Tuesday, October 07, 2014

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #3: Scream, Blacula, Scream

Whereas ‘Blacula’ is a surprisingly faithful, if not adaptation, then reconsideration of Bram Stoker’s novel, ‘Scream, Blacula, Scream’ jettisons any connection with the source material. And the result is a mixed bag. 

With cursed nobleman and reluctant bloodsucker Mamuwalde (William Marshall) decomposing at the end of the first film courtesy of a self-inflicted vampire/sunlight interface, director Bob Kelljan and no less than three scripters turn to voodoo to resurrect him. The film begins with a dying voodoo matriarch choosing diligent apprentice Lisa (Pam Grier) as her successor over her hot-tempered son Willis (Richard Lawson). Willis responds by acquiring Mamuwalde’s bones, intent on conjuring the vampire as a servant who will do his bidding and help secure what he sees as his rightful heritage. Predictably, this plan goes tits up and it’s Willis who finds himself in servitude to Mamuwalde.

In short order, Mamuwalde puts together a small army of the undead, attends a swinging party hosted by ex-cop and antiques collector Carter (John Mitchell) and meets Lisa. Looking at some African pieces that Carter is curating for a university, Mamuwalde recognises some jewellery that belonged to his long-dead wife Nuva. As with the first film, it is Mamuwalde’s romantic nostalgia for his lost love that humanises him but instead of seeking a surrogate, here he enlists Lisa’s help to lift the curse.

However, nothing in life (or in blaxploitation/horror crossovers) goes to plan, and Carter’s still-on-the-force colleague Lieutenant Dunlop (Michael Conrad) finds himself investigating several suspicious deaths, all with the same MO: puncture marks on the skin, and complete exsanguination. Misreading the face-palmingly obvious clues, he correlates the puncture marks with snakebites and snakes with voodoo and lays a strip for Willis’s pad. And thus the race against time for Lisa to complete the ritual before Dunlop and his boys lay siege.

Except that “race against time” suggests an urgency that ‘Scream, Blacula, Scream’ just doesn’t have. The rivalry for the heirdom of the voodoo clan establishes tension in the pre-credits scene, but Mamuwalde’s immediate dominance of Willis curtails that particular plot thread. Dunlop’s investigation, which counterpoints the main story, is so plodding and shambolic he makes Columbo look like Dirty Harry. And as for said main plot - Mamuwalde’s courtship of Lisa to release him from his curse – there is little dramatic or romantic dynamic in play. Consequently, much of the film consists of unconnected scenes lurching disjointedly towards a fairly small-scale denouement.

On the plus side, Marshall is every bit as commanding as he was in the original and his contemptuous disposal of a couple of jive-ass pimps is a moment to savour. Grier, too, is always worth watching, even though the script gives her a grand total of two pro-active moments, neither of which happen till the last ten minutes. The absolute best element of film, though, is the way it filters voodoo through vampire mythology and manages to play what is frankly a bonkers conceit with utter straight-faced bravado.

‘Scream, Blacula, Scream’ is to be applauded for not simply repeating its predecessor’s one-off concept of taking a timeless classic and putting a specific cultural spin on it; for instead striving towards a narrative and a direction that an entirely its own. Even if it doesn’t quite hold together as tightly ‘Blacula’, it gathers up a small collection of interesting ideas and runs pell-mell with them, even if some of them get dropped along the way.

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