this low budget shocker started a short-lived fad for chillers with mostly African-American casts, including Blackenstein and Dr Black, Mr Hyde, most of which were sadly impoverished both financially and inspirationally. What Blacula had up its sleeve was a commanding star performance to really make it stand out.
That performance came from much respected theatre actor William Marshall, whose Othello was the stuff of legend. He fared less well on the big screen, however, as with his resonant and sonorous tones and regal air it seemed that producers were unsure of how to cast him. Funnily enough, this made him perfect for the vampire role here and he was by far the highlight of a film that looked as though it had thought up its title before anyone could conjure up a decent script. And the script, as it turned out, had a definite second hand appearance.
Blacula is trapped in a coffin for what Dracula presumes will be forever, but wouldn't you know it, that coffin is transported to Los Angeles by a couple of camp gay antique dealers. Once in their warehouse, they open it up and before long are the bloodsucker's first victims, but if the filmmakers did anything right, it's that they made Mamuwalde far more sympathetic than the typical horror movie villain. This means that once he gets out and about, the anti-hero finds himself regretting this state and pining for his lost love, which in a twist lifted from The Mummy, transpires has been reincarnated.
So Vonetta McGee also plays Tina, who by frankly unbelievable coincidence is noticed by Blacula one night and followed, which is not the kind of behaviour that endears him to her and she runs for it, dropping her purse. After tracking her down through the contents, he persuades her that his intentions were noble, and Marshall manages to be quite touching in his affection for Tina, even to the extent of going to a nightclub with her a few times to hear the Hues Corporation and hang out with her friends (he doesn't strut his stuff on the dancefloor, however: a missed opportunity). Sadly, one of her friends is Dr Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala), a police officer who is determined to uncover the source of the spate of vampirism afflicting the city, and Blacula's nights are numbered. There's a decent notion behind this film, but only the cape-sporting Marshall makes the most of it, that is, it's a little disappointing. Music by Gene Page.