Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Morgue: William Marshall on BLACULA

When you think of hard-hitting journalism, it's unlikely that the words "Junior Scholastic" leap immediately to mind. But this 1972 interview with actor William Marshall is shockingly good, despite its target demographic, subject matter and short word count.

Marhsall spoke to the kid's magazine that year about BLACULA, a PG-rated horror film trying to tap into the so-called Blaxploitation trend. It's a thoughtful interview and Marshall has a lot to say about the role of black filmmakers and their lack of agency in Hollywood. 'There are only films about white situations played by black actors," he says in the interview above. It appears things have changed little for black filmmakers since 1972. If anything, things might even be worse.

The interview ends with a bit of a surprise: Marshall was briefly attached to appear in BLACKENSTEIN (aka BLACK FRANKENSTEIN), released the following year. He wisely chose to appear in SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM, instead. If this interview is evidence of anything, it's that the actor had quite a bit of input into the sequel's plot ... which centered on voodoo.

You can read a transcript of the full interview below.

"Would you believe BLACULA?"
Junior Scolastic, 1972

What has flashing fangs, a long cape, and a name that's almost a household word? Do you need more than one guess? The answer has to be Dracula, everyone's friendly neighborhood vampire.

Maybe you've seen so man movies about Dracula that you feel he's been up to bat once too often. After all, what could be new about vampires? Well, all the horror film fans out there, here's what's new: BLACULA, the first black vampire film ever!

Finding an actor tall, dark, and fearsome enough to play the part of Blacula was no problem. The film-makers took one look at William Marshall - who stands six-foot-six, and has a voice like an organ with all the stops pulled out - and signed him up. It didn't matter that Marshall hadn't made many movies. They knew he could act - after all, he's been doing Broadway and London stage productions of plays by (would you believe?) William Shakespeare.

The Shakespearean actor had some ideas of his own about playing the role. "The vampire role has never been played by a black actor before," he recently told JS, "so I tried to find a way to give it dignity. I talked to the director into starting the film so that I come on screen as an African prince named Mamuwalde. I'm touring Europe back in 1815 to talk European rulers and nobles into an backing anti-slavery drive."

"On my tour, I stop off at Transylvania - as Count Dracula's guest. He kills me and turned me into a vampire, saying: 'I curse you with my name. You will be Blacula. a vampire like myself!'

"In the next scene, it's 1972, and I have traveled to Los Angeles. There I cause a panic in the black ghetto section of Watts. Bit I don't see Blacula a a fiend. He's really as much a victim as those he terrorizes, and in the end he sacrifices himself for love."

Although most of the actors cast in BLACULA are black, Marshall says you can't call it a "black" film. "Believe it or not," he told us, "so far there are no black films. There are only films about white situations played by black actors. A truly black film should deal with black history.

"BUCK AND THE PREACHER (with Sidney Poitier) started to do this by telling of the black's man's search for land out West after the Civil War, but it ended up being just a white man's shoot-'em-up Western in black face. A truly black horror film, I think, should be about black superstitions - perhaps about voodoo or zombies."

It looks like Mr. Marshall will have to wait for that zombie movie. His next film will be called BLACKENSTEIN.

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