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Eureka’s Masters of Cinema are set to follow in the footsteps of last year’s Nosferatu release by bringing another derivative Dracula classic to blu-ray. William Crain’s vampire horror Blacula, released in 1972 at the height of the blaxploitation boom, became an unexpected hit when it was released by the legendary American International Pictures (AIP) during a summer that was dominated by the phenomenal box office success of The Godfather and Deep Throat.
Despite its ludicrous premise and exploitation-style marketing, Blacula was played straight-faced and and starred TV veteran William Marshall as Mamuwalde, an African prince who is bitten by Dracula and sealed in a coffin, only to be revived almost two hundred years later in modern day Los Angeles.
Blacula was one of countless low budget pictures that were rushed into development following the cultural impact of Melvin Van Peebles’ independent drama Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. When Shaft, the story of a hard-nosed detective searching for a missing young girl, began to attract the attention of the mainstream, distributors were eager to capitalise on cinema’s newfound obsession with black culture. Thus, major Hollywood studios purchased any pictures they felt would exploit what the industry had dubbed blaxploitation, and over the next twelve months Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox released their own heavily-marketed thrillers and dramas that followed the cliches of focusing on black drug dealers harassed by crooked white cops.
The scene also helped to launch several careers, with Richard Roundtree, Pam Grier and Fred Williamson becoming box office sensations. Blacula, however, was only a few of the blaxploitation films to explore the horror genre which, in 1972, had lost its commercial appeal. Following its modest success, other horror-themed pictures that were released over the next few years were Ganja & Hess, Sugar Hill and Abby, as well as blaxploitation films based on popular literature such as Blackenstein and Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde.
‘Along with dialogue that is specifically written for hoots and hollers,’ stated Josiah Howard in his retrospective Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide, ‘this box office bonanza includes not one, but two, halt-the-narrative musical performances by the then-popular group The Hues Corporation.’ The success of Blacula would convince AIP to rush a sequel into production and the following year Scream Blacula Scream was released. With Marshall returning to the role of Mamuwalde and a cast that included fellow blaxploitation star Pam Grier, the second Blacula picture explored such themes as voodoo but failed to achieve the success of the first.
‘Scream Blacula Scream was no more rehash. The first film had to concern itself with the business of ‘origin.’ The audience had to see how Blacula was created,’ explained John Kenneth Muir, the author of Horror Films of the 1970s.’ While remaining consistent with the ideas informing its predecessor, Scream Blacula Scream heads for new narrative territory with commendable focus.’ While Blacula has been previously released on VHS and DVD by Fox Searchlight, MGM Home Entertainment and CBS/Fox Video, both movies are set to make their debut on blu-ray from Eureka.Blacula – The Complete Collection will be released as a dual format edition as part of the Masters of Cinema range, the same day as Seijun Suzuki’s 1963 thriller Yajū no seishun (Youth of the Beast).
No special features have been announced as yet, although Eureka have received acclaim in recent years due to the quality of their releases, which have often included remastered prints, exclusive extras and booklets filled with essays and rare on-set stills.
‘Newrestorations and home viewing and Blu-ray premières abound,’ says Ron Benson, the company’s managing director, ‘we continue ourquest to release the very finest in world cinema, using the very bestavailable materials, all with a meticulous attention to detail.’