After six movies that followed a distinct rinse and repeat pattern of its fangy star rising from the dead, terrorising a handful of people and then getting reduced to ash again, Hammer Studios obviously thought it was time to mix things up and move on from cobwebby castles and buxom wenches. A shift from the usual 1800’s setting would instead see the chaotic Count resurrected in the 1970’s while as an added bonus, Peter Cushing would finally return as Van Helsing (more than one, actually) for the first time since The Brides Of Dracula back in 1960.
It seemed that Hammer’s Dracula franchise was destined to finally obtain some new blood, but the studio’s solution, however, didn’t exactly bring the classic creature into the present day as successfully as everyone hoped and, depending on who you ask, actually brought a new low for the blood sucking series.
But is Dracula A.D. 1972 really as bad as its legend suggests, or does the influx of far out youngsters and some truly staggering 70’s fashion choices make for some throwback chuckles? Take a bite and find out, man.
We are immediately hurled into the thick of the action when then movie abruptly starts in 1872 with Professor Van Helsing and Count Dracula brawling on top of a runaway stagecoach with their final battle already well under way. The result is a draw, with the former champ fatally staked on the spokes of one of the carriage wheels (that’s a new one) while Van Helsing’s plucky challenger succumbs to his wounds after witnessing his opponent’s body wither away to dust. However, never count out the tenacity of Dracula’s acolytes (Dracolytes?), as one of his followers arrives on the scene and stuffs some of his master’s remains into a test tube and stashed it away for a hundred years.
A hundred years later, the decedent, velvet jacket wearing, thrill seeker Johnny Alucard (seriously?) longs for ever more envelope pushing experiences and convinces his social group of swinging hippies to stop partying down for five minutes and join him in a spot of black mass. Everyone seems to feel like this would be kind of a gas, except for Jessica Van Helsing, who, along with her grandfather is – you’ve guessed it – descendants of the original Van Helsing who died while finally snuffing his mortal enemy almost a hundred years to the day. However, Jessica is the only descendant lurking about the place as Johnny seemingly has ties to the acolyte who originally took the Count’s remains and aims to resurrect the blood sucking bucking bastard in the times of bell bottoms and people wearing sheepskin jackets all year round. It seems that old Drac wants to get revenge on the Van Helsing line once and for all and has targeted Jessica to be his latest victim – can her grandfather stir up enough of that old Van Helsing grit to take his adversary out once and for all.
I’m truly in two minds on how to rate Dracula A.D. 1972. On one hand, Hammer’s attempt to modernize the Dracula legend manages to obtain impressive levels of cringe as it clumsily tries to appeal to 70’s youths with “groovy” slang and a couple of musical numbers from shaggy looking band Stoneground – however, while I’m assuming it’s mostly unintentional, Dracula A.D. 1972 is a goldmine for some highly infectious chuckles as the movie takes its premise and promptly buries it deeper than a stake in a vampire’s ribcage.
The good points are fairly obvious with the main one being the triumphant return of Peter Cushing to the fold (can you believe they made four of these movies without him?) and the opening scene that sees the original Van Helsing finally put his nemesis in the dirt is an absolute cracker despite some horribly obvious stuntmen and the admittedly goofy sight of Christopher Lee staggering around with an entire fucking wheel rammed through his torso. Even though scenes between are somewhat rare, the history between them makes their face-offs positively crackle with tangible animosity and it goes massively towards balancing out the endless scenes of mature-looking actors spouting out such drivel as “Dig the music, kids!” and “Don’t look now, Charley baby’s gonna call the fuzz!”. Elsewhere, a surprisingly engaging female lead emerges in the suprisingly fetching form of The Colbys’ Stephanie Beachham, who, despite enduring the usual treatment Hammer horror movies offer their actresses (Beacham’s chest gets so many close ups it should have gotten separate billing), the fact she’s directly related to the Van Helsing line means she’s a little bit more evolved than your average Hammer damsel.
However, the problems soon start to become apparent when you realise that despite the time shift, the movie actually does nothing new with its titular villain. The times may have changed, but Dracula is stuck in the same old rut, only unleashing his particular brand of evil on a small, inclusive group of people when he has an entirely new century to play in – the guy doesn’t even leave the dilapidated church he gets resurrected in, containing his lurking to a single location like a fanged shut-in.
It’s left to the flouncy Johnny Alucard to do the Count’s dirty work and regrettably the Satanic fop and the rest of his and Jessica’s whacked out friends are about as endearing as a bout of genital warts, blankly content to wander into harms way like a salmon with a kink for fish hooks. Elsewhere, the grim footage of 70’s London may try and hint at a hip and happening town despite most areas looking like it’s still fucked from the Blitz, but the shift from the visual elegance of a 19th century castle to run down chip shops and vile coloured cars kind of takes the sparkle out of matters.
It wasn’t an impossible job to pull off, either; with Dracula A.D. 1972 being a direct response to the success of the similarly contemporary set Count Yorga movies – and years later Tom Holland (no, not that one) and Joel Schumacher showed exactly how to reinvent modern day vamps with Fright Night and The Lost Boys respectively. Still, the groovy, lounge core score by Manfred Mann’s Mike Vickers is snazzy and catchy in equal measure and much like the gossamer thin dresses Beacham has to wear, the movie has more than it’s fair share of up points – even if they’re most of the accidental variety. However, my complaints that Dracula doesn’t actually do enough eventually would come back to bite me in the jugular with 1973’s even ropier Satanic Rites Of Dracula that finally saw the Count think big and turn into a low-rent Bond villain which finally signified the death knell of Lee’s caped reign.
Fun for all the wrong reasons, Dracula A.D. 1972 wastes its sizable promise on a bunch of kids grooving out.