Retro Review: Dracula A.D. 1972

2011/08/23 16:13:56 +00:00 | Andrew Smith

After Count Dracula is finally defeated by Van Helsing in 1872, one of his faithful servants kept a bottle of his ashes and his ring. A hundred years later, the descendant of Dracula's servant resurrects the Count with the help of his friends including the granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing, Jessica.

As revenge, Dracula is determined to destroy the house of Van Helsing once and for all and targets Jessica to be his bride. But Jess' father, Abraham Van Helsing, has followed in his family's footsteps is a scholar as well. He realizes that he must take up the reigns from his grandfather in order to put an end to Dracula once and for all.

Having finally played out Dracula in a period setting, Hammer was desperate to continue the series but had to try and inject some new life into the flagging franchise. Gothic horror was no longer the in-thing, in no small part thanks to Hammer milking it dry over the past fifteen years or so. The rise of the likes of Night of the Living Dead had given birth to a whole new era of shock horror and the quaint Hammer films seemed like relics of the past. One idea was to bring the story of Dracula and Van Helsing into a more contemporary setting. It would save money on having to build period sets and make period costumes. It would give Dracula new grounds to hunt in and Van Helsing would have a more modern array of weapon and knowledge to defeat the Count. All sounds good in theory, doesn't it? Unfortunately theory is not always proven correct.

One of the worst Hammer films ever made, Dracula A.D. 1972 makes the horrid choice of transporting the classic series into the then-present day of the early 70s, still suffering from the after effects of the swinging 60s. Instead of the traditional Gothic Hammer sets, we're given some awful Austin Powers-style sets. Instead of lavish costumes of the period, we're given mini-skirts, go-go boots and ridiculous looking flannel shirts. The hairstyles are dated. The music is dated (perhaps an understatement - the music has dated extremely badly over time). From the dialogue full of hippie slang to the appearance of the young cast, Dracula A.D. 1972 has dated far worse than any of its predecessors - it was probably dated by the time it was released!

Far too much emphasis is placed on the then-current scene as if the viewer needs constant reminder of which time period the film crawled out from. Bringing the story into the modern setting is all well and good but Dracula is confined to a church for the duration of the film thus robbing the audience of any potential of seeing the Lord of Darkness prowl the streets of London. Once he's resurrected, yet again another of the sequels fails to find Dracula anything worthwhile to do. Let him loose on the city for goodness sake! Let him do anything except wait in a church for his disciples to bring him fresh meat. It's no wonder that Christopher Lee continually put down these films after the way they turned one of literature's most famous characters into simply a supporting player in his own film.

Perhaps the only worthwhile thing that Dracula A.D. 1972 accomplishes is the reunion of Lee and Peter Cushing. They hadn't starred together in a Dracula film since 1958's Horror of Dracula and whilst both get top billing, it's noticeable how out of place they both seem amongst the younger cast members. It's no coincidence that the two best parts of the film are the opening set back in 1872 and the finale, both scenes featuring Van Helsing and Dracula fighting each other. The finale is at least one of the best of the series as Van Helsing attempts to defeat Dracula with crucifixes, holy water and a rather nasty trap of stakes. Even though the two men were older than from their first encounter, the energy and enthusiasm they show in their roles is great.

They're still the best bits of the film in the scenes that they don't share. Cushing adds his usual integrity and elegance whenever he's on screen and Lee snarls and commands the screen with his towering presence. Whenever the two men are not around, the film drops a couple of notches. The younger cast don't do such a good job of filling their boots either. The gorgeous and top-heavy Caroline Munro departs proceedings way too early although if I was Dracula and had been dead for 100 years and saw a half-naked Munro draped over an altar, I'd sure take advantage too! It's left to Stephanie Beacham to provide the damsel-in-distress element for the duration of he film (and she fills out her low cut top quite nicely too). Beacham is actually alright in the role and adds a classier element to what could have been a bimbo-esque role.

If I summed the film up by calling it Austin Powers Meets Dracula then I wouldn't be too far away from the truth. Cushing and Lee's scenes and performances aside, Dracula A.D. 1972 might be good for some really cheesy laughs to see how things were like back in the day but it's an awful film. I can understand the logic of wanting to bring Dracula into a more contemporary setting but mixing him with hippies would have Bram Stoker turning in his grave. Hammer really produced a turkey with this one and followed it up with a direct sequel, The Satantic Rites of Dracula.