Dracula A.D. 1972
U.K. / 1972
Directed by Alan Gibson
Starring
Christopher Lee
Peter Cushing
Stephanie Beacham
Color / 96 Minutes / PG

Format: DVD / R1 - NTSC
Warner Home Video
Music from the film
Main Title Theme
MP3 format - 2.0 MB
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
5
    5   10 = Highest Rating  
Having used up everything gothic they could throw at the screen, Britain's Hammer Films decided to keep churning out Dracula movies only now with the vampire king prowling a modern-day setting. The first attempt at this, Dracula A.D. 1972, is a silly hodgepodge of dank, foggy crypts and Austin Powers-era youth culture. It's certainly the first Dracula film featuring a scene set at an automatic car wash.
    It opens with a pre-titles sequence that harkens back to the Hammer flicks of yore. It is 1872. Dracula (Christopher Lee) and Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) are battling each other atop a runaway coach in London's Hyde Park. (A narrator who humorously rolls the "R" in "Dracula" with Monty Pythonesque absurdity tell us this.) Drac flings Van Helsing from the coach just before it tears loose from the traces. The coach smashes into a tree with Dracula aboard. When Van Helsing staggers to his senses he is attacked by the Count, who has the spokes of a broken coach wheel impaled in his chest. (Funny, but Drac doesn't seem to mind that their little buggy ride through the park is obviously taking place in daylight.) Van Helsing manages to pin Dracula to the earth; the vampire expires for the umpteenth time into a pile of smoky dust. Mortally wounded, Van Helsing slumps to the ground just as a young man rides up on horseback. The man gathers some of Dracula's ashes in a vial and takes his signet ring. The credits then transition us a century in time, with shots of driving along London's motorways accompanied by jarringly modern music that could easily serve as the theme to a '70s TV action show.
    The story picks up at an upscale soiree crashed by a bunch of hippies, who shimmy to the groovy sounds of the rock band Stoneground while the older stuffed shirts look on in disgust. (Apparently a musical group never heard from since, Stoneground gets to play two songs including one called "Alligator Man" during the party sequence.) Thankfully the cops are soon called and the hippies have to flee. That morning they're back at their usual haunt, a coffee bar called The Cavern. The group's unofficial leader, aloof bohemian Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame), promises a break from the usual "tired scene." Something different and exciting, he says; "a date with the Devil a bacchanal with Beelzebub." Everyone seems game for a Black Mass except Jessica (nicely stacked Stephanie Beacham), who wonders if it might be a bit dangerous to fool around with the occult. She ought to know; her grandfather is Prof. Lorimer Van Helsing (Cushing again), renowned anthropologist and descendent of the great vampire slayer. Chided by her pals and boyfriend, Jessica hesitantly agrees to participate. They're to meet at St. Bartoff's, an abandoned church slated for demolition, at midnight for the ritual. What Jessica and her friends don't know is that Johnny is an acolyte of Dracula, himself a descendent of the man who witnessed the death struggle between the vampire and his archenemy 100 years earlier. Dracula's ring and the vial containing his ashes have been passed down to him; he's been waiting for the perfect moment to resurrect his undead idol.
    Dracula is brought back to life, of course, and the willing Johnny offers up his friends one by one as aperitifs for the Count. First to go is the luscious Caroline Munro (as hippy chick Laura), who really, really should've had more screen time! While Drac skulks about the ruins of St. Bartoff's waiting for his next meal delivery, Inspector Murray of Scotland Yard (Michael Coles) is investigating the bloodless corpses that've started popping up. For help on the obvious occult angle to the case Murray consults with the field's top expert in London, Prof. Van Helsing. The professor is horrified to learn that his granddaughter Jessica is involved with Dracula's minions, and is in fact soon scheduled for a date with the bloodsucker himself...
    A ridiculous movie on its face, Dracula A.D. 1972 is as dated as its title. Mixing vampires and hippies is a dubious proposition at best (see The Deathmaster), but even more so when the vampire in question is the most famous in literature and film. Frankly, for something like this to even have a chance to work it needs to be edgier, sleazier '72 feels constricted by its PG-rated approach to both horror and the depiction of bohemian youth. (They were showing the film completely uncut on TNT's Monstervision more than 10 years ago.) The musical score is pretty groovy but, for obvious reasons, Dracula and Starsky and Hutch-style riffs just don't go together. The titular character again gets very limited screen time, spending the entire film in and around the derelict church; scripter Don Houghton keeps Drac imprisoned in this one location as if he were chained inside his coffin. (In the similarly themed Blacula, the vampire waking up after two centuries of slumber wastes no time whatsoever checking out his new environment, immediately going for a nocturnal stroll.) Still, it's always great to see Christopher Lee as The Count (especially when he's working his undead mojo on babes like Caroline Munro and Stephanie Beacham), even if the character is again relegated to supporting player status. Leave it to the always-reliable Peter Cushing to keep things afloat in between Dracula's appearances. Although 60 and starting to look frail, he's every bit as as sharp and energetic as in his first turns as Van Helsing, Horror of Dracula (1958) and The Brides of Dracula (1960).
    One can have a fun time with this movie mostly because of its faults. It's cheese all right, professionally made cheese that's much better acted and staged than it really has any right to be. The Brits are real pros at this. (Quickly followed by a direct sequel, The Satanic Rites of Dracula.)

Warner's spankin' new DVD looks fantastic, boasting a nearly pristine widescreen (1.85:1) anamorphic transfer. Having previously watched the film only via fullscreen VHS and cable TV broadcasts I can testify that I've never seen it look this good. The mono audio track is serviceable enough (though marred by a few passages of low, muffled dialog); a French language track is also offered. Optional subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish. The campy theatrical trailer ("Are you ready? He's ready... He's waiting to freak you out right out of this world...") is the the only bonus feature. The use of original poster art for the packaging is a nice touch. 10/08/05
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