Oh now come on, what did you expect? Blaxploitation Horror had to come to Zombie Club some day, and now that day has come. William Crain's Blacula was always a confirmed title for tonight's afro madness, but what should we choose for the second romp? It could have been, and nearly was, zombie slave shenanigans in Sugar Hill, but I watched it one night and actually found it a little too dull and hence it didn't pass the ZC test. Abby, on the other hand, had everything going for it. A Black Exorcist rip-off? Who's not up for something like that? And as luck would have it, the star of the show is Blacula himself, William Marshall. It was meant to be. Isn't Zombie Club just the best…
Tonight's Zombie Club was brought to you by Zomblee in association with some crap levitation.
Plot Like Dracula, but with the 'Dr' swopped for a 'Bl'.
Zomblee Mixing the emerging 70s horror genre with the Blaxpolitation boom, Blacula was the first one of its kind, paving the way for other entries like Sugar Hill, Abby, and of course Scream Blacula Scream!. Made in 1972 and starring our man of the evening, William Marshall, this one opens in Transylvania in 1789, where Prince Mamuwalde (Marshall) visits a certain infamous vampire's castle in Transylvania with his beautiful wife. Upon requesting that local slave labour be abolished, the Count denies his request and instead focuses his rabid attention on Mamuwalde's beloved wife, Luva. A big scrap ensures, and Dracula bites our leading man before shutting him in a coffin, sealing his fate as a blood hungry vampire for eternity.
Almost 200 years later, an incredibly camp gay couple buy Dracula's estate, relocating the contents back to the US, whereupon Marshall emerges as Blacula and proceeds to quench his 200 year old thirst on the inquisitive pair. But soon his bloodlust is eclipsed by all-consuming love when he meets Tina, who bears a strong resemblance to his dead wife from 200 years ago. It's a dating game from here on in, as Blacula attempts to woo Tina on the funky LA club circuit whilst all the while trying conceal his inconvenient identity as a blood sucker. As (bad) luck would have it, Tina's brother-in-law happens to be Dr Thomas from the 'Scientific Investigation Division', and is never too far away, piecing together the evidence which will eventually uncover just why Mamuwalde's facial hair fluctuates so regularly ("He's lost his great sideburns!" - Rawshark). You see, when he's in vampire mode, he gets all hairy and toothy with some truly wicked sideburns, but otherwise he, err, just looks like a black vamp in a groovy cape.
Only in the 70s could a movie like this be made, and everything from the fantastic music ("The bongos make it!" - Jim) to the refreshingly cool animated opening credits sequence ("Wow!" - Rawshark) place it firmly in the decade where all the best films were born. It's actually a really quite touching and tragic love story too, and Marshall carries the whole thing along with a strangely affecting performance as the "one strange dude". Aside from that, it's all quite campy fun with great clothes, big hair, the obligatory 70s darkroom scene, "a diving stake attack" (Jim), as well as an action-packed climax in a chemical plant. The finale is worth waiting for, not only for the sad ending with maggot eyes but also to witness Blacula throwing huge barrels off the ledge, bashing his pursuers senseless. We felt compelled to rewind that bit once the film was finished.
"Look at this. His veins are empty."
Jim Yes, Blacula is quite an eye opener, from the days where you could take the word Black and Dracula and roll it together into Blacula, and that was only ever considered funny. But then, Blacula always gets its own jokes - look out for a scene when two white coppers exchange the lines ”It’s him!” and ”How can you tell? They all look alike!” Early 70s social commentary I admit I was not expecting, but I guess that was what gave birth to blaxploitation in the first place.
And like a lot of blaxploitation, Blacula is barrels of fun from start to finish. After the hooky old castle opening, Blacula awakes in a warehouse that contains loads of boxes with the word “Stampings” stamped on the side (”Looks like someone said ‘put stampings on the boxes’ and someone literally put ‘stampings’ on the boxes!” - Zomblee). He then proceeds to kill some people for lunch before spying and chasing down the girl who looks like his ex-wife – it’s the same actress, see (”Is he going to kiss her or bite her?” - Rawshark) – following her into a hip 70s restaurant (”I have a table reserved… Blacula…” - Zomblee). It’s a shame he had to go get his picture taken, have to track down and kill the photographer and, well, before you know it the end of the film is upon us and we’re at the warehouse scene with the throwing barrels and a load of black extras with white make up on pretending to be the vampire horde. Or was it white extras with black make up on acting like a zombie horde? (”Zombie style white / black vampire attack!” - Rawshark)
Who knows, that bit is a bit of a blur. But I can tell you that tonight the boys were on form and we rolled with it. Rawshark got away with ”He’s got a cross to bear!”, while Zomblee came out with the night’s other groaner, ”No stakes tonight, just lasagne.” Those guys…
”Baby you’d better sit down ‘cause I’ve got something heavy to lay on you.”
Rawshark Yes, make no mis(stake) about it, Blacula is great fun from the off with a great Hammer homage and a jazzy cool animated title sequence before finally settling down in Modern Day as two gay guys negotiate to buy the contents of a Transylvanian castle. Of course, the castle contents include the coffin of Blacula, and it’s only a matter of minutes before the gay interior designers discover said coffin and open it - becoming Blacula buffet in the process.
Now free to roam the world 200 years after he was last awake (he doesn’t seem to weirded out by cars, bars or any of the new other-worldy wonders of 1972), Blacula then spots the doppelganger of his old girlfriend (”Ah, the old ‘re-incarnation of his ex-girlfriend’ trick” - Jim) and so the film settles down into a gory horror love story / cop chase thriller as Dr Gordon Thomas chases down the vampiric ghoul who is kicking off a whole vampire epidemic in his wake.
Actually, William Morris is really rather gentlemanly in his approach to his portrayal of the legendary Stoker creation – although it’s all really obvious that his relationship with his ‘ex’ is doomed from the start. His facial hair changes were also a wonder to see, with Zomblee loving the fact that ”his eyebrows grow into his hairline!”. Nice big sideburns too. On top of that, you also get good burnings, great stair stunts (”A double tumble!” - Jim), a cool chase and fight through a disco club, maggots in eyes and a little dude who looks like a cross between Mickey Rooney and Clint Howard get a hook for a hand – which we all through was rather handy. Slightly derivative yes, but still good un-PC fun.
”We’re going to dig up Billy’s body”.
Director William Crain
Cast William Marshall
Runtime 93 mins
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Plot Like The Exorcist, but with 'The Exorcist' swapped with 'Abby'.
Rawshark Now, it’s one thing to replicate an out of copyright novel such as Dracula, but Warner Brothers really took exception to AIP with their release of Abby coming so soon after Warner’s release of The Exorcist. Watching the film, you can kind of understand their point of view. When Bishop Williams (William Marshall) accidentally releases a sexual demon on an archaeological dig, it doesn’t take long for his daughter-in-law Abby (Carol Speed) to start foaming at the mouth whilst becoming more and more sexually obsessed.
Turning into a sex-fiend at a disco rampage, Abby flirts with and then kills her lover as well as go on to kill other people in the club with her invisible powers, before the final ‘exorcism’ showdown. Yes, it’s all a rip-off, but on the plus side Carol Speed is pretty good in the lead role, swearing and expressing sexual profanities with the conviction of a trooper, and William Marshall gives his Max von Sydow impersonation enough weight to be worthy of mentioning both actors in the same sentence.
The music is pretty good ”Wacka, wacka, wacks…”, but it’s just a shame the story is just too close to The Exorcist (complete with levitations, dual exorcisms etc), as we often found our attention wandering to more important things like Battlestar Galactica and the wacka 70s fashions - ”What do you think of my flares?”
”Goddamn Abby, whatever possessed you to do a thing like that!”
Jim You know, I was never a fan of The Exorcist. Yeah, I know that's almost like blasphemy to say in front of many horror fans, but I just never dug it. It could be because I read the book first and thought the book was amazing, or it just could be that I prefer my cult films to have battle trucks and missile motorcycles in instead of young girls puking and swearing, who knows?
Abby, however, is notThe Exorcist for sure, but it's pretty damn close. It's got the puking, a choking scene that had us bizarrely captivated and William Marshall firing on all cylinders as Rawshark rightly said. It's also got Carol Speed, who has "a good demon face", and a demon voice to match. Plus - and this is the best bit - it's got that guy from Assault on Precinct 13 as her brother (Zomblee I'm sure will be more specific) and Colonel Tai from Battlestar Galactica as her fella - he's the one in the unflattering blue jumpsuit that often said "Raise shields!", remember? ("Assault on Battlestar 13?" - Zomblee).
"Brilliant, Abby's making her way into a nightclub!" said Zomblee at one point, pretty much summing up the kind of movie this is. I even think the final exorcism was in a bar too.
Your mother sucks cocks in hell!"
Zomblee Yeah, amazing isn't it. You wouldn't find a nightclub scene in The Exorcist - I think William Friedkin was wise to leave that idea well alone. In Abby however, it seems perfectly natural. But her family don't think so. In fact they're outraged, because Abby is from a very respectable, religious family. Her father is a Bishop, who has returned from Nigeria, complete with his "exorcism kit" (thanks Jim) to drive the evil spirit out of his daughter, which in turn means her eyebrows won't keep getting really bushy anymore ("Are bushy eyebrows a sign of possession?" - Rawshark).
As Jim has rightly pointed out, Nathan Bishop (Austin Stoker) from Assault on Precinct 13 features here, again playing a cop who also happens to be Abby's brother. Not long after he helps them move house, a entity passes through their now home and from this point forwards she starts acting all weird, even when preparing dinner ("She's cutting that chicken maniacally!" - Jim). But what evil Abby likes best is smut. Yes folks, she's all overcome with burning sexual desire, attempting to fuck nice Russell from the church while not shouting obscenities and generally being very unpleasant company.
Released in '74, this is a shameless Exorcist rip-off, which is totally fine with us here at ZC. Instead of a white family, they're black, and instead of archeological trips to Iraq, it's Nigeria. And so it continues - virtually every scene is re-hashed and given the William Girdler (who later made The Manitou) treatment, and it's so much fun. Better fun than The Exorcist, that's for sure. I'm not surprised Warner Bros sued American International though; how they thought they could away with this is anyone's guess.
"Some strange things have been happening to Abby."
Director William Girdler
Cast William Marshall
Runtime 89 mins
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While there is no doubt as to the sheer fun of blaxploitation movies, it's a genre which for various obvious reasons, couldn't stay with us. But thank heavens for the 1970s (a sentiment often repeated here at ZC!), the decade in which they flourished, because these movies could not get past planning stage today. What we're left with is a bunch of big haired and tighter trousered funky adventures, shamelessly affirming stereotypes with pimp hats and plenty of attitude. We love it.
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