TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)

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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.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 fangs.

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Even surrounded by Dracula A.D. 1972‘s bevy of Hammer beauties, Lee can’t help express how tired he is of all this.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: HORROR PLANET/INSEMINOID (1981)

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HORROR PLANET/INSEMINOID (1981)

This 1981 horror/ thriller was retitled from Inseminoid to Horror Planet for it US release, but regardless of what you call it, this British Alien rip-off blows a really good exploitation movie premise by simply taking itself far too seriously.

Story takes place in the far future on a base stationed on a remote planet with a team exploring an archeological dig in what appears to be some kind of tomb. After the discovery of some odd crystals (which are forgotten about after the first act) things start to go awry with an accident putting one astronaut in a coma and driving another one apparently mad. His antics result in another of the crew’s death and the survivors do the logical thing (add the appropriate sarcasm as you read) and send people right back into the tomb. This time they are attacked by an alien creature that kills the male crew member, and then the bug-eyed E.T. impregnates poor Sandy (Judy Geeson) on what appears to be a tanning bed. Of course Sandy is found and brought back to the base and before you can say ‘pregnancy cravings’ she starts murdering and partially devouring her fellow crew members…including those in comas and the bodies of the already dead. When she’s not chowing down on her crew mates, she’s blowing up vital base equipment all the while tormenting the survivors via intercom like a pregger Bruce Willis in a space set Die Hard movie. If battling this pontificating expectant mother with super strength and a diet of human flesh isn’t enough, she gives birth to not one but two bug eyed little baby monsters for the dwindling survivors to deal with!

If this sounds like a blast, it should be, but it’s not. Director Norman J. Warren apparently didn’t read Nick and Gloria Maley’s script too closely, complete with it’s ridiculous scenes…such as when using Sandy’s offspring as bait, the woman placed in charge of them is cuddling them like they are puppies…yea, that’s gonna end well…and scientist characters doing the stupidest possible things in dealing with the homicidal baby momma. He not only directs this with a dead serious tone, but also very by-the-numbers, so it’s far too dull to enjoy even as a ‘so bad it’s good’ flick. Not that their isn’t some fun to be had, as it is amusing to watch Geeson running around shrieking like a banshee and the demented look on her face as she murders and then prepares to devour her colleagues. That along with the birthing is worth a few chuckles. In fact, if there is anything really positive to say, it’s that Judy Geeson, who is a good British actress and quite reputable at the time, is such a great sport with all that she’s required to do. She’s raped by a tube while fully nude, then runs around like a lunatic killing and eating people and follows that up by squeezing out her young in a graphic birthing sequence. She handles some humiliating scenes and somehow keeps her dignity. She takes the silly ball and runs with it and I only wish director Warren approached the material with the same gusto as his leading lady, then we might of at least had some Corman-ish fun with a script that screamed exploitation flick…and that’s what kills it, even the laughable bits are just dull. Either treat the material as exploitation and have some real fun with it or at least dive in with both feet and give it some energy and intensity. The story is obviously not 2001: A Space Odyssey, so there’s no use trying to pretend your burger is a prime steak…it’s a burger, throw some cheese on it and have a good time! Warren tries to make Masterpiece Theater out of a drive-in flick and it kills what could have been a B-movie classic. No changes needed to the script, just embrace it for the gory nonsense it is and have a blast with it. He goes all pretentious as if it was going to change the fact that this is a flick about a woman getting knocked-up by an alien and eating her friends to nourish her unborn bastard children…and bastards they are, cause Mr. Alien is a deadbeat dad and vanishes once the deed is done, leaving Sandy to raise and feed the kids all by herself. What a jerk!

Production-wise there is plentiful gore, our critters are appropriately ugly and slimy thought the sets are kinda cheesy. The other cast members… including Stephanie Beacham and Victoria Tennant (the future Mrs. Steve Martin) who went on to better things… are fairly wooden here, but that goes along with the director’s tone and pace which leads one to ponder if it wasn’t their fault.

So, in conclusion, we have a script that Roger Corman might have taken and made a real cult classic out of…though this film is still remembered…but instead we get a ridiculous and dull flick helmed by someone who trying to make caviar out of canned tuna. You can’t polish a turd…but if you set it on fire and leave it on someone’s doorstep, you can still have a good time with it.

2 hungry newborns!

inseminoid rating

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