At a Fork Between Space and Time: Phantasm and Doctor Who

It took me the longest time to realize where Ghostwatch came from.

In Russell T. Davies’ era of Doctor Who, during the time of the Tenth Doctor, the term was used by the British media to refer to the manifestation of strangely humanoid apparitions that appeared everywhere in the 2006 episode “Army of Ghosts.” Of course, these “ghosts” were actually Cybermen from an alternate reality attempting to come into this world: or that of the show itself. What I didn’t know, then, was that “Ghostwatch” was a reference to the BBC 1992 pseudo-documentary that terrified British television watchers everywhere by using their actual media spokespeople and staff to stage an elaborate tongue-and-cheek televised haunting turned bad. 

I could write a lot about Stephen Volk’s Ghostwatch in its own right, as it falls into my whole found footage and epistolary cinematic fiction kick, but it was another reminder of that intersection not just between fantasy and comedy with horror, but science-fiction – especially weird science-fiction – and the horror genre. And when you have something like Doctor Who, a particularly weird science-fiction series running from 1963 and onward, stopping for a time in 1989 and 1996 respectively, only to be resurrected in 2005, it is a bizarre and zany patchwork that has covered a few genres, and stories, and story concepts in its time. I used to talk about this series a lot. Hell, I once spent years at an online magazine covering entire episodes of the show, and speculating on all of its elements before truly digging into the horror genre full time in these latter years. 

And then, one day, I encountered Phantasm.

It wasn’t a direct path. It never is, with me. A lot of my interests, and discussions, result from a series of geeky tangents, kind of like my Horror Doctor Blog: which bears no relation to Doctor Who in any way, just to be clear. But one day, I was on the Angry Video Game Nerd’s channel, and James Rolfe and Mike Matei were playing an unofficial game called Terrordrome: Rise of the Boogeymen: a Mortal Kombat-like simulation where you could fight as your favourite characters. And they were all there, these horror icons from the late seventies to eighties and nineties: Michael Myers, Jason, Freddy, Chucky, Candyman, the different Ghostfaces, goddamn Herbert West, and of course freaking Ash Williams. But there were some others too. I’d only known of Leatherface in passing back when I first watched this, and Pumpkinhead. I had no clue that Maniac Cop was a thing.

And then, I saw him.

I saw this giant of an old man in a formal black suit. And he was strong. Insanely strong. He could use telekinesis as well, but he also summoned creatures that looked mysteriously like Jawas from Star Wars to do his bidding in battle.

And he also summoned silver spheres. 

I had no idea who this gentleman was, and it bothered me. It especially concerned me whenever he got hit and, instead of bleeding red blood, yellow fluid came out of him instead. This wasn’t right. How could I not know who this fascinating, terrifying character was? I read up on him after the fact and saw that he was just called The Tall Man. 

And that was it. But this is where I also found out that there was a horror series called Phantasm: created by the architect of Bubba Ho-Tep – coincidentally one of my favourite films – Don Coscarelli. And yet, this wasn’t enough to get me to watch them, or i didn’t have access to them at the time before I encountered The Last Drive-In, again through James Rolfe and Diana Prince – or Darcy the Mailgirl – and found out there had been an entire Christmas event where most of the films had been shown. 

Why did I watch these films, and hunt down the illusive Phantasm II regardless of being a completionist? It’s because not only did this Tall Man, who as it turns out also inspired the creation of the memetic Slender Man, intrigue me as it looked like an extremely unlikely iconic villain, and one I didn’t know about, it’s that something about him vaguely nagged at my senses like Slender Man would people’s collective nightmares. I had seen him, or something like him, before – and not Angus Scrimm, the actor that portrays him. 

It started with the silver spheres, I know that much now. In 2007, still under Davies’ tenure as showrunner, the Doctor Who episode “The Sound of Drums,” has The Master – The Doctor’s Time Lord archnemesis – working with, or possibly having engineered the Toclafane: a race of silvery sphered aliens that are supposed to help humanity, but actually serve him in decimating it in an event called The Year That Never Was. And, as it turns out, these creatures used to be human beings from a far distant dark future that all but had their brains regressed and changed to fit into their metal carapaces that possess blades capable of cutting many people apart. They are said to also be mostly ruled by their baser instincts, and to attack from those impulses. 

Now, Phantasm watchers, what else has blades that come out of them and attack people directly and have human brains inside them obeying – or working with – a terrifying potential alien antagonist? Of course, the Silver Sentinels are more direct and will drill into a victim’s skull, and they are removed from the skulls of the transformed dead by the Tall Man to serve him directly and, as far as I know, only the Giant Sentinels from Phantasm V are capable of firing lasers instead of the Toclafane with their own energy weapons, and their hive mind, but the parallels are hard to ignore: to the point where I wonder if Davies had been inspired by Coscarelli’s films. However, science-fiction has its own share of strange and bizarre creatures, especially cybernetic humans gone wrong, and Doctor Who itself from which Davies could have more than easily been inspired. 

Of course, now that I’ve seen the Phantasm films I’m also thinking again about the Lurkers: those Jawa-like beings I mentioned earlier. These particularly strange and outlandish things are the result of the Tall Man mutating dead bodies, those he is supposed to be caring for in his guise as a mortician, into his own mindless servants: their brains taken specifically to power and pilot his Sentinels. They, like the Tall Man, have yellow blood: an ichor that slightly resembles the reagent used by Herbert West in the later Re-Animator films, except that solution is a light neon green instead. It is fascinating to note that, at one point in Phantasm IV: Oblivion, the Tall Man exists in the American Civil War injecting fallen soldiers with needles filled with the yellow substance in a manner not unlike something the good Doctor West would do.

But then there is the idea that the Tall Man attempted to access the realm of the dead, or a mortal incarnation of him tried to do so, that resulted in his creation, and the creations of the Lurkers, the Sentinels, and his other undead monstrosities. Years later, in Steve Moffat’s run as showrunner in Doctor Who, he introduces the concept of the Nethersphere where, as it turns out again, Missy – the female incarnation of The Master, having survived death once – downloaded the consciousnesses of all the recently dead into a Gallifreyan Matrix data slice, or hard-drive to upload into Cybermen obedient to her will. Essentially, she hijacks the deaths of countless humans to make her army of the dead: engineering an afterlife in the form of the Nethersphere to do so. It is reminiscent of something The Tall Man says to the priest in Phantasm II: ““You think that when you die, you go to Heaven? You come to us!” The Tall Man’s afterlife, or homeworld or dimension, is a dark place of endless storms in a black desert and binary sun mocking the landscape of the Jundland Wastes of Tatooine, and more like a purgatory or hell in itself of his own creation accessed through his Dimensional Fork Gates much like Missy’s Nethersphere is accessible through her own jury-rigged Gallifreyan technology. Could Moffat have been inspired by Coscarelli’s films as well? Who knows.


Yet one interesting parallel remains in my mind, or from my sense of aesthetics. Look at William Hartnell’s depiction of the First Doctor. Consider his suit, and his hair colour and style. Now think about the fact that whenever he is grievously injured, he Regenerates. He shapeshifts. Doctor Who was made in 1963, and by 1979 – when the first Phantasm film was released – we are all the way at the Fourth Doctor who has a device called a sonic screwdriver that allows him to access and manipulate certain elements. He is also an inventor and he can create things almost on a whim from pre-existing materials, and he travels through space and time. None of this is news to those who follow the series.


Now look at Angus Scrimm’s Tall Man. He is a lengthier old man with a similar suit, but whereas Hartnell’s Doctor is flippant and snappish, The Tall Man is grimmer and far more menacing, his voice rough and brusque. He was derived from the nineteenth century mortician Jebediah Morningside: a man was also something of an inventor or a scientist. Both seem to have less patience for the young. The Doctor himself is surprisingly strong, as Gallifreyans are made to be sturdy and do not have the same physiology as humans. The Doctor uses his TARDIS to explore, and The Tall Man utilizes his Gates to move around: the former primarily through Time and Space, and the other through what seems to be alternate dimensions of reality, and sometimes different time periods. However, The Tall Man also shapeshifts but not always when he dies, and even his limbs – when severed – can change into other creatures entirely. Fascinatingly enough, Davies does create a clone of the Tenth Doctor from a severed limb of his later in the series, but that is just coincidence as I feel that was an accident when it was combined with human DNA whereas The Tall Man’s mutations are all purposeful and malicious. And while The Doctor has a sonic screwdriver to help him, it seems a tuning fork in the hands of the protagonists often disrupt The Tall Man’s Fork Gates, his technology, and sometimes even himself. The Doctor does have aspects of telepathy too, whereas The Tall Man has telekinesis. The Doctor is able to Regenerate into different genders, and The Tall Man can change his shape to match different genders. The Doctor is impatient with his human Companions and the species in general but over time warms up to them, whereas The Tall Man sees them as resources, though he has a draw towards and wants to capture Michael Pearson – who he always calls “Boy” – and Reggie, who he loves to torment like some kind of multiversal pet of spite.


Interestingly enough The Doctor once said he was half-human, and as a Gallifreyan he has two hearts, and The Tall Man seems to have come from a human at one time. Also of note, The Master – who has the Toclafane and their version of the Cybermen – is seen as the antithesis of The Doctor, while The Tall Man with his Sentinels and creations, his own resurrections in the form of duplicates and even gender changing as well can be seen as another. I can go on, I’m sure, and I want to make it clear that I am not saying that Phantasm was inspired by Doctor Who, or that various eras of Doctor Who were clearly inspired by Phantasm, but the parallels are striking and I feel that creative “cyber-pollination ” is a thing.


I feel like I might have managed to offend two fanbases in two different genres in writing this piece such as it is, but it all comes back to horror and science-fiction: especially weird science fiction again. Things like Doctor Who are almost ridiculous. In a few other writings, I’ve talked about how The Doctor is the sublime and silly answer to the malevolence and apathy of a Lovecraftian universe: a dream that delves into nightmare to emerge, sometimes with some loss, triumphantly to face alien bees, vampires, and B-List foes like Cybermen, and Daleks once again. But Phantasm, with the Tall Man? He is on that other road. He represents that place where reality is never fixed, always changing, always shifting, a dream from which you can’t awaken, and yet the fight and the struggle keeps going. Doctor Who is the madcap insanity that laughs in the face of cosmic madness. Phantasm is the horror that keeps coming back throwing dwarves, mutants, robots, and undead in your face. Neither should work, these chimerical juxtapositions, but they do because in the end, both are strange stories that constantly reinvent themselves. And both are different sides of the Weird. 

Mamuwalde, Screaming: The Two Films of Blacula

I’d watched Shudder’s Horror Noire documentary back in 2019, and it introduced me to many films I’d heard about, and some that I did not. 

For instance, Ganja & Hess was one of the movies I’d never heard about: this experimental, almost lyrical dreamlike piece about vampires made by the Black filmmaker Bill Gunn and starring Duane Jones from Night of the Living Dead fame. And then I also got around to watching Candyman, and while I still love Clive Barker’s “The Forbidden,” Tony Todd brought him to life in a whole other way that I’m glad I got myself to see. I was never a true horror fanatic, and all the permutations, and so I came into looking at some of these films starring Black actors, and created by Black filmmakers from a fresh perspective: looking at art that I wouldn’t have considered back when I was younger. Certainly Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us helped me along the way to this fascination, with both the dread of seeing how racism would be incorporated into horror – especially from the relationship dynamic of the former film – and the pacing and fine social commentary inherent in both. 

And then, you have Blacula.

I admit: I would have slept on it in my old, dark, subterranean coffin if it hadn’t been for Horror Noire. I’d heard of it in passing, along with a ton of other Blaxploitation films of the seventies, and had my preconceptions about what they – and it – would be like. Just as I feared Get Out and watching someone from outside a family background get his humanity and freedom taken away – the notion guest-friendship turned into a thin veneer to cover a distrust and injury of the outsider and knowing he will always be so in certain places, which has overlap with me on a personal level that I might go into in another post – I was thought something by the name of Blacula would take that racism to the nth degree and make a spectacle of it.

A little while back, I was saying to someone that if Get Out had been created by anyone other than Jordan Peele with his understanding of pacing and punchlines, the brain transplant element would have been what it’s always been portrayed as in popular culture: a B movie curiosity at best, with little contemporary fear, or resonance, involved. But Get Out had Jordan Peele and his crew, and Blacula had William Crain, and William Marshall. 

Imagine a man and his consort sent by their elders to stop the slave trade in their land, perhaps even on the entire African continent, and they go to a powerful European statesman: who happens to be Dracula. Consider the man, a prince of his people, urbane and educated watching as this fiend turns him into a monster – infecting him with his own systemic imperialist and white supremacist curse – and locking him into a coffin for over two centuries while his consort starves to death helplessly next to him. He is named by this elder monstrosity, derisively, Blacula. Perhaps that’s a bit of a stretch given that they are in Transylvania and they would be speaking in Romanian, or possibly Latin as nobility, but this is entertainment and English is the accessible language of most films from America. But with that aside, just think about this prince waking up, having only the hunger, being in an alien land and world, finding the person who seems to be the reincarnation of the woman who died separated from him by a box, creating other monsters from needing to feed, losing her again, and then taking his own life when he realizes he’s pretty much done. 

That is Blacula. And it is a good movie. I like that William Marshall, who plays him, named the vampire Mamuwalde and gave him the entire backstory of having come from the Abani Tribe – while smacking of some exoticism – making him his own character independent of Dracula, and giving him a whole other world as his foundation. It isn’t perfect. Certainly the homophobia directed towards the gay couple – Bobby McCoy and Billy Schaffer – by both Mamuwalde in casually killing them when they release him, and even his eventual hunter the L.A. Police Scientific Division specialist Dr. Gordon Thomas calling them a derogatory term is something other reviewers, such as Kevelis Matthews-Alvarado in her guest post on Horror Homeroom Blacula (1972): Flawed But Important, have pointed out, and criticized. Those sentiments were a part of the seventies, of course, especially amongst the higher echelons of that society and the police that guard it. 

I read a few articles on Blacula after I saw the first film, and there were a few in particular that focused on how he became a vessel for the racist white heterosexual hegemony’s or kyriarchy’s demonization of women, and other minorities.  Daisy Howarth, in her essay Monster to Hero: Evolving Perceptions of Black Characterization within the Horror Genre, focuses both on Get Out and Blacula: and particularly on Mamuwalde embodying a “black hypermasculinity” to compensate for being enslaved or having racist white European prejudices internalized into his very being. Howarth also makes a comment about Mamuwalde reflecting a critique of a facet of Black 1970s counter-culture when she states that his “victims tend to be those that compromise his masculinity, which seems to be an advertence towards an effort to regain a form of power, whether that be over women in dominant positions or homosexual black males. The expectation of macho masculinity is also reflected through the Black Panther movement of the 1970’s that sought for a ‘discourse of recovering Black manhood’, and thus Blacula’s choice of victims emphasises his pursuit to become less of a monster and more of a man.” The fact that a powerful movement like the Black Panthers had issues with the white-controlled police, but also dealt with internal politics and gender issues is an interesting parallel with how Mamuwalde deals with the first gay couple – the first interracial couple defying the patriarchal system to which is implicit in his blood now, as kinkedsista points out in their Blog post “Blacula”: A Commentary on Vampirism, Slavery and Black Male Identity

Kinkedsista’s article, specifically, is one of the first works I’d read on Blacula immediately after watching it the first time. She examines further how Mamuwalde was already affected by European biases when she looks at how he is European-educated and dressed in a Western style, compared to his consort Luva who is dressed in the aesthetics of their people the Abani, or the Ibani Tribe. Matthews-Alvarado mentions in her article that the Africa – or African group – described in Blacula is fairly exoticized, even perhaps Orientalized: and that by telling Tina Williams that they had come from a Tribe of hunters, along with his bestial appearane when he needs to feed, it hearkens back to some “primitive” imagery. So again, we have Mamuwalde as embodying a force of European imperialism, and the racist stereotype of “the beast or the savage.” 

At the same time, as Howarth explains with regards to Tina Williams’ – the seemingly reincarnated Luva – struggles, Mamuwalde represents an idealized link back to a culture from which Black Americans had been separately from – by force, and time. She states “In this sense, the duality of being living and dead or monster and lover, forms a disparity that reflects on the greater issue of being black and American. Therefore, if Tina chooses to pursue her love for Blacula she must also choose between existing in ‘a compromised contemporary black community’ and ‘an African idealised civilisation of the past’. In order to obtain a sense of her lost heritage Tina must enslave herself to Blacula and thus ideologically she can no longer be both contemporary woman and inherently black, highlighting a struggle to obtain black pride in 1970’s America.” 

It is an interesting counterpoint to the vampires that Mamuwalde creates as a result of simply feeding on victims – not even purposefully creating them – perhaps another subversive look at racist views, sometimes internalized, of male Black virility or hypersexuality. They are ashen, discoloured, and twisted. Chris Alexander, in his article The Beauty of Blacula, states that William Crain “gives his black vampires a powder white sheen that makes them look authentically ghost-like but also adds an odd, disturbing reverse-minstrel aesthetic, as if the characters have to turn into “whitey” to exemplify their evil. This device is likely accidental, but that’s irrelevant. It’s there. And when those ghouls go for their prey, they run screaming in slow-motion. their fangs bared, like banshees from the pits of Hell.” In retrospect, their aesthetic is reminiscent to that of the undead in Sisworo Gautama Putra’s 1980 film Pengabdi Setan, or Satan’s Slave, which have ties to Indonesia’s pontianak myth: making me wonder if there was some creative influence, or if this is a case people drawing on their own folklore, or stereotypes to take “internalized evil” and make it overt for the sake of creating a statement: or using what they have in their cultural consciousness. 

Mamuwalde’s vampires are more earthly and far less ethereal or ghostly than they appear. They can eat food, and drink wine. They can even have sex. By the film sequel Scream, Blacula Scream, directed by Bob Kelljan, it’s also possible they can make themselves look more human by drinking a large amount of human blood. They can’t see themselves on a reflective surface. Crosses seem to repel them. And they can be killed by a stake through the heart, or exposure to sunlight: that doesn’t so much turn them into ashes, as it just renders them deceased, with the exception of Mamuwalde himself possibly due to his advanced age. Mamuwalde is the only one who can shapeshift into a bat, and from what we see in both films he has the power to compel his creations to do what he wants and, when doesn’t, they generally go on a mindless feeding spree and multiply. But what is also interesting is that he has the power of mesmerism or fixation: and some of his creations do as well, mainly the friend of Lisa Fortier in the sequel from which he feeds. Yet Mamuwalde himself can communicate telepathically with Tina, though it might have something to do with her being Luva’s reincarnation, and a possible bond between them.

Mamuwalde’s vampires are more earthly and far less ethereal or ghostly than they appear. They can eat food, and drink wine. They can even have sex. By the film sequel Scream, Blacula Scream, directed by Bob Kelljan, it’s also possible they can make themselves look more human by drinking a large amount of human blood. They can’t see themselves on a reflective surface. Crosses seem to repel them. And they can be killed by a stake through the heart, or exposure to sunlight: that doesn’t so much turn them into ashes, as it just renders them deceased, with the exception of Mamuwalde himself possibly due to his advanced age. Mamuwalde is the only one who can shapeshift into a bat, and from what we see in both films he has the power to compel his creations to do what he wants and, when doesn’t, they generally go on a mindless feeding spree and multiply. But what is also interesting is that he has the power of mesmerism or fixation: and some of his creations do as well, mainly the friend of Lisa Fortier in the sequel from which he feeds. Yet Mamuwalde himself can communicate telepathically with Tina, though it might have something to do with her being Luva’s reincarnation, and a possible bond between them.

So now we are the crux of it. I was surprised at how good, and compact, Blacula actually is as a film. The heroes, or hunters, are refreshingly intelligent. When Dr. Thomas wants to prove that vampires exist, after researching them extensively first, to his girlfriend and coworker Michelle Williams, and then his colleague Police Lieutenant Jack Peters, he uncovers Mamuwalde’s corpses: to let their actions speak for themselves. Mamuwalde himself outsmarts the LAPD and Thomas by luring them to his hideout, only to have his vampires waiting for them: including one who is on the police force, and hiding in plain sight. We’ve mentioned the aesthetics of the vampires as well, and honestly? Mamuwalde’s charm as portrayed by Marshall Williams: his intelligence, gravitas, and tormented state go a long way to selling this character with such a ridiculous and exploitatively insulting moniker like Blacula. His relationship with Tina, that ephemeral, beautiful, unexplained bond is portrayed well and how he reconnects with her after initially terrifying the hell out of her is clever. And that ending: where he loses her again, and he decides to go meet the sunrise is haunting and poignant. The hunters don’t kill him. The white-owned police don’t destroy him. It’s only at the end, when his reason to seriously exist, is gone – when his own arrogance and violence from the curse on himself thwarts his ambitions in addition to the death of Tina, that he decides he’s finished, and he faces his fear in the sun: to die.

And there is the sequel I mentioned, Scream, Blacula Scream.

I almost didn’t watch this one, given how well the first film ended. But it had elements that intrigued me. So imagine the plot beats to the first film by Crain, except Bob Kelljan and the writers Joan Torres, Raymond Koenig, and Maurice Jules add a voodoo element and a coven family rivalry into the mix. You have Lisa Fortier, played by the amazing Pam Grier, who seems to be the love interest of this film. And then you have her boyfriend Justin Carter – a former LA policeman and African antiquities collector – who starts investigating vampires after Mamuwalde comes back into the scene, and he has to convince his former white colleague, or boss, Lieutenant Harley Dunlop, that they are dealing with vampires. 

Lisa’s foster brother, Willis Daniels, is passed over as head of the voodoo coven after his mother – the previous leader and voodoo queen – dies. He tries to get revenge, and take power from Lisa by using a dark ritual to resurrect Mamuwalde from the bones he’s left behind from the previous movie when he committed enthunasia on himself. It doesn’t go well for Willis because, although we never see Mamuwalde reform or come back, he comes out of the room and converts Willis to one of his undead servants. And for all of Willis’ and his girlfriend’s seeming humanity even after all of that, Mamuwalde has no chill, and he immediately can take control of them whenever he wants, and is not above threatening their existences.

Mamuwalde also hunts some of Lisa’s friends, as he did Tina’s. He has a bond with Lisa, but she isn’t Luva’s reincarnation as these events seemingly happen a year after the first film. However, because she is a natural practitioner of her art, he hopes she can use sympathetic magic to “purge the curse” from inside him, and let him become mortal again so he can return to his people … somehow. Of course, despite all the vampire minions he has, Lisa’s boyfriend and his police friends interfere, the ritual is interrupted, and Mamuwalde finally loses it. He embraces his vampire slave name Blacula out of pure spite, giving up on his humanity, kills a lot of people by throwing them awkwardly into walls, and Lisa stops him with a voodoo doll she made of him: though what ultimately happens to Mamuwalde after this remains ambiguous as it doesn’t seem to have died … again.

So what it comes down to, for me, is which is the stronger film?

Right. I prefer the first one. Blacula is tight. It has a premise, an engaging fixation for Mamuwalde, a fascinating series of interactions, some terrifying sequences, and a tragic but fitting end where Mamuwalde finally realizes that his actions are almost as culpable as those of his foes, and ends himself. Scream, Blacula, Scream is a bit more disjointed, repeating quite a few plot points of the first film, somehow set in the same city with different characters and no one remembering what happened a year ago, and skimping on some special effects like Mamuwalde reforming from some charred bones in an arcane ritual. 

However …

The fact that Mamuwalde is far more vicious makes sense when you realize the peace of death was stolen from him by some young, idiot upstart. His torment of Willis is so much clearer in that light when you consider what he took from him. His disgust over his creations is a projection of his own self-hatred, and it is the thing of which he wants Lisa to help him be rid. I do think the whole Lisa and Willis rivalry element should have been played more, or at least have Willis and Justin – who hate each other – have one last fight. But rendering that boastful, arrogant, overcompensating Willis into a broken slave has its own resonance too. And seeing Mamuwalde’s own evil come back to roost does have some beats on its own. How can he redeem himself, or be redeemed, if he took so many lives, and controlled them for his own benefit? What ritual could rid him of that? Even so, as Gregory Day points out amongst other elements in his article Blaxploitation Cinema: ‘Blacula’ / ‘Scream, Blacula, Scream’

I love how Maumwalde confronts some pimps about using their “sisters” as slaves in imitation of “their masters,”  and doesn’t – or perhaps doesn’t want to – see the mirror image of himself in them as he makes his own thralls. I do really wish they’d kept his silver-inlined cloak as opposed to simply giving him the whole red lining of Dracula. I mean, we know he has ties to Dracula. If the flashback sequences weren’t enough, we saw this in the first film. Calm down, merchandising department. 

But I think it’s his relation to Lisa Fortier that does it. Pam Grier is a popular actress in and of herself, but her character represents something interesting in everything about which we’ve been talking. Voodoo, or perhaps elements of it, has West African traditions combined with Catholicism – or Christianity – due to the slaves being taken from that region and being forced to convert by their enslavers. Voodoo, or vodoun, isn’t always Christian-influenced but the fact that both Lisa and Willis speak French when performing their rituals seems to illustrate that some Creole or other influence came into these rites: either from colonized West Africa, or in America itself. And the way that Lisa starts to seemingly purge the evil out of Mamuwalde is reminiscent, and we go back to the start here, of Ganja & Hess: where the vampires of that world can only find peace – in this case death – through prayer, and sitting under the shadow of a cross. Ganja & Hess had been released in 1973, while Blacula and Scream Blacula Scream had come out in 1972 and 1973 again respectively. I also, though, like the idea that voodoo in this world is its own power, and affects vampires and people differently despite any links it may or may not have to other religions or spiritual systems. 

Yet here is what gets me. In light of Matthews-Alvarado, Howarth and kinkedsista’s articles, and their observations of black hypermasculinity, and European influences, and a Black woman’s place in those dynamics, we find a complete opposite to what finally stops Mamuwalde: as, you know, it is the last film in the series so far since the 1970s. Lisa Fortier is a Black woman in 

touch with her spirituality — her roots — just like her boyfriend. The police target her group specifically, especially, the racist Dunlop who is far less sympathetic than Blacula’s Jack Peters, and defies them when they try to pin Mamuwalde’s murders of her coven. And unlike Tina who is killed because she let herself get drawn into Mamuwalde’s cycle, and the female cab driver Juanita Jones who dies because she insullts him by calling him “boy” and has no choice at all in what she becomes, Lisa is a powerful Black woman who chooses her contemporary world over Mamuwalde’s exoticized past and the infection of European racist slavery that he offers. It pains her to do it, to hurt this wounded man, a great man made a slave and part of a vicious cycle of subjugation and a treasure trove of Black history and culture – who came to her for help before giving up, and into his worst nature. He is literally going to punish Justin the way that Dracula did him: perpetuating the cycle by infecting another intelligent and educated Black man with systemic racism. And Lisa stops that in its tracks with her ties to the traditions of the past, and the power of the present: of her own mindfulness and love for a better future. She does what she does allow herself, her loved ones, and her own life to survive.

In the end, I think Blacula was a better movie but Scream Blacula Scream, while as Chris Alexander put it, was about his victims, had a better message. Even so, Pam Grier’s quiet but fierce performance notwithstanding, Blacula is my favourite of the two. As of this writing, there is currently work on a reboot to the series. And I’d like it to focus more on Mamuwalde’s character development, and that of the other characters: perhaps in a retelling in the ‘70s or ‘90s, or even in the aughts. I can only hope that whatever they make, it will capture the grandiosity of Marshall’s character, and apply the message of both films to this time because, like poor Mamuwalde, suspended between life and death, motion and stillness, hunger and despair, the enemies outside and the ones they put within, it is timeless.

To a Queen of the Damned

I was in Thornhill Secondary School, going through the great variety of fantasy and science-fiction books there. 

I must have been in the horror section again. Up until that point, I’d read Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine books primarily. To this day, I’m not sure what actually did it. Maybe it was Buffy The Vampire Slayer becoming a formative part of my youth, and creative mind. It could have been my friend who was making her own vampire stories. And I’d heard of Interview With the Vampire as a film that girls loved.

And so, that afternoon, at my high school library I borrowed a copy of Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire: card catalogue, and stamp, and all. I read it everywhere: at home, at my friends’ and even at the synagogue services I was forced to attend. It’s been years since that time, but I can tell you that my brain expanded reading that book. I saw the baroque writing, the lush descriptions, the sensuality that my younger mind was not prepared to process along with the homoerotic subtexts, and … the world-building. The world-building hit me like a fuckton of blood bags. It was one thing to discover what another child vampire like the Anointed One from Buffy but with far more personality like Claudia could do, and the idea that vampires weren’t affected in the slightest by holy symbols, or places, or even stakes of wood. It had no human hunters. No slayers. No Van Helsing groups.

It was just vampires. Vampires attacking other vampires, loving other vampires, trying to find out about themselves, trying to reconcile their predatory natures with their former selves, and their emotions. It was a vampire telling a human journalist a story about his miserable eternity, even if – as we find out later – it wasn’t the entire story, or even the complete mood of Louis. We find out about Revenants: of beings that were not given blood quite right, or in the precise amounts to make them anything other than beasts. Before The Vampire Lestat, and Queen of the Damned, it was more than possible – at least to Louis and Claudia – that these were some of the first, more primitive vampires who prey on even other vampires.  We got more description of how organized vampires are in Europe, compared to the New World: with covens and covenants, and their need to constantly reinvent themselves when they exist for too long. There was a period of time when ancients existed, but most of them were killed by younger vampires that rebelled against them, and only a few survived.

Interview With the Vampire is where I learned that vampires weren’t just soulless beings but remembered every part of their existence, and some didn’t acclimate to their new inhuman state well and either went insane, or mindless. Many would commit suicide. I learned they all had different powers depending on who their sires, or progenitors were, and some were better suited to their vampiric nature than others. There is a moment where you see Louis, who up until this point, had basically been acting like a human with supernatural abilities realizing that he isn’t a mortal anymore and fully embracing his reflexes, and instincts – his nature – which costs another obnoxious vampire his existence. And of course, older vampires are more powerful than the young, but they can increase their power by feeding off of even older vampires. Telepathy, telekinesis, inhuman speed, incredible strength – these were some of their powers, and we see how these beings have been venerated as gods by humanity, and demonized later on, and made into myths even later than that.

I made it from Interview to The Vampire Lestat, where we find out Lestat isn’t just some inhuman dandy serial killer monster, and has faced far worse than Louis and Claudia could ever dream: and tried to protect them from it. The fact that he had male lovers, and brought across – or turned – his own mother was strange to me, but Anne Rice showed me a world where other rules applied to other beings, and it got me thinking.

If White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade, Clan Brujah was inspired by Lost Boys, and Clan Nosferatu by the film of the same name, then Clan Toreador are definitely descended literarily from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles: beautiful, swift, psychically gifted artists, poseurs, and obsessive beings whose morality is different from the humans that they hunt. Perhaps that’s why I gravitated towards that faction when I really studied that game lore. I was also fascinated with Lestat’s creator Magnus, who was a wizard that stole immortality from captured vampires, and experimented with various younger victims before settling on Lestat before killing himself. That obsession with experiments, and perfection, and making something better as horrifying as it was, really got to me – as did Anne Rice’s writing.

And I hadn’t even watched the film until after reading those two books. It led to a good time with my girlfriend, though I almost didn’t want to interrupt the movie in my living room as it was so good. And the film adaptation of Queen of the Damned, starring Aaliyah as Akasha the Queen and Mother of all Vampires, was the first film I saw with my girlfriend and my friends after my parents revealed – and grudgingly accepted – they knew she was my girlfriend. I remember her and I holding hands as we watched Queen of the Damned unfold on the screen, complete with that bloody bathtub of roses scene, and all. 

I went on to make my other vampiric mythos: with a Chalice of the Damned that had blood that was supposed to offer immortality to the wizards that created it, but whose magically generated blood only made monstrosities, and then blood-dependent vampires. I made a vampire magus who figured out how to remove his own heart, and became almost impossible to kill before I even knew about Koschei the Deathless. But none of this would have been possible without Anne Rice, and her work.

I think about it now, that she’s passed on: how Interview With the Vampire was that perfect combination of history, mythology, folklore, sex, sensuality, and epistolary fiction: that interview format that was essentially a dictated journal, or an autobiography of an immortal. And I think far before Frankenstein, and Dracula, this is the format that informed my writing interests to this very day. 

Over the years, I’d heard about Anne Rice and her personal views, as well as her other works, but I would never get over her vampires. I personally loved Marius: who was level-headed, an artist, and had started to master his advanced vampiric abilities. He was an ancient Roman that revelled in the Renaissance. But I think I related the most to Louis, to a nature of melancholy and bitterness that nevertheless hid a spark of true, and aggressive, potential. Perhaps these days, in some ways, I can more see the Lestat in my creative endeavours, but I think I will always try to endeavour to be a balanced and powerful creator like Marius.

And as I wrap up this commemorative retrospective, I truly hope that wherever you are now Anne Rice, that you know you were a true Queen of the Damned. Thank you for making me more interested in vampires beyond being blood-drinking monsters.  May Lestat brat you into the Afterlife. May this Interview never end.