Monday, 18 March 2013

Blacula AKA Did That Nigga Just Bite Me?

Remember the seventies? I certainly don't but I know a lot of people my age who act like they think they do.  What with Dark Side Of The Moon coming out in '73, tons of great movies such as Star Wars and The Godfather and the rise of the hippie (which has now mutated into this annoying creature called a hipster) and use of marijuana being key elements of the era. The thing is that these folk tend to avoid three things in particular. The Vietnam War, disco and blaxploitation. To them, 'Nam's only interesting if you're looking at movies that are based on the horrors it brought out and disco's deader than Nixon's reputation in '74. Blaxploitation, on the other hand, is a trickier beast. It's hard to say if there is an interest or not in this genre, but if it did, it would be somewhat difficult to assemble a collection from scratch. See, it's not as readily available to us young cats as it used to be. That's not to say you can't find the popular entries, but those that are more unknown tend to be hidden underneath a bargain bin at a local video store. Notice that I said "local video store", not a fancy-smancy Blockbuster down the street. Either way, video stores are a dying breed, especially the ones run by more independent folk. I happened to stumble across the last one in my vicinity which was having a clear out sale. Looking for some interesting entertainment, I came across Blacula, an entry that is neither oblivious to the public nor widely recognized. I knew that this would be decent entertainment because it sounded ridiculous, so I took it (along with a few other DVDs) and went my merry way.

Now, one must remember that if they're going to watch a blaxploitation film, they need to be in a particular mindset to truly enjoy it. These films may contain:

- Funk and soul music
- Cheesy as hell effects and choreography
- Use of the N-word
- Erotic undertones
- Erotic overtones
- Jive talk
- Ignorant white men being taken down and/or white people becoming doormats

So if you honkeys can't handle this groove, then y'all better split now. Let's get to the down and dirty. 

"Hmm, I wonder what the blood of a negro tastes like..."

The movie starts with an African prince named Mamuwalde (played by the Z-list version of Billy D. Williams, Williams H. Marshall) and his wife Luva (played by the saucy Vonetta McGee) speaking to the vampire king himself, Count Dracula. Mamuwalde is speaking to the Count about the slave trade and how he wants him to maybe cut back on suppressing the lives of his people. You tend to notice that Mamuwalde's one sophisticated smooth-talking negro. Every word he says sounds so resonant and relaxed, you can't help but be hypnotized by what he has to say. Being that the Count is not only a blood sucking pale-faced monster and a vampire, he's not going to follow through with Mamuwalde's proposal and decides to bite him on the neck. Because that's really the only thing vampires can do, make idle chit-chat and suck your blood. He curses Mamuwalde that he will rest in one of his tombs and carry on with the Count's legacy, as the eponymous Blacula when released. As for his wife? Well she gets to cry around his locked coffin for the rest of her life until she withers away. Delightful. 

Afterwards we get some intriguing animated opening credits and we cut to 1972, where two gay interior decorators decide to take Dracula's estate and coincidentally take Blacula's coffin with them to a L.A warehouse. They talk about how gay they are because that's all gay people did in the 70s and then they open the coffin one of them wants to use as a bed for their horror themed house. I guess black is the new pink. As expected Mamuwalde (who we will now deem Blacula) attacks the two and retreats back in his coffin because what else is he gonna do after biting two interior decorators? We focus on the black interior decorator whose friends have come to see the body. His friends, Tina Williams (another role that Vonetta had in this film), her sister Michelle (oddly enough played a civil rights activist named Denise Nicholas) and Michelle's boyfriend Dr. Gordon Thomas (played by a recurring blaxploitation actor Thalmus Rasulala) are unaware that they're being spied on by Blacula. Dr. Gordon (no, not that one) stays in the room and continues to pester the curator of the tomb about the details concerning the corpse of his friend. So much so, the curator calls Gordon a "rude nigger" in a way that mirrored Geoffrey sans the dry wit. Blacula believes that Tina is a reincarnation of his wife Luva, and since he hasn't gotten his groove on since the 18th century, he decided to get in on that by following her. 

As you'd imagine, following a woman in the dark isn't really the best way to get her to think you're a nice guy so naturally she dashes like mad to her apartment dropping her purse. Of course, Blacula manages to get it and gives it to her, after biting a cab driver that ran him over and off the trail. To assure that he can win her over, he uses his normal name when introducing himself to her. With his charismatic demeanor, Tina invites Blacula over to meet up with her friends at a club. Again, you begin to notice the sheer wonder of Williams' acting as Blacula. As he talks to Tina and her friends in the club, you can just tell he's calculating carefully what he wants to say to draw her in. Luckily for Blacula, he managed to do just that. Tina just seems to be mesmerized by what he has to say, and it certainly helps that he looks like a boss nigger. As they're all having a good time and drinking champagne, a girl starts to take pictures of them. This doesn't please ol' Vlad Blacul too much because he doesn't show up on the pictures. So he tells the lady that it would be appreciated if she did not develop those pictures so that panic does not ensue amongst th-I'm just kidding, he sucks her blood and crumples one of the developed pictures so that no one will know about his secret. 

And they say that he's the monster...

Now, this is actually quite clever of the movie of having Blacula not necessarily be a monster for the sake of "Ooh, I'm a vampire!" but rather eliminating people that will obstruct his path of rekindling the love that he has for his wife. It shows that he's not letting the inner nature of maliciousness that comes with being a vampire get the better of him. If anything, he's just using his newfound abilities as a tool to get to his primary human goal of finding passion once again. It is a bit peculiar that Tina just accepts that he's a vampire once he reveals that to her, but they did have sex, so I suppose Mamuwalde's ancient experience in the love-making makes up for it.

While all of this ooey-gooey romance is happening, Dr. Gordon is investigating the death of the interior decorators using all the information he can get from the LAPD. He notices that there have been more cases of the "teeth marks inside of the neck" and "empty blood vessels" occurring around the area and notices that there's a connection. He keeps trying to investigate, trying to come to a more reasonable conclusion than "Hey, I think we're being attacked by vampires". But after realizing that his friend's corpse has disappeared, it doesn't seem that crazy after. To be sure though, he convinces his girlfriend to assist him in digging up the other interior decorator's grave. Sure enough, once they open the coffin, Cracker McGee is a vampire. Dr. Gordon shoves a stake into his heart and then realizes that he's right on the level of batshit insane these cases have been. To prove to his boss that vampires are a threat, he thaws out the corpse of the cab driver and then blasts the sun on her before either of them get attacked. His boss realizes that it's best  to guard the city at night, but Gordon needs to find who's the source of all this mayhem. Sure enough, he finds out that it's Mamuwalde. I'm not sure what gave him that idea...was it the negative that he found in the house of the lady that was attacked that showed him not being there or Mamuwalde wearing a goddamn cape? 

I think the make-up artist thought this was Night Of The Living Niggas

Dr. Gordon confronts Tina about this and gives Michelle a cross so that she can protect herself and Tina from when Blacula returns. Gordon, his boss and some cops try to go to the warehouse to confront Blacula, but surprise! Turns out that he not only moved his coffin somewhere else but also trapped them with a whole bunch of vampires. On the one hand, this is quite cruel of Blacula to just have them killed instead of finding a more diplomatic manner of making sure that he can keep his love and his life. On the other hand, Dr. Gordon just seems to kill vampires willy-nilly so it's a respectable precaution. Blacula manages to fly away and take Tina into his new lair, where eventually Dr. Gordon and the Cracker Cop Clan follow suit. Blacula disposes of each of the cops one by one as he tries to get to his coffin. Unfortunately for him, one of the cops shoots Tina instead of him, which prompts him to turn her into a vampire. This makes sense in the idea that when you become a vampire, you lose touch with your humanity, which in turn means that he sees it as difficult to maintain his relationship with her if she no longer has a grasp of the love that they have. Dr. Gordon gets to his coffin and prepares to jab a nice wooden stick into some Blacula heart. Only that's not Blacula...that's Vampire Tina. 

I'll kill a bunch of cops, but I sure as hell ain't fucking a corpse.

Heartbroken by the loss of his love, Blacula decides that the only thing he can do is drag himself up to the sunlight to kill himself, possibly reuniting himself with her in the afterlife. It ends with his rotting maggot-infested corpse, which is fitting for the horror aspect, but not so much to the actual substance of the film. I will say that it looked pretty damn real. 

Many critics seem to hate on this film because it's not scary and basically slaps the black culture into a well-known tale, but I don't think one should honestly expect chills from a film called Blacula. It may have its insertions of funk and soul, but its much less about the blaxploitation bit than it is about Mamuwalde getting back the old flame that he lost. I will admit that the relationship wasn't fleshed out enough, but I can't expect such grandure from a film with what appears to be a shoestring budget. Plus it made a considerable attempt to create an interesting human-vampire dynamic, showing that as long as a human can control themselves from the urges that comes with being a vampire, they can be very nice. At the very least, one should enjoy the 70s tint that gives way to awkward fighting and bizarre humor along with the performance of Williams Marshall. Quite honestly, it's a damn shame that he hasn't been on-screen more, aside from being the King of Cartoons. The world can never have enough of the pontificating baritone badass, and he fit that title perfectly. So I say check it out, it's certainly one of the easier blaxploitation films to find. 

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Death Of Hugo Chavez

This was a day that I knew I would come some time in my life. It was a day that I figured would mean great change for Venezuela and that it would pave the way towards progress. Now that it's here, that glimmer seems to have faded away along with the fervency of my hatred I had for the ex-president. It has been a weird 17 years slowly understanding how exactly to shape my opinion on this man. I've chirped here and there about how I don't favor him, but I've always seemed to talk about him in a light that has been more passionate and emotional. It's no surprise that this would happen though as it certainly is something that greatly impacts me as a person. Just because I no longer live there doesn't mean that I don't worry about what happens to close friends and family members. At the same time, I have learned more about what exactly it is that the man has done, and while I can't lean towards neutrality let alone like him, I can at least understand why others would. So, I'd like to tell you from all that I've read about, endured and understood, the impact that Chavez has had in his years.

Chavez was born in 1954 and joined the Military Academy in 1971. He participated in the 1992 coup d'état to overthrow Carlos Andrés Pérez. While it did not succeed and he did end up being in prison for his involvement in the coup, he had gotten vast amounts of attention for the act. Eventually, he was released and then managed to enter into the 1998 elections. As fate would have it, Chavez won. For the next 14 or so years, Chavez did much to not only stir the nation that he ruled over, but also the world itself. The man was not a quiet creature, when he made speeches, he made them loud. They were filled with intensity and ardor, drawing many people into what he had to say. Not only that, but he always spoke about a revolution that would come by and swoop them off their feet. That's what probably what made him so appealing to the poor. 

Due to the spiritualism in the nation, he's been glorified to nearly a god. Not necessarily because of his speeches, but he has somehow managed to decrease the poverty of the nation substantially from 60% in 1998 to less that 30% in 2008. This has allowed the poor to afford the bare necessities that they require, and as such, has strengthened the bond between the people and the president. Naturally, this bond that he had with the most common of folk allowed him to have more control over the country itself. It basically was the pivotal reason as to why he lasted for so long. He was a powerful televangelist, giving people enough of what they needed and barking better than his bite. This would become very apparent once he finally stood on the world stage. 

In 2006, Chavez stood in front of the UN and vehemently preached about how we must avoid American imperialism. He was a devout critic of George W. Bush, calling him the devil. Some saw him as showing himself as the true revolutionary that he was, standing up to his enemies. Others figured that he was merely a pompous, arrogant hypocrite. As time went on, it became clear that he wanted to establish himself as someone who greatly opposed the ideologies and policies that were being established in the US. He constantly shook hands with America's rivals such as Castro, Gaddafi and Ahmadinejad, strengthening the ties between their countries. Many people seemed to adore Chavez for being vocal against Bush, and various people such as Barbara Walters, Oliver Stone and Sean Penn have gone to subvert this idea that Chavez is not this nasty caricature that is portrayed in the media. I can't be so certain if it was because Chavez had made a great first impression on them or if they simply enjoy someone with an equally adamant dislike for a president that everyone and their mothers wasn't pleased with. Either way, this truly did have an impact on how others viewed Chavez. It wasn't the proper view that one should have, in my opinion, but in some fairness America still had both sides. I will say that it still is weird that I could say that I might have agreed with the right concerning the subject.

One thing that is for certain is that he has made an effort to eliminate opposing voices. Due to the 2002 coup d'état that failed to completely overthrow Chavez, he cracked down powerfully to remove any of this opposition on him. As such, he has gotten a stronger control of the judicial system so that it favors his wishes and has arrested a deal of people in political positions which he has deemed "traitors". The most prominent of his efforts to remove the other side was stopping RCTV from broadcasting. RCTV was a television channel that had been very critical of Chavez, with the occasional mockery here and there done for the sake of political satire. It had also supported the coup, mainly because they believed it was leading towards a more democratic Venezuela. Because of this, Chavez considered them fascists and had made efforts to remove them and put in their place something more appealing to his presidency. As such, on May 28th, 2007, RCTV no longer became a lingering threat, dealing a critical blow to the opposition. That in turn, doesn't signify that liberty of free speech. Without that liberty, it could be safe to say that it was turning into a dictatorship. 

While Venezuela's poverty has managed to lower, the crime rate has continued to soar, with Caracas being one of the most dangerous cities to go to. Even though I've lived there and have not had close encounters with gangs, I do recall hearing gunfire one night outside of my house and an object being hurled at one of my classrooms from afar (most likely a bullet). Not only that, but when passing through the slums in the core of the capital, one could faintly hear the sound of guns flaring off. This has shown how incompetent, corrupt and/or overwhelmed the police are, which does not shine so well to the man who has shown to be a grand change in the nation. Power outages have also reared their ugly heads, making matters even worse to strengthen his case. Perhaps the most peculiar of the problems that Venezuela does face is that the economy has not shown significant improvement with inflation nearing 30%. 

It's sad to say that some of these larger economic problems are not completely at the fault of Chavez. The country's economy is heavily petroleum-centric, as very little else is exported from such. Thus, the price of oil is what controls the economy for the most part. So when the 70s brought the price up due to a siege of OPEC ministers, prosperity arose. With all the money came in, Venezuelans managed to live the good life, being able to buy various objects of desire with veritable ease. The government was equally as frivolous with the money, spreading the wealth to the nation, but not in a way that would benefit it in the future. Arturo Uslar Pietri, a Venezuelan intellect, stated that we should "sembrar el petroleo" which basically meant that the money that we gained from petroleum should be used in investments to break from our oil dependency. Needless to say that did not happen and when the 80s brought the price down, so went Venezuela, which ultimately led to riots. Chavez could at least reference the leaders of before to make himself better suited when compared, yet his more "socialist" policies have not helped lure outside investors that could turn the economy for the better.  

To this day, I still did not like seeing the change that has come about from Chavez's reign. He may have had the key to rouse people to follow his ideas, done some effort to aid those who are struggling in the slums and  shown signs of a revolution that would turn the world around, but his faults do enough to outweigh the hope that he seemed to have promised so much. At the same time, the rage that he had brought me from his decisions has cooled down, now knowing that even before him, issues such as corruption and a failing economy were evident. I do not hold that much hope that the elections will bring forth the president that will at least make a decent effort to fix the glaring problems that face the nation, but I can only wait and see what will happen. Chavez has done a great deal to divide not only the nation that he ruled over, but those outside of Venezuela, which has served nothing more than an annoyance to have to cope with. The only word that I can think of that describes everything the president has done is polarizing. I bid you farewell, Hugo Chavez, so that a new chapter can begin in Venezuelan politics.