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Blacula / Scream Blacula Scream

Shout Factory // PG // March 3, 2015
List Price: $24.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 20, 2015 | E-mail the Author
So, you're looking for a review of Scream Factory's high-def double feature of Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream? I can tell you everything you need to know in one word: "finally". If you're aching for a more long-winded write-up, brace yourself, 'cause here we go...

The charming, charismatic Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) has at least temporarily left his African homeland behind, venturing northward to speak with the European aristocracy about bringing an end to the barbarism of slavery. It's a mission as noble as Mamuwalde himself. Unfortunately for the prince, his first stop on this ambassadorial parade is in Transylvania with Count Dracula. Mamuwalde enters the castle as a free man but is all too quickly enslaved, doomed by the count to an eternity as a ravenous creature of the night. Dracula and his minions lock Mamuwalde in a coffin and close off the chamber, leaving Princess Luva (Vonetta McGee) to slowly starve to death alongside a husband she'd never see again.
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Flash forward a couple hundred years. A holy-shit-way-'70s-interpretation-of-gay couple play Antique Roadshow in Dracula's old stomping grounds, and wouldn't you know it? They fall head over heels for a coffin squirreled away in a secret chamber. What's more profitably camp chic than a coffin yanked straight outta Dracula's castle? Bobby and Billy ship all that stuff to their warehouse in L.A. when an ill-timed booboo and a bolt cutter free Blacula from his eternal slumber. This is the prince's first meal in centuries and his first time ingesting human blood, and Blacula's sure got a taste for it now.

Part of Blacula is a fish-out-of-water story, with an ancient, African vampire trying to navigate through lifeundeath in an unrecognizable American metropolis. One of Blacula's...err, coping mechanisms is to turn every raging asshole he bumps into along the way into an immortal bloodsucker, racking up a body count that can't help but attract the attention of a doggedly determined police pathologist (Thalmus Rasulala). It's also a love story, with Mamuwalde reuniting with the modern day reincarnation of his centuries-dead wife. At the end of the day, this isn't about Blacula reclaiming a position of power or vanquishing his enemies; it's about a man desperate to reunite with a long lost love.

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On basically every possible technical level, Blacula is a disaster, even after grading on an AIP curve. Wonky camera placement, clumsy editing, routinely botched stuntwork, incompetently staged action, cut-rate effects work, woefully ineffective scares drowning in a lungful of flopsweat, dialogue so poorly recorded at times that I can't tell what the hell anyone's saying: it's an underfunded, slapdash, fuck-it-this-is-the-only-take-we're-gonna-get production by people with barely rudimentary skills as filmmakers. At the same time, it's...kind of amazing. Far and away the best thing that Blacula has going for it is Shakespearean actor William Marshall. Rather than sleepwalking through a part so far beneath his talents, Marshall immerses himself into the role of Blacula. He brings so much authority, nobility, and quiet menace to the undead Mamuwalde. Blacula isn't portrayed as a feature-length campy pun but a tragic creature. It was at Marshall's insistence that the prologue revolves around a regal African prince rather than a random bum off the street. With the most evil character in the movie out of the way in its first few minutes, there's no villain in the traditional sense. The social commentary is incorporated more deftly than expected, with the oppression of white authority felt without having it embodied-slash-quadruple underlined in some wildly over-the-top nemesis. Even the closest thing Blacula gets to Van Helsing is a police pathologist who, unconventionally, isn't driven by grief/responsiblity and spends most of the movie being friendly with the vampire he doesn't know he's hunting. The final reel is genuinely fantastic, building to a brutal, tragic conclusion that breaks away from a number of the traditional vampire tropes. The whole thing is strange and ridiculous (marvel at character actor Elisha Cook, Jr. with his inexplicable and entirely unconvincing hook hand!) and stupid and clever and terrible and wonderful. We're talking about a movie that richly deserves its place in Scream Factory's library.

Scream, Blacula, Scream
The loa priest is dead. Long live the loa priest! Whoever that winds up being, anyway. In this corner is Lisa Fortier (Pam Grier), who's universally beloved and is by any measure the most powerful voodoo sorceress in a generation. In the other corner is Willis (Richard Lawson), who...uh, is kind of a dick and just thinks the priesthood is his birthright or whatever. Who's it gonna be? Lisa may have the votes, but Willis has the bones: Blacula's bones! The dark magicks lurking inside Blacula's remains may be enough for Willis to reign supreme as priest, like a pretty low stakes Game of Thrones. It's Willis who brings Blacula back from the dead, but it's Lisa who may hold the key to bring him back to life, potentially freeing him of his vampiric curse forever. All you have to do is slog through an hour and a half of basically nothing and dodge the eight hojillion vampires that are turned along the way.
Scream, Blacula, Scream
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So, yeah, Blacula was such a colossal hit that the legendarily stingy AIP loosened its purse strings at least a little for this sequel. Well, that, or they just hired a cast and crew that could make the most of whatever meager budget they were handed. As far as cinematic craftsmanship goes, Scream, Blacula, Scream is an immeasurably superior effort. The direction is more assured, the camerawork more ambitious, and the production values significantly higher throughout. The acting seems stronger overall as well, but that may just be because Pam Grier -- as underutilized as she is -- can't help but be the most memorable thing about every last scene she's in. While the first Blacula bungled pretty much every attempt at horror, the scares in Scream, Blacula, Scream are surprisingly effective. A sequence with a newly-turned vampire softly cooing from her coffin, bringing a grieving, entranced Lisa within fangs' reach, is more unnerving and more memorable than anything Blacula could be bothered to deliver. William Marshall continues to infuse Blacula with such power and presence that he always feels like a force to be reckoned with.
Scream, Blacula, Scream
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Scream, Blacula, Scream roared into theaters ten short months after Blacula, and I'm gonna guess that polishing the screenplay wasn't high on the list of priorities. Where this sequel flops and flounders is that there's no real urgency to anything that's going on. It doesn't feel like there are any stakes to who claims the mantle of priest. There's no ticking clock. There's no sense that the noose is tightening around anyone's neck. Hell, the investigation into the vampiric murders doesn't begin in earnest until the final half hour. Pam Grier is sort of meekly there until the movie's just about done. There's no real excuse for a movie with a title as mighty as "Scream, Blacula, Scream" to be this boring. The bookends make it all worth it, but too much of what's sandwiched in between is plodding and borderline-unwatchably dull.

Blacula has been making the rounds in HD since at least 2004. I'm not sure if this high-def presentation is culled from the same master used for those Monsters HD airings more than a decade ago or if MGM has given it a fresh scan somewhere along the way. Whenever Blacula last made its jaunt through the telecine bay, the visual end of things is generally okay. Its colors certainly come through really well. Crispness and clarity are reasonably robust, especially when the camera's closed in fairly tightly. Contrast and black levels land right where they oughtta be. There's some mild speckling, but it's nothing that really gets in the way. Still, there's something about Blacula that strikes me as a little bit oily, as if the texture isn't as pronounced and well-defined as it ought to be. Edges and fine object detail sometimes come across as a little fuzzier than I'd expect as well. The AVC encode struggles with reproducing grain, saddling backgrounds with the uneven, clumsily compressed appearance that's been an issue on far too many Scream Factory releases. Despite hitting theaters a year after the first movie, Scream, Blacula, Scream is a very different looking film. The second half of this double feature boasts a considerably coarser, grittier texture, and its duller palette is oriented more heavily around those distinctively '70s brown and dark orange tones. There aren't nearly as many flecks of dust on-screen this time around, and definition seems more consistent. Not jaw-dropping, world-class presentations or whatever but definitely good enough.

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Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream arrive on a single BD-50 disc and have been lightly letterboxed to preserve their theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

Both halves of this double feature are packing 24-bit, monaural DTS-HD Master Audio, and I get the sense that they're pitch-perfect reproductions of the way these movies sounded in theaters more than forty years ago. The problem is...well, the way they sounded in theaters more than forty years ago. The dialogue throughout Blacula can be really poorly recorded, sometimes with reverb so cavernous that the line readings are almost completely unintelligible. It's worst during the prologue, but the same shoddy mic placement rears its head to varying degrees several times throughout the flick. Frequency response is limited, so don't expect any real low-end to that funk-centric score. That handful of sopping-with-reverb sequences aside, Blacula sounds pretty much exactly like I'd expect it to, and the presentation isn't dragged down by any clipping, distortion, dropouts, pops, clicks, or heavy hiss. The more polished Scream, Blacula, Scream fares better still, although some of the screams and more loudly shouted dialogue do show some signs of strain.

Riding shotgun for each movie is a set of optional English (SDH) subtitles. The only other audio option is a Blacula commentary track.

  • Audio Commentary: Easily the best thing about this Blu-ray set -- and that goes for the movies themselves too -- is the newly-recorded commentary track by former DVD Talk reviewer and BadAzz MoFo creator David F. Walker. It's easy to miss since it's inexplicably not listed on the 'Bonus Features' menu, but this commentary is well worth the extra couple of button presses to unearth. Not only does Walker know the movie inside and out -- if there were a Guinness World Record for having watched Blacula more than anyone else, he'd probably have a framed certificate hanging up in his office -- he's also an endlessly engaging and wildly personably presence. It's a conversation that's a hell of a lot of fun while also being genuinely insightful. Walker isn't blind to the generally sloppy craftsmanship behind Blacula as he explores what makes this movie genuinely groundbreaking and noteworthy, such as vampirism as a slavery metaphor and the then-rare portrayal of African nobility. Walker also does a tremendous job placing Blacula in the context of black-oriented cinema, including the wasted talents of actors like William Marshall during these years as well as how a number of Blaxploitation filmmakers cut their teeth in television. This commentary is such an essential and deeply rewarding listen, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

  • Interview with Richard Lawson (13 min.; HD): Blacula's backstabbing henchman takes a look back at Scream, Blacula, Scream, touching on everything from coincidentally having Blacula director William Crain as his landlord at the time to marveling at William Marshall's professorial presence off-camera. The early stretch of the interview is the most interesting, as Lawson delves into being shuffled around in the cast list and speaking more generally about his time on the set. The questions and answers start to feel kind of routine after a while, settling into a blandly comfortable rhythm of "what did you think about ______?" / "oh, _____ was great! I loved ______!"

  • Scream, Blacula, Scream
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  • Photo Galleries (12 min.; HD): Two sets of photo galleries cycle through production stills, lobby cards, newspaper ads, and poster art from across the globe. There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 135 high-res images in all, divided evenly across both movies.

  • Trailers (4 min.): Trailers have been piled on for both Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream. The clip for the sequel is extremely soft and grainy but still reads like high definition. Despite technically being presented in 1080p24, the extreme softness, lack of detail, and interlacing artifacts (!) point to a much lower quality source for the Blacula trailer.

The Final Word
Look, you and I both know that you already have Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream in some online shopping cart somewhere, and you just want me to let you know that you're doing the right thing. You are! Both movies look and sound good enough, and although I sure wouldn't have minded more in the way of extras, David Walker's commentary alone is worth the price of entry. As long as you know what you're getting into, this double feature is absolutely Recommended.
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