Dracula A.D. 1972
Directed by: Alan Gibson
Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Stephanie Beacham, Christopher Neame, Michael Coles, Marsha A. Hunt, Caroline Munro, Janet Key, William Ellis, Philip Miller, Michael Kitchen, David Andrews
(out of 4)
In 1872, Professor Van Helsing faces his arch nemesis Dracula for the last time on top of a runaway horse carriage. Both are killed, but one of Dracula’s disciples retrieves some of his ashes and buries it. One hundred years later, as an airplane rushes into view over the opening credits, we are thrust into “modern” day, swinging London, where cats like to get wild, drop acid, and freak out – you know, for “giggles”, man! We visit a house owned by stuffy old English types, horrified by the hippie types that have invaded their pad, partying (rather mildly) to the rockin’ sounds of a band calling themselves Stoneground (“I just invited ‘The Stoneground’ – I’ve no idea who these people are!”) The “group,” as member Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham) likes to call them, is headed by the mysterious Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame), who is quite bored with crashing parties, so he brings up the idea of holding a black mass at a nearby abandoned church. It’ll be a gas, man. Anyway it beats hanging out at the cafe every day. One character says “Okay, but if we do get to summon up the big daddy with the horns and the tail, he gets to bring his own liquor, his own bird and his own pot.” Because Satan can be such a leech.
Well, what do you know? Johnny seems to know an awful lot about black mass rites, and he keeps a vial of ashes on hand that looks suspiciously like the ashes of Dracula seen a century earlier. The ritual itself is fairly successful, as Johnny’s friends are more than willing to form a Satanic circle for him while he rattles off the names of demons (Dracula being the capper). While seeming disturbed, they aren’t disturbed enough to run outta there until things start getting bloody. Even Laura (Caroline Munro) is into it, offering herself up for baptism in blood. Before you know it, Dracula (Lee) is risen, and Caroline Munro makes a good appetizer (Personally, I would also take her for the main course and dessert). Jessica runs out of there and soon discovers that her grandfather (Cushing) has been keeping a secret about their bloodlines. Grandpa Van Helsing does a little doodling and figures out that Alucard is Dracula spelled backwards! Horrors! May I suggest that if you want to conceal your affiliation with somebody, don’t just reverse the spelling of their last name and adopt it as your own. That’s not really trying, is it? Anyway, Dracula now sets his sights on Jessica, targeting her to get revenge against the Van Helsing family. Only gramps can save her and put an end to Dracula’s legacy once and for all.
This movie came in during a tumultuous time at Hammer Studios, and it shows. Trying to find their way in the brave new world of 70s cinema, they didn’t quite have their finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist, so what results is an attempt to mimic a lifestyle rather than truly represent it (I’ll defer to the children of the early 70s when it comes to criticism of the lingo). Dialogue, truth be told, is actually very funny here, mostly unintentionally. But there are some good scenes scattered throughout the otherwise standard proceedings, one of which is the “black mass” that begins with Johnny exclaiming “Dig the music kids!” before turning on some weirdness courtesy of the experimental rock group White Noise. (Johnny’s line was interesting enough to catch the ear of Jack Dangers). Neame’s and Cushing’s performances in Dracula A.D. 1972 are the standouts here (Neame trying to channel Alex from A Clockwork Orange at times and Cushing treating his role with utter seriousness). Lee, however, is hardly given a chance to act at all. His Dracula mostly broods and hangs around the old church, occasionally coming out to claim a victim’s neck, but not much else. He’s like a ghost of his former self, whereas if I was writing this thing I would have gotten him out of the church and into the alien world of 1972. (Blade: Trinity tried this with Dracula and failed, but at least it tried).
Basically, this is all about lost opportunities. Bringing Dracula into the present could have been a trip, man, but instead of letting the Count loose, the film plays it safe by confining everything to only a few “flats” (perhaps the budget wasn’t there). Lee is wasted here – anyone could have taken his place and the movie wouldn’t have been affected much. (The threat of Dracula takes a back seat to other issues – fear of infection, fear of losing control of the kids). There is, however, the wonderfully busty Beacham to look at, as well as the good looking Marsha Hunt (Mick Jagger’s Brown Sugar). This is, believe it or not, the seventh film in Hammer’s Dracula series, but it’s only the first one I have seen thus far. I’m not turned off from trying the rest, though. There’s something unique about Hammer films – even in a modernized version like this one there is a recognizable look to it, and more than a touch of the gothic. Alas, I should not be shocked that the old bogeys of the golden age of film would be no match for the sick criminals of today. An undead bloodsucker in ’72? That’s wild man, but that gig went out with mini-skirts, you schlep.
- Bill Gordon