Can you believe this: Dracula is now in modern times, but is scared to venture out for fear of being knocked over by a bus? Well, that isn’t really the situation in Dracula AD 1972. It was just a joke an old school friend once exaggerated to me after he’d been to see the movie way back in 1972.
Directed by Alan Gibson from a screenplay by Don Houghton, Dracula AD 1972 opens on a scene set in the London of 1872. An exciting fight to the death is taking place on a runaway coach between Dracula (Christopher Lee) and his arch-enemy Professor Lawrence Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). As the coach finally crashes to a halt in Hyde Park and topples over, both adversaries, despite having sustained bloody wounds from the accident, have one last go at each other. The sight of Dracula slowly appearing from behind the overturned coach, one of whose broken wheels is protruding from his chest, is quite a creepy sight: head thrown back, eyes and mouth blood-filled, face contorted into a grimacing mask of agony. It is now left to an equally expiring Van Helsing to administer the coup-de-grace, to ensure that Dracula’s reign of terror is ended here once and for all.
To this end, the Professor, summoning one last surge of strength, pulls himself upright and rams the wooden wheel further into the Count’s squirming body. Amid the vampire king’s final death throes, Van Helsing finally slumps down dead himself. As Dracula crumbles to red dust yet again, unusually at the beginning rather than at the end of a movie, our excitement is kindled as we eagerly anticipate what more possible horrific delights Hammer have in store for us in this, Christopher Lee’s sixth outing as the Prince of Darkness.
Oh yes, Dracula is dead all right. But a mysterious figure has been watching his destruction from the shadowy undergrowth. That figure turns out to be one of Dracula’s acolytes (Christopher Neame). A member of the Alucard family. And we all know what one of the Count’s ever-servile buddies tend to do whenever they see their “Master” wronged, don’t we? Yes, that’s right: make sure his remains are always available for any Tom, Dick and Harry to just come along and resurrect him yet again. Thus the acolyte collects Dracula’s remains and, some days later, buries them near Van Helsing’s grave at St. Bartolph’s Church. He keeps a bottle containing Dracula’s ashes and the ring.
Fast forward 100 years to the swinging London of 1972, and the story focuses on a group of seventies (well, in truth, more like SIXTIES than seventies) teenagers partying and hellraising and, of course, doing what comes naturally. Dated scenes, I know, but oh what a lot of fun they are to watch. Come on, get with it, man. Anyway, among this band of partying teens is one Johnny Alucard (also played by Christophe Neame), who just happens to be – yes, you’ve guessed it – a descendant of the same Johnny Alucard who laid Dracula to rest 100 years ago. And it’s not long before he has designs on resurrecting the Prince of Darkness via a Satanic black mass held in an old church, with a little help from his friends. All agree to attending this ritual, with the exception of Jessica (Stephanie Beacham), the granddaughter of Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing).
In typical Hammer dramatic, entertaining style, Dracula is indeed resurrected in this black mass. He immediately claims his first victim, Laura (Caroline Munro), before setting up coffin in the desanctified church. Using his ever-obedient servant Johnny Alucard to assist him, the Prince of Darkness then embarks upon a bloody reign of terror in 1970s London. His main goal, however, is to destroy the house of Van Helsing. But just as he did in the Victorian days when he encountered his old enemy Lawrence Van Helsing, Dracula finds the professor’s modern-day descendant to be just as formidable as his ancestor. Thus, called in to assist the police with this apparent outbreak of modern-day vampirism, Cushing’s character is excellent as he goes on the trail of his family’s old hellish enemy: Count Dracula. The climax where the two adversaries face off against each other in the Count’s lair for the final battle is one of the most gripping, iconic scenes in any Hammer horror movie.
There are many scenes in this movie that I love, especially that explosive, memorable opening where Dracula and Van Helsing are engaged in their final battle on the runaway coach. Then there is the extremely creepy way that the Lord of the Undead is resurrected in the grounds of the old church, his tall and commanding figure gradually materialising into view amid a swirling dust cloud. I also think that the picture of Dracula that Van Helsing has on his wall, to which he directs bitter gazes as he openly reflects on his family’s centuries-old feud with the vampire to the police, is really cool. I loved the vampirised Alucard’s watery death scene too.
Cushing and Lee are, as always, truly awesome in their respective roles as Van Helsing and Dracula. They are backed up by a fine cast as well, particularly Stephanie Beacham as Jessica and Michael Coles as Inspector Murray. And I thought that Christopher Neame’s performance as Johnny Alucard was just as good as the Klove parts that were played by both Philip Latham (Dracula: Prince of Darkness) and Patrick Troughton (Scars of Dracula).
I have never been able to understand why Dracula AD 1972 has been so maligned by fans and critics alike. On the contrary, I think it is a fantastic movie, and certainly one of Hammer’s best. Perhaps some didn’t like the idea of Dracula being put in modern times, but hey ho, what is wrong with that? As much as I love the Count’s exploits in the Victorian era, I also thought it was a nice change to see how he would fare if he was resurrected in contemporary London. Same goes for the other modern-day Dracula movie, The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). And it was, of course, great to see Peter Cushing back as Dracula’s arch-enemy, Van Helsing, even though it was a modern spin on the character. To top it all, the film has an excellent musical score too, really evoking the funky 70s atmosphere.
All in all, I think that Dracula AD 1972 is an enjoyable slice of early 70s Hammer horror, and a movie that I never get tired of watching. A true classic.
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