The Bottom Shelf: Dracula, Blacula, and Troma on Demand

What new horrors await us on DVD this month? Well, lots of bloodsuckers, for starters...

As the old Simpsons quote goes, there are only three real monsters, kid: Dracula, Blacula and Son of Kong. Sadly, giant gorilla junior doesn’t make an appearance this month though we’ve at least got the first two categories covered.

Leading the way with aplomb, our friend Blacula finally graces this young blog with not one but two classics released on Blu-ray and DVD as a complete collection. In case you’re not familiar with this wonderful splicing of seventies Blaxploitation and gothic horror (shame on you if so), the tale of undead African prince Mamuwalde and his ongoing struggle with both his own bloodlust and pesky locals trying to stake him through the heart is both surprisingly well-made and massively enjoyable. Oh, and its success also led to the subsequent release of Blackenstein, which speaks for itself.

In 1972’s Blacula, the super-smooth William Marshall portrays our African prince, Mamuwalde, who has an unlucky encounter with the blood-sucking (and might I add really quite racist) Count Dracula in eighteenth-century Transylvania, leaving him accursed and causing a problem for residents of modern-day LA. Mamuwalde meets a twentieth century lookalike of his lost love from his former life and you can only imagine the existential crisis he goes through, alongside much chewing of afro-clad necks.

With a brilliantly funky score alongside soul numbers from Gene Page, William Crain’s film, aided infinitely by Marshall’s charismatic turn in the title role, rises above its campy origins and remains a superior (not to mention distinct) entry in the vampire canon. Thankfully, Bob Kelljan’s sequel from the following year, Scream, Blacula Scream, only improves on this formula.

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Returning as our slick anti-hero, William Marshall’s Mamuwalde is summoned by the undeserving heir to a voodoo cult to take revenge on his sister (Pam Grier) for usurping him. Cue scenes with Mamuwalde flirting with partygoers, warning young voodoo fans of the error of their ways and generally being an all-round dude, albeit one who offs the odd scantily-clad lady. The voodoo slant is always good fun and Scream, Blacula, Scream blends it well with some cool verbal sparring and bloody violence for good measure.

Sticking with the fanged malarkey, next up, we have yet more evidence of the demise of Italian master and king of the Giallo movie, Dario Argento. Like his famous fan John Carpenter, Argento’s filmmaking has undergone a drastic decline in standards in recent years; nothing typifies this better than his own terrible take on the vampire mythos, Argento’s Dracula.

So bad it has to be seen, this horrible mess of a movie sees Rutger Hauer demean himself as a shambling Van Helsing, the acclaimed Thomas Kretschmann demean himself as Draccypoos, the director’s daughter Asia (you guessed it) disturbingly demean herself as a needlessly naked villager and, well, you get it. Oh, and an added insult: Claudio Simonetti, of Goblin fame, creates a frankly weird drive-in sci-fi B-movie vibe with a comically bad synth score no-one should have to hear.

With one insanely nonsensical vamp-transformation (vampformation?) that is as poorly executed as it is stupid, the only question remaining is how low the talented creator of Suspiria, Tenebrae and Deep Red can sink.

Slightly more agreeable (though only just) is the Breakfast Club gone-to-hell that is Matthew Spradlin’s Haunting Of Crestview High. Employing the oh-so-subtle technique of casting Judd Nelson from said 80s teen movie as the school’s principal, Spradlin’s film is full of annoyingly smug self-reference that mostly doesn’t work.

As tradition dictates, a cast of clearly twenty to thirty-somethings play high-schoolers in detention at a possibly haunted library (Indian burial ground, don’t you know?) as a weary Ben Browder (Farscape) is the janitor tasked with cleaning up their mess. Some inventive death scenes aside, this excursion into po-mo masturbation is luckily pretty brief.

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We’ll finish with a quick look at what Troma Movies On Demand has to offer, as this month has seen a few older titles newly available to stream and we all know the Toxie logo is a surefire guarantee of ‘quality’, yes?

Although there is hot competition from Guardians Of The Galaxy director James Gunn’s early masterpiece (ahem) Tromeo And Juliet (yes, a fucked-up mutant take on Shakespeare) and the “let’s-all-shag-to-try-and-avert-comet-related-apocalypse” soft-porn sci-fi Deep Contact (which is still much better than Armageddon, by the way), the undoubted Vimeo highlight has to be the glorious Banana Motherfucker.

Sure, Fernando Alle and Pedro Florencio’s blood-spattered Portuguese short may well tell the story of a group of film-makers who discover a breed of brutal killer bananas, but this silliness is carried off extremely well, with some brilliantly funny moments and gratuitously gory banana-chaos to boot. Great references from The Evil Dead to Shivers and Dawn of the Dead abound in what is essentially a convincing advert for a talented filmmaking duo.

Over on Troma’s YouTube channel, freebies include the unbeatable Class Of Nuke ‘Em High (Lloyd Kaufman, director and Troma founder surely deserved an Oscar for this classic) and cheapo Croaked: Frog Monster From Hell, though nothing could be greater than the romantic adventure Yeti: A Gay Love Story.

A heady mix of redneck tentacle people, a bigfoot-worshipping cult and, erm, massive-schlonged gay Yeti sex, Adam Deyoe and Eric Gossellin’s 2006 film is equal parts hilarious, ludicrous and inspired. Worth watching for so many reasons (none of them a reason to be proud), 2015 sees the release of a belated sequel, so we can look forward to even more hot Yeti action to come.

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