Blaxploitation Horror Double Feature: Blacula and Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde
A Blaxploitation double feature of films directed by William Crain will have you looking over your shoulder.
Blacula (William Crain, 1972, 92 min., DCP)
This loose adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula stars William Marshall, famed Shakespearean actor, who brings a powerful gravitas to his role as Prince Mamauwalde, an 18th-century emissary of an African nation seeking the help of Count Dracula to suppress the slave trade. Instead, Dracula reveals himself to be a racist proponent of slavery and transforms the Prince into a vampire, cursing him with the name “Blacula,” and sealing him and his wife Luva (Vonetta McGee) in a coffin buried in a crypt in his Transylvanian castle. Blacula is awakened in contemporary day Los Angeles where he goes on a rampage as he follows a woman he believes to be the reincarnation of Luva.
While it might be tempting to dismiss Blacula as Blaxploitation-era schlock, it is a film rich with allusions and associations—from a critical engagement with the legacies of slavery to the post-Watts Rebellion reckonings of 1970s Los Angeles—while remaining an entertaining genre film. Directed by William Crain, an African American director working within the structural confines of a film industry that permitted limited range for Black representation, Blacula can be seen as a slyly subversive genre film that nonetheless went on to be one of the top grossing films of its time.
Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (William Crain, 1976, 87 min., 16mm)
Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde stars Bernie Casey and Rosalind Cash as two medical doctors researching a cure for cirrhosis and hepatitis, diseases afflicting the poor African American community in Watts, and was directed by William Crain who also received an associate producer credit on the film. Also known as The Watts Monster, Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde reimagines Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in contemporary Los Angeles. With striking cinematography by Tak Fujimoto, featuring a climax at the Watts Towers, Dr. Black draws from Blaxploitation themes while also reappropriating the monster figure as a vehicle for poignant social and political critique.
Introduced by Allyson Nadia Field, associate professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies.