Thursday, February 6, 2014


Bob Kelljan, 1973
Starring: William H. MarshallPam GrierDon MitchellMichael Conrad,Lynne Moody

“Your only justification for crawling on this earth is to serve me.”

When Lisa, a Voodoo priestess, is elected to replace the recently dead Voodoo queen, the queen’s less talented son, Willis, vows revenge. He gets a hold of the bones of the vampire Mamuwalde and revives him. Mamuwalde responds by biting Willis and turning him into a subordinate member of the undead.  Soon there are other murders as Mamuwalde and Willis begin to feast on the locals.

Mamuwalde meets Justin, a police officer who is investigating the strange murders, and his girlfriend Lisa. He learns that she is a voodoo priestess and wants her to perform an exorcism to drive out his vampiric nature and effectively cure him. She reluctantly agrees and creates a voodoo doll, but will her ritual work before Justin and the police close in on Mamuwalde?

American International Pictures followed up the success of Blacula with this sequel. I enjoy AIP’s other horror sequel efforts from the same period, such as The Return of Count Yorga and Dr. Phibes Rises Again. Scream Blacula Scream fits nicely in with this group, as it’s formulaic and tries a bit too hard, but is fun and interesting overall and will please fans of B-grade vampire films.

Director Bob Kelljan, who helmed Count Yorga, Vampire and its sequel takes the reigns here and makes a concerted effort not to have this be a direct repeat of Blacula. The first film is referenced in flashback sequences early on and Mamuwalde mentions his long-dead wife, the Princess Luva. The script steers away from the romance of the first film and makes Mamuwalde more violent and terrifying, but ultimately still a tragic figure.

Likely due to Kelljan's involvement, there are some definite similarities between Scream Black Scream and the Count Yorga films. In some ways, both Blacula films were an attempt to follow the Yorga formula, replacing a European vampire with an African one. Mamuwalde and Yorga are similarly charismatic, aristocratic, and romantic. There are even some overlapping scenes, such as when a female vampire rises unexpectedly from a coffin and the concluding showdown at the vampires’ mansions.

Scream Blacula Scream is quite campy, probably more so than its predecessor, with even more instances of ridiculous jive talk and a wince-inducing scene where the two heroes figure out that a vampire is responsible for recent deaths. This is balanced with a decent number of scares and some spooky set pieces. One of my favorite scenes involves Mamuwalde sneaking up on a victim because she can't see his reflection in a mirror.

The script is more promising than many '70s horror sequels, but fails to execute some of the great ideas it introduces. Primarily there is the issue that Scream Blacula Scream begins as a revenge film when voodoo practitioner Willis raises Mamuwalde from the dead to get vengeance against the cult that failed to name him his mother's successor. This goes absolutely nowhere and it would have been interesting to see the further development of that concept.

Similarly, Pam Grier's Lisa is wasted. She is supposed to be a powerful voodoo priestess, but, except for the conclusion, this idea is basically neglected. Grier is largely kept to the sidelines of the film, a major mistake, though we are fortunately spared the romantic pairing of Lisa and Mamuwalde. Her big hit, Coffy, was also produced by American International Pictures, and it seems strange that they didn't insist on a more substantial, interesting role for her.

There are some lousy effects and a few scenes where we see Marshall's reflection in a mirror or windows, even though there's an important scene early on establishing that vampires don't have reflections. Scream Blacula Scream is an absurd title that the film mostly manages to overcome, particularly when you consider that it was almost known as Blacula is Beautiful.

William Marshall (Blacula, Abby) returns as Mamuwalde and is once again great in the lead role. He's thoroughly compelling, elevating the film to a level of seriousness that it would otherwise lack. Mamuwalde himself has less to do in this film other than the contradictory desires to create new vampires and to cure himself of his affliction, but Marhsall is so watchable that this hardly matters. It’s a shame he didn’t start in more horror films. There are some good supporting performances from Don Mitchell (Ironside), Michael Conrad (Hill Street Blues), and Janee Michelle (The House on Skull Mountain).

Scream Blacula Scream comes recommended to fans of Blacula and other ‘70s AIP movies or vampire films. It’s out on double-feature DVD with Blacula and a few special features.

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