DOC’S JOURNEY INTO HAMMER FILMS #116: DRACULA A.D.1972 [1972]

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Directed by:
Written by:
Starring: , , ,

 

UK

AVAILABLE ON DVD

RUNNING TIME: 96 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

 

In 1872, Count Dracula and Lawrence Van Helsing do battle and kill each other, but one of Dracula’s disciples buries Dracula’s remains near Van Helsing’s grave at St Bartolph’s Church. One hundred years later, Johnny Alucard, who closely resembles that disciple of Dracula’s, persuades Jessica Van Helsing, granddaughter of Lorrimer Van Helsing who is a descendant of Lawrence Van Helsing, and her friends to attend a black magic ceremony in the now abandoned, deconsecrated St Bartolph’s. The ritual resurrects Dracula. A body is found drained of blood and a police investigation begins, but maybe it’s Lorrimer, an occult expert, who can really help….

While many films since Dracula A.D.1972 have successfully had vampires in the modern age, the Count himself has never fared too well when transplanted from the Victorian period. The first of two attempts by Hammer to do so, Dracula A.D.1972, despite bringing back Van Helsing who hadn’t been seen in the Hammer series since 1960’s The Brides Of Dracula, is a considerable misfire [though not a borderline disaster like The Horror Of Frankenstein], a film that does very little with its central idea. Dracula may be alive and well in 1972, but the film confines him to a desecrated church [supposedly this was at the insistence of Christopher Lee, but I find that surprising considering that he constantly complained about Hammer not giving the character enough to do], making no attempt to relate Dracula to modern society, in the process making him still seem anachronistic. There’s little atmosphere and seemingly little attempt at being frightening. For much of the time it just sort of plods along, though some fun can be had with its depiction of London teenagers which probably seemed outdated even at the time and which sometimes comes across as what old people think what young people are like and what they like to get up to. But the film never has the courage of its more kitschy elements and is only occasionally as entertaining as it should be.

No doubt inspired by the success of Count Yorga, Vampire, Warner Bros commissioned two Hammer Draculas set in the present day. Usual screenwriter Anthony Hinds refused to script it, so TV scribe Don Houghton did it. Initially called Dracula/Chelsea 1972 and then Dracula Today, it was supposedly inspired by the Highgate Vampire case in which supernatural activity was reported in Highgate Cemetery. The character of Jessica was originally written to be the daughter of Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing descendant, but the death of Cushing’s wife aged him considerably, so the script was quickly re-written to make him Jessica’s grandfather. Shooting took place in and around the Cavern coffee ship in Chelsea, Aldenham Country Park, and at Elstree Studios .Lee vetoed many lines making Dracula to be like the Devil such as: “I am the Curse, the Apollyon, Angel of the Destroying Furies, I am the Apocalypse”, though he did insist on a variant of a quote from Bram Stoker’s novel: “You would play your brains against mine, against me who has commanded nations?” Rod Stewart’s band The Faces were contracted to perform two songs, but had to.make way for Warner contracted band Stoneground. A few months later the new album from The Faces sold really well. Director Alan Gibson [Crescendo] and producer Josephine Douglas argued over the direction of the film. Released with the amusingly dire Trog, it was Hammer’s most successful horror production in some time. In the US, a brief clip was played before the film in which actor Barry Atwater (the vampire Janos Skorzeny in The Night Stalker) rises from a coffin and swears the entire audience in as members of the Count Dracula Society.

James Bernard’s three chord Dracula signature motif is heard over the Warner logo before we go into Dracula and Van Helsing, here renamed Lawrence Van Helsing, doing battle on a runaway carriage in 1872. There’s some discrepancy here between this film and Dracula which was set in the 1880’s, but then this is a new demise for Dracula anyway and Scars Of Dracula ignored previous entries too. Poor blocking hampers the excitement of the scene, and how the hell does Dracula get his whole arm stuck inside a wheel? Both combatants die, but somebody take Dracula’s signet ring and buries his ashes near Van Helsing’s grave at St Bartolph’s Church. There’s a nice pan up from Van Helsing’s funeral to reveal a plane in the sky, and then we meet our teenagers who of course are played by people far too old. Right from the word go, they spout supposedly trendy dialogue like: “A little sing-in with a little love-in on the side” and “some way out stuff just came in from Copenhagen”, and it just doesn’t seem like we are watching 1972 young folk despite a few drug references, whether it be the nightclub they go to with its quiet, soft music where they drink cola, or their fighting over tickets for the “new jazz spectacular at the Albert Hall”. One of their number, Johnny Alucard [read it backwards, something first done in Son Of Dracula and it would be done again despite being absurdly easy to recognise], is bored with the usual places and activities. “I wonder if you’re ready for something way way out, a date with the Devil” he says, just like Ralph Bates’s Lord Courtley in Taste The Blood Of Dracula.

In fact it’s all rather like that film for quite a while, including the method of Dracula’s ressurection, mixing blood with the Count’s ashes in a diabolical ceremony, though this time the person responsible is privileged to perform it above a writhing Caroline Munro, in a very small part. Dracula bites his next victim and gets Alucard to bring him some more, though much of the time is taken up with police procedural and exposition, with the present day Van Helsing now telling us that silver bullets are unreliable [why, is it because they’re for werewolves?], and garlic is not 100% successful, but that Dracula abhors silver, especially a silver bladed knife. Again, one can now become a vampire immediately after biting. A small group of teenage vampires is gradually set up but there’s little that’s exciting or scary until Van Helsing, after uttering lots of warnings that Inspector Coles and his men don’t know what they’re dealing with, sets out to rescue his granddaughter and must battle both Alucard and Dracula. The fight scenes are mostly slow and awkward, and Alucard stupidly dies accidentally when he falls into a bath after fleeing sunlight. Actually, come to think of it, you could almost say that for Dracula’s end too [after he repeats Taste The Blood Of Dracula‘s altar fall, though it doesn’t kill him this time]. He really does seem to be getting accident prone these days, though at least it takes several weapons to actually kill him, finishing with – a spade. That was a new one on me.

Stoker’s novel successfully incorporated Dracula into the society of the time, making him more frightening in the process, but here he never sets foot outside the church and for much of the time seems to be in a different film to the other characters. It’s more than a little lazy and really works against the movie’s effectiveness. Lee, given more normal looking makeup after Scars Of Dracula‘s pastiness, is as good as ever in his small amount of screen time. The sex and violence content is surprisingly minimised a bit in this one [you’d think it would be the opposite], the goriest scene being when Alucard smears blood all over Munro’s character Laura. But there’s some amusingly garish, Austin Powers-style set design in the naive depiction of young people, and the purple dominated night club is nicely used in a couple of scenes. And this film does have one of the best Dracula shots in the series, as he advances towards the camera in the church flanked by darkness. Gibson likes to show two scenes happening at the same time by cutting back and forth between them which sometimes disrupts the flow, and sometimes uses too many close-ups betraying his TV background, but finds a few good angles here and there.

.In total opposite to Lee, Cushing has quite a lot to do, be it dispensing grandfatherly advice or fighting vampires, and there’s a slight sense that he’s aware of the absurdity of the whole thing. Stephanie Beacham is a likeable Jessica, and her scenes with Cushing have considerable warmth, while it’s a nice surprise that Jessica’s boyfriend is vampirised, though not enough is made of this. Christopher Neame has a brooding, arrogant screen presence as Alucard. There are rumours that he was being groomed by Hammer to take over from Lee, though of course the series ended with just two more films. The lightweight score by Michael Vickers has a great catchy main theme which sounds like it belongs to a TV series of the time, but the rest of the score consists of little more than variations of the same theme. They’re often fun to hear – there’s one especially groovy one playing when Van Helsing confronts Alucard – but it gets a bit monotonous. The two Stoneground songs are okay and the music used in the church resurrection scene, The Black Mass: An Electric Storm in Hell from the White Noise album An Electric Storm, interestingly weird. There is stuff to enjoy in Dracula A.D.1972 to be sure, but it’s still a missed opportunity, failing even as good camp, and it’s obvious that Hammer just didn’t have their pulse on the younger generation of the time, the film almost coming across as a relic of a period that maybe never even existed.

Rating: ★★★★½☆☆☆☆☆

Dr Lenera
About Dr Lenera 2330 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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