Busy day, so I’m still behind. I need the work, but I hate when I can’t get caught up. Feels like I’m giving the films short shrift in the writeups. Anyway, last of the weekend Dracula binge.
I really don’t get the hate for this movie. I’ve never seen it before and that’s at least partly due to my impression that it was some sort of horrible conglomeration of The Mod Squad, Dracula and Scooby Doo. An Austen Powers movie with vampires.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s definitely a heaping helping of ‘modern’ early 70’s London – but I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the most fun, interesting and dramatic of the Hammer Dracula series. Yes, they let a band play a song called “Alligator Man” in its entirety, but there’s an epic satanic baptism (with Caroline Munro), the return of Peter Cushing as (a) Van Helsing and a charismatic secondary villain in Johnny Alucard (Christopher Naeme).
The opening scenes take place in 1872, as Dracula and Van Helsing battle atop a runaway carriage. If you’ve been paying attention to dates in the previous Dracula films you’ll notice that the producers have decided to reboot things, as this takes place a good ten or twelve years before the events of Horror of Dracula. The carriage crashes and Van Helsing is thrown, while Dracula receives the pointy bits of a broken wheel. Despite his mortal injuries, Van Helsing is able to force the spokes deep into Dracula’s heart, before he too expires. A follower of Dracula arrives to collect the vampire’s ashes. Days later he buries them in the churchyard near Van Helsing’s grave.
A hundred years later we’re introduced to a group of young people in ‘modern’ 1970’s London. They seem more like swinging 60’s characters, spouting phrases like “just a quiet bit of mind blowing” and “dig the music, kids.” They spend most of their time hanging at the local coffee shop when they’re not crashing birthday parties to enjoy the band or grooving to black magic ceremonies at an abandoned church.
Yeah, the language is a little hard to get through at first. The movie is just as much a period piece in its own way as any Dracula film set in the 19th century. That initial modern sequence with the band is a “real drag, man” as well – we’re forced to sit through two numbers before things get started in earnest.
Once things get rolling, though, it’s a pretty decent ride. The group of friends is jaded enough that when one of their number, Johnny, suggests a little black magic, they all agree to check it out – even Jess, who’s the most reluctant. She’s got good reason – Johnny Alucard is a descendent of the man who buried Dracula’s ashes back in 1872 and his goal is nothing less than the resurrection of Dracula.
Way out, man!
That resurrection sequence is actually pretty good, despite some klunky dialogue. Johnny’s goal is to use Jess in the ritual – because she’s a descendant of Van Helsing. One of the other girls, Laura (Munro) is much keener, though, and takes her place in the ritual, which ends up being horrifying and bloody enough that everyone bails. Except poor Laura, who’s the main course when Dracula does show up.
The Count is not too happy with Johnny, however, as he really, REALLY wants to end Van Helsing’s bloodline. That means turning Jess and using her to get to her grandfather, Lorrimer Van Helsing (Cushing). Johnny is up for it – but first he wants to be turned into a vampire to make the job easier to accomplish.
Meanwhile, Laura’s body turns up in an abandoned lot and a police investigation brings the cops to Van Helsing’s door. The police suspect an occult angle, but Lorrimer has darker thoughts. (One of the truly groan-worthy moments is when Cushing ‘deciphers’ Johnny Alucard’s last name. You really had to diagram it out, Peter?) Desperate to protect his granddaughter he goes to confront Alucard. The Van Helsing line is a little out of the ol’ vampire killing practice, however, and he ends up in a battle for his life with the – now vampiric – minion of the count.
This is another set piece that’s pretty fabulous, with some great back and forth, use of a mirror and, in a nod to vampire legend, running water. Van Helsing wins the day, but the battle is far from over. While he’s fought Alucard, Jess is tricked and captured by Dracula.
The final confrontation is as good as any in the previous Dracula films (with one exception being a cat-and-mouse game in the abandoned church that, due to the unfortunate music choice, feels way too much like a Scooby-Doo chase). Dracula even gets some fairly decent lines in, like “You would play your brains against mine. Against me who has commanded nations?” Which is a nice callback to a similar line in Stoker’s novel. It’s a thrill to see Cushing and Lee together again, and you can feel a bit of that old spark.
The Bottom Line
Dracula A.D. 1972 is a really enjoyable installment in the Hammer Dracula franchise and one that has an undeserved reputation as being the nadir of the same. I understand that it didn’t work for audiences at the time, but for my personal enjoyment during this three film session, it was the most entertaining of the bunch.