Cushing! Lee! Munro! Neame! - Dracula A.D. 1972!

dracula 1972
Dracula A.D. 1972, a Hammer Horror directed by Alan Gibson and written by Don Houghton, is, as the title says, the studio trying to give their long running vampire cycle some new life and zest with a groovy modern twist, transplanting Dracula (Christopher Lee) from his usual period surroundings to an era when large cravats and yellow wallpaper were still respectable.
The film opens with a smashing prologue set in 1872. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) and Dracula scuffle around on a speeding runaway horse carriage in a dark and foggy forest. Dracula ends up impaled on a broken cartwheel and Van Helsing also dies but a mysterious figure is glimpsed collecting some ashes. Flash forward to 1972 and hipster Chelsea. Jangly seventies music, a jet plane in the sky, cars.
Now, 100 years later, Dracula is about to be revived once again by teenage rebel Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame). Johnny and his gang of teenage hippie tearaways - none of whom look a day under 30 - like to gatecrash posh houses and stage parties until the occupants call the fuzz and everybody makes a run for it.
dracula 1972
As much fun as this is, Johnny is looking for something new to do for kicks. "A date with the Devil. A bacchanal with Beelzebub!" He ends-up resurrecting none other than Count Dracula after a black magic ceremony at an old ruined church slated for demolition. "Master, I did it, I summoned you!" You have to laugh when Dracula refuses to thank him for this. Whatever. Who needed your help pipsqueak? I'm Dracula you muppet.
One of Johnny's gang happens to be Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham), a descendant of Dracula's sworn enemy and granddaughter of modern day occult expert Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing once again). A turn up for the books that twist. The epic struggle between Professor Van Helsing and Dracula is about to play out once again. This time with a backdrop of sideburns and flared trousers.
Dracula A.D. 1972 is a silly film and tends to be sneered at in Hammer/Dracula retrospectives but the cast is top banana (four future Bond stars AND Peter Cushing) and the modern day setting is good for a few laughs. Johnny is a descendent of the man who took Dracula's ashes all those years ago. An acolyte of the blood drinking dandy through this family connection, painstakingly passed down through the ages. Something along those lines. Spell his second name backwards.
With Dracula holed-up in the abandoned church, Johnny lures his friends one by one to be victims as Cushing's Professor Van Helsing becomes drawn into these diabolical affairs when Inspector Murray (Michael Coles), puzzled by a rash of bloodless corpses that keep appearing in London, consults him on the occult nature of this developing case.
One shortcoming with the screenplay is that it keeps Dracula confined to the old church and limits Christopher Lee's time onscreen as we follow the escapades of the suspiciously old looking and not very hip teenagers. "Okay, okay," says one of Johnny's cohorts at the black magic ritual. "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."
dracula carolina munro
A blood drenched Caroline Munro makes her mark as Laura Bellows. This film and a Hammer contract persuaded her to become a full-fledged actress. There are four future Bond stars in the film with Lee, Munro, Neame and Michael Kitchen as Greg. Kitchen looks like a young Ray Brooks with his curled barnet.
The modern day setting dated the film from the second it came out but it's a laugh now and the 'teenagers' look like they've just been for lunch at a Bill Maynard owned cafe where Richard O'Sullivan was the chef and then gone home to a house where Terry Scott and June Whitfield might live next door.
This all explains why Christopher Lee's Dracula spends the film constricted to the gloom of an abandoned church - a far more traditional Hammer environment than a seventies party with pop music and luminous shirts. Lee was said to be unhappy at updating the series and shuttling Dracula into modern times. What next, he probably muttered as his cape was fitted, Dracula in Space?
He is not allowed to interact with the rest of the film too much but his scenes in the church give you value for money and are strikingly framed and lit in the best Hammer tradition. Dracula A.D. 1972 begins and ends with showdowns between Van Helsing and Dracula and it always feels iconic when Lee and Cushing face off against one another as these characters.
dracula 1972 cushing
A lot of actors seem so contemporary you never believe them in a historical setting but Peter Cushing is always pukka in period affairs and plays Van Helsing as an anachronism, a descendent who is like having the original Van Helsing around. If you count the prologue you get two Van Helsing's for the price of one.
Cushing's greatest gift was to lend a committed and engaging performance in any film he appears, however silly the film might be. Doug McClure might be engaged in a life and death struggle with a giant rubber octopus or wrestling a monster at the Earth's core who looks like an oversized chicken but Cushing will still give it his best shot.
He does this again in in Dracula A.D. 1972 with his usual quiet charm and flashes of intensity. Cushing's voice is a pleasure to listen to. "There is evil in the world. There are dark, awful things. Occasionally, we get a glimpse of them. But there are dark corners; horrors almost impossible to imagine, even in our worst nightmares!"
Christopher Neame tries to be sinister as Johnny and isn't bad - despite coming across sometimes like a poor man's Alex from a Clockwork Orange. Stephanie Beacham is well cast as Dracula's intended revenge victim Jessica, looks great in sacrificial skimpy Hammer film costumes and has a few nice scenes with Cushing. "Weird, man. Way out," says Jessica, not entirely escaping the attempts at groovy youth culture dialogue altogether. "I mean, spooks, hobgoblins, black magic. All that sort of stuff."
Dracula A.D. 1972 is absolute nonsense and at nearly 100 minutes a little on the long side but it is a laugh and with that cast I won't hear too many bad things said about it.
- GH

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