DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)
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Hammer Films tried to freshen up the Dracula series and did so by bringing The Count (Christopher Lee) to modern day London and brought back Peter Cushing as Van Helsing! They also brought in a new writer and director and the film appears to have no continuity with the other previous films in the series.
The story opens in 1872 with a stage coach hurtling through the forest with Dracula and Van Helsing battling on and about it. The coach crashes and both the good doctor and the fiendish vampire die in one final battle. A disciple (Christopher Neame) of Dracula’s takes his remains and buries them outside the cemetery that now holds the body of Van Helsing. We cut to 1972 London were a group of thrill seeking, young hipsters, including Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham), are planning a dark ritual at a de-sanctified, abandoned church. Their leader Johnny (also Christopher Neame) is actually a decedent of that Dracula disciple from the prologue and the black mass he holds, raises Count Dracula from his grave to start feeding on the members of the group. Now it’s up to Jessica’s grandfather, Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), to take up his ancestor’s cause and send Dracula back to Hell where he belongs!
I understand why purists of the series might consider this one a low point for bringing Dracula to the 70s and surrounding him with swinging hipsters and funky music, but I think it’s good fun. Don Houghton wrote the script and while it may not be the strongest of stories, it is refreshing to have a different setting and Cushing back as Dracula’s arch-rival. It also gives a fairly good reason for Dracula’s return as Johnny resurrects him to gain immortality. Alan Gibson directs fairly by-the-numbers, but imbues the film with so much of the 70s youth culture of the time with it’s music and fashions that, if nothing else, it gives the film a heavy 70s nostalgia to make it a treat. Sadly, the film also gives Dracula limited screen time focusing on Van Helsing, but as Cushing has been away from the series since 1960’s Lee-less Brides Of Dracula, we’ll allow it. There is some blood spattered, but after Scars Of Dracula’s R rating caused distribution problems, they went back to PG and it is limited and there is no nudity. The film has a fairly moderate pace, but there is a lot of action and there is some nice cinematography from Dick Bush and a jazzy 70s score by Mike Vickers, who replaced series regular James Bernard. A fun entry with a very 70s vibe and while Dracula’s screen time is limited, there are two nice confrontations with arch-nemesis Van Helsing bookending the film.
A good cast as usual. Again, Lee is in top form giving Dracula a sense of menace despite limited screen time. A testament to his work ethic that he performed so well, a role he came to hate. Cushing is as charming as ever and he provides a welcome boost to the film and gives his performance a nice energy and sincerity as the occult expert and ancestor of the legendary Lawrence Van Helsing. Stephanie Beacham’s Jessica Van Helsing is pretty and a bit more independent than some of the series’ ladies, but ends up being a damsel anyway. Christopher Neame seems to be channeling Malcolm McDowell’s Alex here, to a good degree, but it works in context to the character and setting. Michael Coles is functional but, a bit by-the-numbers as Inspector Murray, a cop investigating the ‘mysterious’ deaths. Last, but not least, we get hot British bird Caroline Munro as an unfortunate member of the hipster group and future Dracula snack.
So, while many feel this was the series’ low point, I respectfully disagree. I really love the 70s vibe and despite a minimal appearance by The Count, it is evened out a bit by the return of Cushing as Van Helsing. The film is loaded with 70s nostalgia, there are some very effective set pieces and is definitely enough fun to make it an entertaining watch. Lee and Cushing would return one more time to battle it out in the follow-up, The Satanic Rites Of Dracula.
Even surrounded by Dracula A.D. 1972‘s bevy of Hammer beauties, Lee can’t help express how tired he is of all this.