Exploitation Videos 12

published in Video Age, June 1986, Melbourne

The name says it all: Blackenstein. Made in the early '70s and just released on video to cash in on the recent Frankenstein mini-boom (The Bride, Frankenstein 90, Frankenweenie, etc), Blackenstein is about as uncontemporary as you could get right now.

It is, of course, part of that incredible cinematic fusion of racism and liberalism known as "Blaxploitation": pick up a wimpy honky subject and funk it up with loud slang and even louder clothes. The current re-release of Blackenstein on video gives good cause not to sift through the Frankenstein mythology, but instead to check out some truly "black" horror.

The Blaxploitation genre was/is largely concerned with action, crime and violence in modern urban settings, centering on sexy macho figures like Shaft and Cleopatra Jones. Unfortunately, the Blaxploitation excursions into horror appear to have been few. Blacula [1972] was the first major success. Hot on the heels of that decade's revival of all manner and form of Gothic horror via Technicolor, Blacula took the hip "now" feel of films like Dracula A.D. (1972) one step further by making Drac black.

This vampire's sideburns are more powerful than his fangs! Both Blacula and its sequel, Scream, Blacula! Scream! (1973), mercilessly parodied the vampire film and ended up creating their own peculiar sub-genre based on satire (of bigotry, liberalism and hipness) and sex (from afros to jumpsuits to discotheques).

Blackenstein [1973] opted to forget all recourse to comedy and satire — and in turn ends up with the most laughs! Plot: foxy lady gets honky professor (her old science teacher at university) to fix up her limbless dude lover (just back from 'Nam minus his arms and legs).

Filmed on a noodle of a budget, Blackenstein is actually 30 minutes of film stretched out three times further than it should have been. This feat matches that of the doctor who gives our hero a pile of new limbs — along with some switched drugs courtesy of a jealous black "Igor" character — which allow him to walk around late at night and mince up some honkies.He rips off limbs, presumably in revenge, and plays pasta with the entrails of other victims. And it's all there on video, unlike the television prints of Blaxploitation horror you may have caught on the late night movie.

One film that really must be released on video for this reason is Sugar Hill (1974). The television print was butchered but one can tell that if it was fully intact it would be a bloody mamma of a movie. Sugar Hill revives (in more ways than one) the black cultural heritage of the horror genre: the zombie.

The film is a get-down, up-town reworking of the original zombie films like White Zombie, I Walked With A Zombie and The Zombies of Mara-Tau. All the folk-lore, legends and rituals are there, but this time evoked by a foxy voodoo chick who exacts revenge upon the white mafia (headed by Robert Quarry of Count Yorga fame) who killed her hunky lover. These zombies are real scary, with bulging metallic eyes and caved-in bodies covered with cobwebs. And wait until you see the cool threads of detective Valentine who heads the investigation into the ritual slayings.

The voodoo theme is also utilised in a film with the unforgettable title of Voodoo Black Exorcist [date unknown] — and wouldn't you know, it's Italian! Imagine a mixture of The Mummy, The Exorcist and The Love Boat! An ancient voodoo mummy is transported back to civilisation by ship. Awakened by incantations, it knocks off everyone on the ship, one by one. Totally unbelievable and totally over the top, Voodoo Black Exorcist does have a believable title!

Finally (although there are, no doubt, quite a few more Blaxploitation horror hidden away somewhere), Abby (1974) is a more proper and direct rip-off of The Exorcist. It joins the ranks of Behind The Door, Ruby and House of Exorcism (also known as Lisa And The Devil) except this time featuring a beautiful black woman in place of the innocent nubile white.

Well, times change and Blaxploitation has ended up having no place in the black pride movement. Even though their comic-book heroes were so successful (important, even), they probably started to embarrass blacks after a while.

10 years on, though, us honky gore hounds can still obtain a little illicit pleasure and enjoyment from their dated hipness and coolness. And for those of us with giant gold earring fetishes … what more can I say?

Text © Philip Brophy 1986. Images © respective copyright holders