Nov 20, 2018

On Blu-ray: Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

It must have been shocking for the period piece-adoring Hammer crowd to behold the hairy, groovy hippies dancing on pianos and making love under the dining room table in Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972). While there is the presence of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing to provide a reassuring bridge to the past, the production was a dramatic departure in style for the legendary horror studio. Now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, today this oddity plays like a document of another time.

The film begins by reaching into the past, one hundred years before the present day, when Van Helsing the vampire hunter drives a stake into Dracula’s heart. The action then jumps forward a century, where a band of teenage hipsters looking for thrills reluctantly agrees to perform a black mass in an abandoned church at the behest of the mysterious Johnny Alucard (played by Christopher Neame, that surname is ‘Dracula’ spelled backwards by the way), who they meet one night at a party. He rehydrates a vial of Dracula’s blood and reanimates the monster.

One of the mass participants is Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham) descendant of Dracula’s nemesis. She has told her grandfather Lorrimar (Cushing), a specialist in the occult, of their plan and he fears for his granddaughter, anticipating the trouble that can come from disturbing the slumber of the evil living dead. When Jessica’s friends begin showing up dead with fresh neck wounds, he knows he must again take up the battle of his ancestor. It’s personal too, because Dracula has come back from the grave to get revenge on Van Helsing via Jessica.

Dracula A.D. 1972 was a mixed bag for me. Lee is magnetic in his brief screen time, but it is too brief. He also stays secluded in the church, depriving the audience of watching him sweep down gritty London streets with his cape sweeping behind him. The only time he gets any taste of the present day, is when he snacks on lady hippies on the down low in his bombed out lair.

Cushing has more opportunity to shine and it is fascinating to watch him translate his steely-eyed authority to another time period. He does get the chance to run the nighttime streets of London, remarkably taking on the mantle of action hero as he battles a young vampire and Lee himself. While Beacham and Neame are effective in their roles, they can’t begin to mesmerize the way these older stars do.

At least in part because of the anomaly it was in the Hammer catalog, this film has taken a beating over the years. It doesn’t deserve the scorn, but at the same time, it delights more in a handful of moments than as an effective whole. I was most disappointed that the film did so little with the novelty of a one-hundred-year old vampire emerging in another century. It would have been interesting to see Dracula behold the British youthquake and try to make sense of this new culture. It could have been horribly cheesy too, but I would have liked to have seen the filmmakers play more with the possibilities.

It’s well worth a look, with its funky soundtrack, attractive young stars, and great interactions between Lee and Cushing, but I was left craving more.

The sole special feature on the disc is a trailer for the film.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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