Dracula A.D. 1972
Hammer Studios went into decline as they skated into the 1970s. Their returns would rapidly diminish; they would begin replacing their brand of well-made camp horror with ever greater exposure of skin, blood and pointless violence. But there were a few remnants of the old Hammer as the studio went into the 70s, and none is weirder, or more enjoyable than Dracula A.D. 1972.
The year is 1972 (in case you missed it) and Count Dracula has been dead for 100 years. But his acolytes live on, and it’s time for the King of Vampires to return to wreak havoc on the groovy chicks of swinging London. Dracula is resurrected by a bunch of bored hippies, led by the nasty Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame). While the others take the whole satanist ritual as a big joke, Johnny is dead serious. Dracula returns from the dead, looking pretty damn good for being dust and ash for the past 100 years. He wants blood, and he wants it now; cue Johnny running around procuring sexy girls to satisfy Dracula’s bloodlust. But Dracula is particularly interested in chowing down on Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham), one of Johnny’s friends and the youngest descendant of Laurence Van Helsing, who staked the undead Count. Meanwhile, Jessica’s grandfather Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) and a police inspector (Michael Coles) investigate the mysterious deaths of the young maidens that Dracula has been draining.
Dracula A.D. 1972 is the height of Hammer camp, with a groovy go-go soundtrack, crazy clothes and drug-addled hippies (what with their loose morals and blood-sacrificing ways). There are some uncomfortable parallels between Dracula’s murders and the Manson family killings that only took place a few years before; the film trades on the mainstream fear of the new generation, with the group of friends always looking for a new thrill. There’s an added fluid sexuality – Dracula’s acolytes are all men instead of brides – and, as always, the heaving bosoms and red-paint blood we all expect from Hammer.
But when you come down to it, no Dracula film works without Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Lee thankfully does not have to wander around swinging London or board a bus in his cape; he instead sticks to the de-sanctified churchyard while Johnny does his dirty work. Cushing and Lee are excellent adversaries, even when they barely spend a moment on-screen together: Cushing’s slight physicality, his solid Englishness, the quiet intensity with which he tries to protect those he loves, juxtaposed against Lee, tall, elegant, with booming voice and nearly black eyes. They make a great team, and Dracula A.D. 1972 brings them together once more.
Dracula A.D. 1972 might be the last great Hammer film. While it shows signs of wear and tear – and foreshadows the studio’s decline – it still has enough campy fun to go around, punctuated by some serious moments of true horror.