WHEN HAMMER BROUGHT DRACULA TO THE SEVENTIES
"Dracula A.D. 1972" (1972)
Directed by Alan Gibson
100 years after Dracula is killed by Van Helsing with the spoke of a carriage wheel, he is brought back to life in a black magic ceremony by Johnny and his groovy friends. The year is now 1972. You would think that Dracula living in the 70's would be the focus of this film, but it isn't. That privilege is reserved for Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows". Coincidentally, Tim Burton claims "Dracula A.D. 1972" as among his favorite films.
The main focus of the film is Dracula's desire to claim Jessica Van Helsing, a descendant of Drac's old nemesis as one of his vampire brides. Jessica is part of the group of friends, led by the creepy and charismatic Johnny Alucard (That last name is Dracula spelled backward). Being that this is a Hammer Horror film, Dracula is played perfectly by Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing is playing dual roles as Lawrence Van Helsing in the beginning of the film and as Jessica's grandfather, occult expert Lorrimer Van Helsing in modern day 1972.
"Dracula A.D. 1972" plays it's story straight. Very few moments are meant to be funny on purpose. I feel if this film were remade today, the whole thing would be played for laughs. I dig films that are meant to be representations of current times that have become so old, they become time capsules themselves. Interestingly, the film starts while it's still 1872 on the screen and the font of the opening credits are Gothic. The title of the film appears just as we jump forward to 1972 and the font immediately changes to look contemporary. Nice touch.
One of the most dated things about this film, (and one of my favorite scenes) is a swinging party featuring live music performed by a band called Stoneground. The party is meant to be seen as an out of control affair, but it's quite tame by today's standards. At one point, it's revealed that the cops have been called and the party guests are trying to estimate how long before they arrive, because it's their plan to leave exactly one minute before.
The first reel of this film is spent entirely with the young group of friends that make up what will either be the victims or disciples of Dracula, who comes back to life at the 37 minute mark. Although the film mostly plays out with a serious tone, it can be difficult to consider what you're seeing as serious. It has a funky score playing over it that feels like it belongs in a blaxploitation film, and this gives the movie a playful vibe. For a funkier Dracula film, check out "Blacula" (1972).
Dracula and Lorrimer Van Helsing's final fight in the film is unique, in that you would rarely see a current horror film end with a fight between two old men. As you would expect, good does triumph and the phrase REST IN FINAL PEACE appears on the screen in red. However, this peace will not be final, as 70's Drac returns in the Hammer Horror Film, "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" in 1973.
I love the 70's. It's such a bizarre moment in history for fashion, lingo and music. Everything that came out of that decade has aged oddly. This film captures all of it with a British backdrop. Although it's only 96 minutes, if you haven't seen "Dracula A.D. 1972" yet, be prepared for a story that feels leisurely paced. Scenes that don't feature Dracula or the young cast can sometimes drag, but never for long and not without good reason in regards to the plot.
Is this movie fun? It's not Dracula meets Austin Powers, but if you are fascinated by the 70's, then seeing Hammer's Dracula in this setting is entertaining and the film's pacing plays quicker in repeat viewings. For your first go round, you may want to consider complimenting you viewing experience with an adult beverage. Maybe some wine? After all, Drac is quite fond of the red stuff.
(Artwork by Isaac Keith Martinez)
(Artwork by Isaac Keith Martinez)