Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
There isn't much to be said for Hammer films' Dracula A.D. 1972 as even hardcore Christopher Lee fans agree that it's the nadir of the Hammer Dracula series and perhaps of the studio itself. Almost nobody defends the film except perhaps to compliment its cinematography. Hammer's attempts to 'get with the times' was like a middle-aged man behaving like a kid and embarrassing himself. They first tried sexing up their films and succeeded only in rating themselves out of the under-18 market that kept them going. But this attempt to inject their iconic Dracula character into Mod London (about six years too late) is to wince at.
100 years ago. Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) corners and dispatches his vampire foe Count Dracula (Christopher Lee), not noticing that a stranger has collected the Count's ashes in a small vial. 1972: Van Helsing's grandson and namesake is now a professor as well, and is concerned about the wild parties attended by his niece Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham). He has plenty of reason to be upset, as one of Jessica's more dissipated cronies is Johnny Alucard, a descendant of the fellow who collected the ashes, and Johnny's idea of a trippy time is to perform a black mass and resurrect a demon ... you know, just for kicks!
One can tell that a film company isn't looking at the long haul for a film when it puts its year of release in the title. Even the down-market 1958 picture Frankenstein 1970 had the sense to consider that the film wouldn't be totally out of date for at least twelve years. Dracula A.D. 1972 also plays to lose by courting a hip crowd, an ambition that only the top trend-setters could get away with - for every clever 1960s Beatles romp there were three or four excruciating vehicles for bands like Herman and the Hermits. Seeing the House of Hammer attempting to portray a gaggle of with-it London swingers is a painful experience now, and must have been equally agonizing when it was new, especially for the Brits. I can't see teens or young adults that have just watched Stanley Kubrick's futuristic Droogs groove at the Korova Milkbar, having much patience with Johnny Alucard's gaggle of post-Carnaby Street pretenders.
Hammer apparently decided that falling revenues in the late 60s were a result of changing trends, when the fact was that their once-popular Horror films just weren't a guaranteed good time any more. If they no longer seemed novel, it wasn't because they took place in Victorian times, it was because the stories were too repetitive and predictable. And when they did put together a novel idea the productions were often too cheap to follow through. The Devil Rides Out and Quatermass and the Pit weren't half as successful as the lavishly mounted One Million Years, B.C., and all were atypical productions.
But by 1971 the studio was in a tailspin, putting out a Dracula movie every year because the only thing left that they could pre-sell were the good names of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Dracula A.D. 1972 brings them back for a few days of filming, in a screenplay written to favor other characters. Hammer had struck out with every attempt to create new iconic horror actors, with audiences rejecting Ralph Bates no matter what he was in. Perhaps the old men thought that Christopher Neame's 'Johnny Alucard' would be popular - "Hey kids, he's a James Dean vampire - you know, one of your own!"
As might be expected, the underlying message is conservative drivel about loose morals leading to damnation. It's taken as gospel that youngsters into sex, drugs and rock and roll are at risk to be snookered into the devil's lair. The most depraved among them, Johnny Alucard, is just the old drug-pusher character from JD films, jazzed at the idea that he can be a new Prince of Darkness if he just unleashes the scourge of Dracula. Young people hate the world, want to destroy it and have to be restrained by their wise elders. You know, the ones in power who start wars and use their religions to persecute each other. And who says Hammer films aren't relevant?
Dracula A.D. 1972 is competently shot and acted to little effect. The opening scenes of a rockin' love-in being busted up by the cops look worse than a Monty Python parody, with dope-smoking 'youths' getting it on under the buffet table and prissy old dames grimacing at the horror of it all. Young Jessica comes back from this cornball orgy and assures her uncle the Professor that she's both a virgin and hasn't used hard drugs; in truth she's a personality-challenged 'bird' like all the others in her little male-dominated group. Being assertive and female doesn't pay, as the exuberant bird Laura Bellows finds out when she volunteers to be, like, a bride of Satan. Since Bellows is played by horror siren Caroline Munro and does a wild sacrifice scene, Dracula A.D. 1972 still has some loyal fans.
But the rest of the story is depressingly mechanical. Weak attempts at comedy show Hammer ill-equipped to alter its formula. Christopher Lee's Dracula expresses his glee at being free once again, but he never discovers what it's like out there in the far future, as he never leaves the deconsecrated church (set) where he was revived. Finally, the ultimate evidence of complete cluelessness appears when Van Helsing methodically works out the Alucard-Dracula anagram on a sheet of paper, like a kindergartner figuring out a block puzzle. "Hm, this can only mean one thing - a disciple!" Hammer seems to think that its audience is some amorphous unknown mass that never saw a horror film ...now even the most familiar occult expert in the movies has to strain his noggin to figure out what we all knew six pictures before.
Dracula A.D. 1972 has some okay action blocking, and Cushing and Lee are able to animate their scenes with the dashing stage physicality that served them well in the past. By now Dracula should be checking himself into Maladroit Monsters Anonymous, for he can't go more than a scene or two without impaling himself on the first wooden object available. I mean, hide the toothpicks, Drac might hurt himself. All in all, the movie is just an uncomfortable snooze.
Warners' DVD of Dracula A.D. 1972 is a good enhanced transfer of a fairly well-shot film. Director Alan Gibson's sensible staging is well served by a bright and colorful image. Perhaps too bright; in the Oct. 17 '05 instalment of his new Video Watchblog Column Tim Lucas points out mis-timings in the day-for-night opening flashback. I doubt that flaw will be a deal-breaker where this title is concerned. The one extra is an optimistically-edited trailer that doesn't seem to realize how unintentionally funny it is.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Dracula A.D. 1972 rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 23, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson