Dracula A.D. 1972/Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
1972 was the year Dracula got groovy! For the 6th entry in their popular vampire franchise Hammer Studios re-united its biggest stars, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, for the first time since the 1958 original but this time round the arch enemies would not be battling amid the enchanted forests of Eastern European folklore but in the densely crowded urban alleyways of 1970s London.
In an exciting prologue we witness Count Dracula and his nemesis Professor Van Helsing locked in mortal combat atop a runaway horse drawn carriage. The year is 1872. The location: Hyde Park, London. The vehicle crashes into a tree and the vampire is dramatically impaled on the spokes of one broken wheel. The threat of the vampire is defeated however Van Helsing too expires from his injuries and too soon to witness a disciple of Dracula’s collect a sample of the fiend’s ashes which he later plants in the ground not far from the professor’s final resting place.
The film cuts suddenly to a plane passing overhead and we are obliged to suffer 2 songs performed by a weirdy beardy rock group called Stoneground’ as way of introduction to the happening scene that is Chelsea in 1972. Grooving to the far-out sounds are a bunch of young hippies and swingers who include Jessica Van Helsing; the great, great, grand-daughter of the former vampire-hunter par excellence and a peculiar chap named Johnny Alucard (yes, that old chestnut yet again). Alucard is a scenery-chewing thrill seeker akin to Ralph Bate’s Lord Courtley in Taste The Blood of Dracula, he’s even got the vial full of powdered vampire remains to prove it. When the gang meet at their favourite haunt, a coffee shop/night club called The Cavern, to plan their next adventure Johnny suggests something “way, way out . . . a bacchanal with Beelzebub”. “It sounds wild” pipes Laura (played by the always delightful Caroline Munroe, star of Star Crash, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and Maniac among many others). “It could be a giggle”, she says.
That night, in a soon to be demolished derelict church that Alucard has decked out with black candles and pentagrams, the kids get wasted and embark on their ‘way out’ Black Mass. The very earth of the cemetery outside starts to smoke as Johnny mixes his own blood with Dracula’s ashes and calls upon all the demons of hell to answer his black prayer and resurrect the Prince of Darkness. The gang play along until Alucard pours the bubbling gore over the high-as-a-kite Laura. When the girl starts screaming her frightened friends abandon her and take off into the night leaving Johnny alone to witness the re-birth of Count Dracula from a plume of smoke in the long abandoned graveyard. “Master, I summoned you” stutters Alucard. “It was my will” booms Dracula before heading inside to sink his teeth into the terrified Laura.
When the girl’s corpse is discovered, partially covered by rubble, in the graveyard the cops suspect the work of a demonic cult and seek the advice of Jessica’s grandfather Lorimer Van Helsing who is as well-versed in the peculiarities of the occult as his vampire battling ancestor. Van Helsing is shocked to hear that Laura’s body had been drained of blood while the police insist on interrogating Jessica about the Black Mass. Meanwhile Johnny has seduced another victim for his master and smuggles the girl into the old church for Dracula to snack on. But the Count has his infernal heart set on making Jessica his vampire bride and her Grandpa is going to have a fight on his hands if he hopes to rescue the girl from Dracula’s ultimate plan of vengeance.
Many Hammer fans deride ‘Dracula A.D. 1972’ and the decision to resurrect the lord of the undead in a 20th century setting as an inevitable and embarrassing failure. It would be a shame however to allow unfavourable comparisons with past glories to prevent ones enjoyment of what is ultimately a very entertaining, if admittedly kitsch, movie. What may have seemed a desperate attempt to breathe fresh life into a flagging franchise at the time appears increasingly charming in retrospect. The key to enjoying what the film has to offer is to simply not attempt any comparison with earlier entries in the series as it has more in common with other 1970’s vampire movies such as Count Yorga, Vampire, Blacula and their sequels.
The clash of cultures is embodied in the character of Police Inspector Murray, pragmatic and cynical; he no more understands the behaviour of the ‘youth of today’ than he does the supernatural habits of the vampire. In this respect the film succeeds in combining the modern and the mythic by acknowledging the fact that the 2 are fundamentally incongruous.
Dracula’s screen time is short but Lee’s performance is dignified, imposing and dramatic despite the fact that yet again he refused to speak much of the dialogue that had been written for him.
Peter Cushing was apparently much less inclined to complain than his co-star and at this stage in his career, following the death of his beloved wife Helen in January of 1971, became a tireless workaholic whose ambitions rarely led him outside of low budget horror films. Cushing is never less than tremendous and he plays on the incongruity of the scripts central conceit to wonderful effect. Lorimer Van Helsing is a man out of sync with modern times; haunted, melancholy, earnest, academic and struggling to communicate across the generational gap between himself and his granddaughter. Jessica refers to his library as if it were a crypt full of dead things; myths and legends that matter no more. This is a poignant moment for a film which sees Hammer Studios trying so hard to re-invigorate its old world Gothic horrors for a post Night of the Living Dead modern horror movie audience.
Stephanie Beacham is a terrific actress but Dracula A.D. 1971’s script does all it can to prove otherwise. She is also handicapped by one of the most offensively hideous meta-mullets ever to disgrace the silver screen. Fortunately the plunging neck line of the white dress that she wears during the film’s climactic scenes reveals a considerable enough amount of boobage to distract entirely from the bad hair affair. It’s noticeable in the film’s final shots that Peter Cushing, ever the gentleman, is lending a hand in stopping Beacham’s bust from escaping completely! Other British horror movies in her resume that are worth a peek include And Now The Screaming Starts and Pete Walker’s House of Mortal Sin.
The terrible sounds of Stoneground were a late replacement for legendary British rock band The Faces and one can only lament the lost opportunity of seeing Rod Stewart in a Hammer Dracula movie on a par with the aborted Russ Meyer/Sex Pistols movie ‘Who Killed Bambi?’
Canadian director Alan Gibson had previously helmed Hammer’s psycho-thriller Crescendo and would return for Christopher Lee’s final outing as the Count: 1974’s ‘The Satanic Rites of Dracula’ aka Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride. ‘Dracula A.D. 1972’ was double-billed in cinemas with Freddie Francis’ hilarious Trog and I would have loved to have seen these 2 loopy movies together on the big screen during their initial release.
Compared to series highlights such as Brides of Dracula, ‘Dracula A.D 1972’ is indeed cheap, tacky and frivolous however as an example of 1970s exploitation filmmaking at its most quirky and capricious it is a delightfully entertaining experience.