Retro Review: ‘Dracula A.D. 1972’
Hammer may have put themselves on the map by taking the proverbial classical gothic horror baton from Universal and running with it. But come the late 60’s and into the early 70’s the genre was changing. The powers that be knew Hammer flicks could not be as violent as the American horror films due to the strictness of the British Film Board. They compensated by making their movies; hipper, sexier, edgier, and giving them more unsettling occult influences. This is on perfect display in films such as; Taste the Blood of Dracula, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, To the Devil a Daughter, and this film in this review Dracula A.D. 1972. This movie continued the process of making Bram Stoker’s creation scary to a modern audience, this time they did so by bringing the vampire into a contemporary setting to prey on the kind of counter culture British teens who were no doubt in the audience when this movie premiered. Strangely this idea came about from sources outside the studio, as Warner Brothers, who distributed the films in the US, saw the success of the movie Count Yorga, and suggested Hammer modernize the most famous bloodsucker of them all. Naturally, Sir Christopher Lee was once again reluctantly cast to don the cape once more it what would be his next to last time playing Dracula.
Such is the running theme with Hammer’s Dracula movies, the immortal Count was slain in the previous movie (Scars of Dracula), but that meant nothing. In fact the cold opening of this flick features a battle between Dracula and Van Helsing not featured in any previous movie. It is London 1972 and we are introduced to a band of hip, swinging teenagers who have bought into the counter culture scene. When interrupting a stiff party of squares which may as well been hosted by the Crawleys, they meet aloof newcomer, Johnny Alucard. He encourages them to join in a black magic ritual because it will be far out. Alucard has singled this group out because among their members is Jessica Van Helsing the granddaughter of current Van Helsing patriarch Lorrimer. In a not so shocking twist, this is the traditional Satanic ritual used to resurrect Count Dracula.
In this strange unfamiliar new world, Dracula does what he always does; feeds on sexy buxom women and bosses around a human lackey seeking power. Preying on Jessica’s friends to psychologically torture the young woman, naturally gains the attention of Professor Van Helsing as well as Inspector Murray of Scotland Yard. Lorrimer carries on the family tradition by battling the Count and finishing him off in awesomely violent fashion as is the tradition for Hammer. Sadly Jessica was given little to do in the final battle aside from being hypnotized to aiding Dracula during the fight. It would be nice if filmmakers had done something to put her on the path to follow the family tradition of battling monsters.
This is one of my favorite chapters in Hammer’s Dracula saga, bringing a character from classical Victorian literature to a swinging 70’s setting (immediately dating it) set to a groovy disco soundtrack, is as much fun as you think it is. One of my personal favorite highlights features Van Helsing battling a newly undead Johnny in a scene which would fit perfectly in a Shaft or Bond flick, ending with the vampire melting in the running water of a shower. In fact strangely enough the famed vampire slayer was a major selling point to the film, due to Peter Cushing reprising the role after a 12 year hiatus. In fact this was the first time since 1958’s Horror of Dracula that Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing would square off as Dracula and Van Helsing. Given the close friendship the two actors shared, the chemistry they had while sharing the screen was undeniable.
Director Alan Gibson carries on the Hammer tradition of making Dracula A.D. 1972 a visual feast for the viewer. Whether the action takes place in a crumbling gothic church or a super hip club, the scenery popped with life. Gibson along with screenwriter Don Houghton had their work cut out for them in modernzing the Dracula mythos. To do so they turned to a British urban legend the Highgate Vampire for inspiration. The idea of a supernatural being stalking a London cemetery was a great jumping off point for them. Unfortunately they failed to truly play with the idea of Lee’s Dracula being a fish-out-of-water in modern day which could have been an interesting story element.
While Dracula A.D. 1972 did not reach the level of quality of some of the others in the series, it is incredibly entertaining. Granted this film, as well as its sequel the Satanic Rites of Dracula, a solid setting in the 1970’s does date them in a way the period piece preceding films did not have to worry about. That being set it did have a unique style to it which makes the movie a blast to watch, and there is never a dull moment. Plus Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing sharing the screen as Dracula and Van Helsing is always a strong selling point for fans of horror.