On Centennial anniversary of Count Dracula’s death, at the hands of his arch nemesis Van Helsing, a modern-day follower Johnny Alucard decides the time has come to resurrect him from his shallow grave. Johnny thinks that his new master will be able to reward him with the power of immortality but this comes with a price. Dracula wants to claim his revenge, setting his sights on Jessica Van Helsing as his new bride and orders Johnny to bring her to him at any cost. It just so happens Jessica is the granddaughter of Professor Van Helsing (a direct descendent of Dracula’s original killer), who also happens to be a well versed scholar in the occult, bound by family duty to ensure Dracula is never able to return to his former power. These two age-old rivals once again find themselves locked in a fight of good vs evil, this time choosing swinging 70’s Chelsea as their battleground.
Vampires, Hammer Horror, British Horror, Hippies, Dracula.
(in alphabetical order)
Cast (in credits order) verified as complete
|Christopher Lee||…||Count Dracula|
|Peter Cushing||…||Professor Van Helsing|
|Stephanie Beacham||…||Jessica Van Helsing|
|Christopher Neame||…||Johnny Alucard|
|Marsha A. Hunt||…||Gaynor (as Marsha Hunt)|
|Caroline Munro||…||Laura Bellows|
|William Ellis||…||Joe Mitcham|
- Classification- 15
- Running time- 92 minutes.
Probably not one of Hammer’s better ideas Dracula A.D 1972 has come under a lot of criticism over the years, that said I really have a soft spot for this film and think some of the negative press surrounding this picture is undeserving. It was made at the time when Hammer were in their dying days and in a rash decision to try to produce a contemporary and different twist to the well trodden tale they decided to bring Count Dracula to Swinging London, by resurrecting him at the hands of a bunch of middle class hippies in the trendy stomping ground of the nouveau riche of Chelsea. This was in some part also influenced by the success of the 1970 American Vampire flick Count Yorga, Vampire.
So why do I like this film? Well the answer is simple, it is so damned cheesy and I have a real affection for total cheese. Hammer have made a real effort with this film though, in terms of production and casting, and therefore the cheese element comes as a completely unintentional by product of the way in which it is scripted making it in my opinion even better. So I think we have established the ‘cheese’ having mentioned it three, no four times now in the last paragraph, so what else? Well it stars two of my favourite horror icons Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and it is always a joy to my dark soul to watch them share screen time, it has hippies in it (always a plus even if in this case they are rather unconvincing hippies), and the church scenes have a fantastic atmosphere that even the ridiculousness of the script cannot take away. The resurrection scene in particular with Caroline Munro getting a whole vat of fake blood thrown over her is an absolute delight and Christopher Lee, as always, is the consummate pro playing out his role in full melodramatic style complete with his trademark neck biting technique and mad staring eyes. Likewise Peter Cushing is just stand out in his role, some of the lines he has are just plain silly and to have carried on with a straight face putting his all into his performance is just testament to what a great actor he was.
Back to the hilarity factors which mainly came from the hippies who are simply too posh to be genuine, and also way too old. Stephanie Beacham as a descendent of Van Helsing sporting an atrocious wig and spouting off lines like ‘The Fuzz’ in BBC diction style is a complete blast. Whoever chose that platinum blonde wig for her must have been trying to make her look as ridiculous as possible. There is also Christopher Neame as Johnny Alucard, the bad boy, who has the most snide face imaginable he makes your skin crawl. He is supposed to be all slick, with his box of ready rolled spliffs nesting on his coffee table, and way with the ladies, but I personally could not get over the idea that he was just a bit of a posh smug twat. Either way he was perfect in the role he plays, being quite sneaky and a bit of a backstabber kind of guy his physical appearance works in perfect harmony with his character. Caroline Munro plays a small part, but brings a bit of vintage Hammer Glamour to the affair. For the rest of the younger cast, like I said, they are all a bit to straight to be believable as hippies, but then that does reinforce the whole British stiff upper lip flavour to the picture, which is one of the things I really love about these films. There are small references to drug taking and wild behaviour but you do not really get to witness any of that happening on-screen, it is just insinuated. Peter Cushing probably has the most interesting role as Van Helsing, who in his new guise is a professor type and serious scholar of the occult. He has some pretty fantastical dialogue which he manages to deliver without even a pinch of tongue in cheek as he sits in his study packed full of antique books on vampirism, surrounded by gothic looking artwork ( I was also very impressed by the little skull he had decorating his desk). What is perhaps even more ridiculous is the fact the cops take his word at face value when he gets involved in helping them in their investigation into a series of recent murders. As he offers them a cigarette on arrival (a brilliant sign of the times, not a drink or maybe even a snack, but something to smoke) any self-respecting copper would have been having a look to see if he had put any additional ingredients in them based on the babble which is coming out of his mouth. But then Cushing conveys such the perfect English gent and so serious about his role, you can perhaps forgive them for being drawn into his wild musings about vampires and how to vanquish them.
In terms of plot, while the setting is different to the usual Hammer offerings of this type, it flows in a fairly formulaic manner to the predictable ending, but then would we have wanted Hammer to have gone too far with their reimagining of the Dracula role, I think not. In using an old church as Dracula’s lair they also manage to sneak in some old school gothic charm amongst the contemporary scenes of coffee bars and smart Chelsea apartments. There is some attempt to link the story into the previous films by having an opening scene set in Victorian times, where Dracula is wiped out by Van Helsing and buried, only to be brought to life again in modern times, by a long-lost descendent.
There has been some effort to make the soundtrack fit the 70’s vibe of the story by including an American rock band Stoneground (who play themselves) in one of the opening scenes. This ten piece band of weirdos do help give the film a more of a genuine standing, and the music is not so bad, but Hammer could have extended their part and gave them roles as some of the minor hippy characters which would have helped things a great deal. As it stands however their presence just undermines the believability of the wider cast in showing just how unpsychedelic and not very wild they really are in contrast to some genuine flower power people.
So there you have it, probably not one of Hammer’s better offerings however for all its misgivings I like it anyway, but then I like most Hammer films, and especially anything with Christopher Lee and or Peter Cushing in it so perhaps I am biased (well I know I am). But Dracula A.D 1972 is a fun little film with generous amounts of cheese, bad wigs and unintentionally funny dialogue, throw in the aforementioned pairing of horror giants Lee and Cushing, ample lashings of fake blood over a very glamorous looking Caroline Munro, some hippies and a gothic looking church and its got to be a winner ( I think so anyway).