Tuesday, August 7, 2012

WHO WAS THE HIPPEST DRACULA?

Everyone knows the 70's were groovy. Despite the prevoious decade's tragedies of the Tate/La Biana murders and the killing at the Stones' concert at Altamont, to say nothing of the student slayings by cops in early 1970 at Kent State University, people were still looking for kicks in the midst of the maelstrom of political activism. Black Power had been in the forefront of the media for a number of years as cross-cultural barriers had been slowly eroding. Besides music, films were one of the first to relax the long-standing restrictive atmosphere.

On the cusp of the dawning of the disco years, blaxploitation films (movies that starred mostly Afro-Americans) like SHAFT, SUPERFLY, and THEY CALL ME MISTER TIBBS! were being cranked out for viewing by audiences of the black demographic as well as by others attracted by the unrestrained violence, sex, and (sometimes) the very cool soundtracks. For better or worse, these films have endured as a cultural phenomenon and cinema artifact.

In the summer of 1972 the monster movie genre saw the release of the first ever blaxploitation film. BLACULA was the "all-black" parody of the traditional Dracula story. Released by AIP and directed by black filmmaker William Crain, it starred William Marshall as the African Prince Mamuwalde who was bitten by Count Dracula to become a vampire himself. It also featured actress Denise Nicholas in her first film. Miss Nicholas had starred in the 1960's schoolroom comedy-drama ROOM 222. She was married to singer/songwriter Bill Withers for a time.

The reviews for BLACULA ran hot and cold, but it nevertheless was one of the top-grossing movies of the year. It also won the first horror film award at the Saturn Awards. A sequel, SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM, followed in 1973, directed by Bob Kelljan. Kelljan also helmed the two Count Yorga movies. Director Crain made one more blaxploitation horror film, DR. BLACK, MR. HYDE, in 1976.

In the June 1972 issue of PLAYBOY appeared a brief piece announcing the soon-to-be released BLACULA. Readers at the time will remember that, if it was hip at all, it appeared in this magazine.


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