Alan Gibson, 1972
Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Stephanie Beacham, Christopher Neame
“Dig the music, kids.”
After defeating Count Dracula and dying in the process, Abraham Van Helsing leaves behind his descendants to keep the world free of vampires. In 1972, Professor Van Helsing and his buxom granddaughter Jessica encounter an ancient (or at least medieval) evil when Dracula is resurrected by the descendants of one of his henchman in the form of Johnny Alucard, a friend of Jessica’s. He holds a Satanic ritual in a desacralized church and wakes up the Count with the hope that he will be made immortal as a reward. Dracula, in turn, begins to prey upon the youthful members of Jessica’s circle, leaving the police mystified and Van Helsing determined to vanquish his family’s formidable foe.
I took nearly all of Thanksgiving week off — a much needed break — but I’m back and more excited than ever to discuss one of my favorite films of all time, Dracula A.D. 1972. This seventh film in Hammer’s Dracula series marks the welcome return of Peter Cushing, whose Van Helsing sadly only appeared in Dracula and The Brides of Dracula before disappearing for the ensuing sequels. Now, listen carefully. Basically every review of this film writes it off as terrible, boring, cheesy, with a horrible soundtrack, and a ridiculous lack of continuity. I don't know what movie those people saw, because this is easily the most fun entry in the Hammer Dracula series.
Though it lacks the somber mood and Gothic atmosphere of the beginning of the series, it is ridiculously fun and has more of a sense of humor than probably any other Hammer Horror effort. I might have to give in and admit that this is my favorite, even though Peter Cushing doesn't slap any hysterical women (or men). Not coincidentally, this is among the first of Hammer’s Gothic horror films to have a contemporary setting — a direct result of the success of Count Yorga, Vampire, another film I adore. Though this breaks continuity with the earlier films of the series — the intro shows a spirited fight atop a stagecoach, which involved Van Helsing killing Dracula — it’s wonderful to see Lee and Cushing back together again.
Much like The Brides of Dracula and the remainder of the series from this point on, Dracula A.D. 1972 is Peter Cushing’s film. It may be unclear whether or not Lorrimer — yes, that’s his name — Van Helsing is a doctor, anthropologist, or just nebulous “occult expert,” but he has all the best dialogue and most of the best scenes… That is, when they aren’t being stolen by Christopher Neame’s Johnny Alucard. I’ve always loved Neame in this role and wished that his character could return for more films, but alas. Actually, he was resurrected by author (and horror aficionado) Kim Newman for part of his great Anno Dracula novel series. I love the first book and can’t wait to catch up with this one.
Alucard brings to mind plenty of similarities with Taste the Blood of Dracula — a spectacular black mass sequence and a servant attempting to use the tools of his master (especially Dracula’s ring) to attain eternal life — and it’s clear that Hammer had some success with this formula, I would say so much that I don’t know why recent directors don’t do more films about Dracula’s charismatic servants, rather than resurrecting the old boy over and over again. Of course, some opportunities are also squandered. For instance, the lovely Caroline Munro — one of Hammer’s sexiest starlets — is given a spectacular death scene via satanic ritual, but then she’s later discovered in construction rubble as a corpse. Why not resurrect her as a vampire bride and give her a chance to return with Johnny?
Its few flaws aside, Dracula A.D. 1972 is colorful, endearing, and fun. This film is full of some amazing and hilarious set pieces. There are ridiculous clothes, '70s lingo, and bored “teenagers” (everyone in the film is clearly in their mid to late 20s) desperate for a laugh. Don't forget about the completely random musical performance in the beginning of the film from Stone Ground (this was allegedly supposed to be Rod Stewarts’ band Faces), where a group of kids crash an upper class dinner party and time themselves to see how long they can linger before the bobbies arrive. It's a shame they forget the couple under the dining room table still having sex.
Fortunately this film is still in print, though Warner Home Video did put out the cheapest DVD imaginable. It comes with the highest possible recommendation. Though there are no special features, there is a swingin’ trailer. It makes a great double feature with the follow up film The Satanic Rites of Dracula, which is also set in the present and continues the storyline of Lorrimer and Jessica Van Helsing teaming up against the Count.