|Director:|| Alan Gibson |
|Writers:|| Don Houghton |
|Starring:|| Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Christopher Neame, Caroline Munro and Stephanie Beacham |
| ||The Plot: Dracula A.D. 1972 begins the same way that one expects a Hammer vampire movie to end, with a grand battle between Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) and Count Dracula (Christopher Lee). As the two wage war whilst riding through the wilderness in a carriage, it derails and ultimately leads to both of their deaths. Once Dracula dies, via a broken spoke from a wheel that is jammed straight through his heart, one of his followers comes along and secretly scoops up his ashes. He then sneakily buries Dracula’s ashes only a few feet away from Van Helsing’s grave. We then skip forward one hundred years to wild and vibrant 1972 Britain. Here we meet a gang of friends comprised of social misfits. They are continually crashing parties, having fun, and generally living the rock & roll lifestyle. Within this group we meet the relative newcomer Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame) who bares a shocking resemblance to the previous follower of Dracula who buried the great vampire’s ashes next to Van Helsing’s grave. Also within this group is Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham), the great-granddaughter of the original Van Helsing. Her father, Lorrimer Van Helsing (also played by Peter Cushing), has continued on with the family legacy and is now one of the world’s most formal leaders within the study of occult activities. As one might derive, Johnny Alucard hasn’t joined Jessica Van Helsing’s group of friends for no reason in particular. He has some shady goals in mind, and after hosting a black mass near the grave of Dracula, Britain will once again be haunted by a Vampire plague. |
Of the Hammer films that I have been told to find, Dracula A.D. 1972
is one that I have always noticed gets a lot of talk. While it certainly is not considered top tier within the Hammer library, this “classic monster meets modern technology” film is certainly held in much higher regard than A Vampire in Brooklyn
. Set up as a fish out of water style story, the film came at the end of the Hammer-Dracula cycle. Made due to the popularity of Count Yorga, Vampire
, which was set in contemporary time, the movie was destined to be something “different” within the Hammer catalog. Beginning as such a novelty, the movie could have turned out to be anything. One almost expects something like this to be a tongue-in-cheek affair that revels in its cheese, but Dracula A.D. 1972
actually plays it straight. At times, it could even be accused of playing things a little too straight for its own good. However, this isn’t a title that is easily distinguished. It’s almost difficult just to judge it as being good or bad. It simply exists for the most part. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Dracula A.D. 1972
is a movie that tries its best to defy the audience and go into new and interesting directions. Unfortunately, these new directions do not always pay out very well.
Honestly, I never thought about Dracula being killed with the wooden spokes of a wheel from a carriage. The thought that Dracula, the allpowerful Lord of Darkness on earth, could be killed off in any potential collision between carriages is enough to make one want to re-evaluate the powers belonging to Dracula. While he may be impervious to nearly any attack, if Dracula has a wooden chandelier fall on him from the wrong angle – he’s a dead man. Indeed, this bold statements on the vampire mythos, made in the first few minutes of the movie no less, makes Dracula seem far less impenetrable than I have ever taken note. Dracula, according to Vasn Helsing, will abhor silver plated knives and could also be killed by being dunked in clear water. Although these are obviously taken from the myth of all vampires (the clear water thing may be in reference to their inability to cross rushing water), when stated in quick secession it honestly doesn’t sound terribly hard to have killed this creature. Certainly not after the movie opens with him being killed by a spoke. Now, at this point, readers may be wondering why I’m going off on a tangent like this, because it obviously has little bearing on the movie itself. Unfortunately, these tiny adjustments to the vampire movie formula are actually more interesting than many periods within Dracula A.D. 1972
The film is such an odd duck. Starting off by showcasing the distinctions between modern youth and a stuffy older generation, the movie has a very energetic beginning. The opening “party” sequence, which features all of the youthful cast making guesses about when the cops will show up to a party that they have crashed, is very engaging. It shows humor, some modern rebellion, interesting visuals… indeed, the movie starts off with its best foot forward. Johnny Alucard is actually a very interesting villain within the film, setting the movie up in a very dark and menacing way. As things progress, and he holds the black mass that becomes a center-point for the movie, he shows how intense a character he can be. The black mass sequence is certainly a highlight, as we watch Alucard go into a fit of angry shouting and enraged grimaces. Alucard’s monologue during the scene is filled with references to legitimate demonology and black magic, crafting something very morbid and slightly disturbing. By the time he pours his chalice, filled with blood and ash, over a young girl’s body, we know that something really wicked is afoot.
Surprisingly, Dracula is missing from the movie for nearly the entire first half hour. Then, even after that he doesn’t make regular appearances within the movie until everything starts to build to a close. Some might be disappointed by this turn of events, but it’s always interesting to see a series deviate from expectations. Yet, this also means that the movie slows down a great deal without a strong antagonist. Johnny Alucard is interesting enough, but even his role is delegated less time after a certain point. The movie lacks in the action department, but when things do pick up, they provide a decent amount of interest. Truthfully, once the police become involved, a certain percentage of the movie starts to reflect a police procedural drama. The combination of Van Helsing’s search and the police officer closing in on Dracula, it begins to give the movie a classical “vampire story” vibe, but only this time there is far less of Dracula sneaking in through unlocked windows. He has Johnny Alucard in a Renfield-esque role, but only without the bug eating. If a lack of Dracula action sounds like it might make the story seem less involving, then you’ve probably guessed right. Despite there being moments of pure entertainment found in the movie, Dracula A.D. 1972
proves to be missing a strong ingredient when it comes to making a great vampire story.
Although it takes a while to get there, Peter Cushing is certainly fantastic as the one who presses the action in the movie. His faceoff with Johnny Alucard is definitely a great moment within the movie, as Cushing brings a sense of confidence and power to the role that somehow backs the villainous Alucard down. The performances are very well done, as is expected within these Hammer titles, but they only carry the film so far. The conflict section towards the end, with Dracula and his army versus Van Helsing, is the stuff that draws us to these movies, and the introduction of the swinging seventies is quite an interesting start, but the sagging middle section is a drag that is hard to overcome. These sequences would have been ideal to develop some sort of menace or darkness, but the fascination with seventies aesthetics prevents the film from going too deep into its horror roots. Even the creepiest moments in the film are backed by a jazzy soundtrack that seems more funky that it does scary, and ultimately delivering chills is not what this movie aims to do.
Ultimately, Dracula A.D. 1972
has some very intriguing elements to be found within its runtime. Unfortunately, most are marred by a lagging pace and a lack of… and forgive me for the pun, but a lack of “bite.” Overall, the movie is enjoyable, but not very special. It gets a 3 out of 5 and comes with a very reserved recommendation. If you want to see more of Hammer vampire lore, there are better places to start, but if you want to complete your Cushing/Lee vampire films, then this will be a relatively fun detour.
You might also be interested in: