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Blaxploitation Cinema

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William Marshall in 'Blacula', 1972. Courtesy AIP/Photofest.

The writers and directors of Blaxploitation films, perhaps tiring of urban crime stories and looking to expand the breadth of the emerging genre, found a wealth of adaptable material in the realm of horror films. Blaxploitation horror films, set primarily in urban ghettoes and consisting of all-African American casts, enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the mid-1970s. While perhaps nothing more than a footnote in the wider scheme of film history, these movies form an essential component of the 1970s Blaxploitation craze.

1972's Blacula is often cited as the first Blaxploitation horror film. The movie tells the story of an African prince who is turned into a vampire in the 18th century, locked into a coffin for 200 years, and brought to 1970s Los Angeles, where he terrorizes an unsuspecting populace. Though campy in the extreme, Blacula received a number of positive reviews and was followed the next year by Scream Blacula Scream.

The success of Blacula led to further exploration of the Blaxploitation horror subgenre. 1973 saw the release of Blackenstein, a weakly-reviewed film loosely based on the tale of Frankenstein's monster. In 1974, the demon-possession thriller Abby was released in theaters for a short time, until Warner Bros. sued the producers for copyright infringement of The Exorcist. Finally, toward the end of the genre's life in 1976, Blacula director William Crain released Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde, an update of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story, now set in Watts, Los Angeles. The film fared poorly and was one of the last Blaxploitation horror films produced during this period.

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