Friday, 26 November 2010

Dracula A. D. 1972 (1972)


Dracula 1972

Hammer’s seventh outing for Count Dracula is a curious entry which is never able to transcend embarrassment. By this point Hammer were literally and figuratively flogging a corpse, and their gothic horror films were tired, anachronistic, and only fleetingly lightened by lesbianism and nudity. Hammer’s horror films needed a new direction and after the surprise success of Count Yorga - Vampire (1970), which transplanted its vampire aristocrat into a modern setting Hammer clearly thought they had the answer. Much of the success of Count Yorga, Blacula (1972) and The Night Stalker (1972) rested on the manner in which the bloodsucker actually interacted with his surroundings. How Count Yorga (Robert Quarry) is able to manipulate the rationality and logic of modernity in order to cover his tracks is part of the films self-conscious appeal. He has integrated himself so successfully in modern society because of such things as cinema and literature, and the strong association between his kind and the world of fiction. This is a layer of meaning which Don Houghton’s screenplay for Dracula AD 1972 completely, and in my view catastrophically, omits. Instead when Dracula is resurrected in a black mass ceremony (almost a complete replay of a similar sequence in Taste the Blood of Dracula [1970]) he is not allowed to interact in any way with the modern world. He spends the film (when we are allowed an all to rare glimpse of him) stuck in an abandoned and deconsecrated church. This is a location that aesthetically at least could have worked in any of Hammer’s Victorian set Dracula films, so the inevitable question arises; what on the earth was the point?

Disappointment in AD 1972 is further compounded by the filmmakers utter failure to follow up on an excellent prologue. This sequence set in 1872 sees Dracula and Van Helsing battling it out atop an out of control carriage hurtling through Hyde Park. The jarring cut from a gothic funeral procession for the late Van Helsing to the world of 1972 is signalled by a montage showing a screeching aeroplane coming in to land, a motorway, and a number of derelict buildings. The depiction of the modern world here is unflattering, a drab aesthetic wasteland that does not compare to the gothic locations of the past. The only location shot with a sense of visual style is the deconsecrated church, the only location that signifies a gothic past. Is there a hint of lamentation here on the part of the filmmakers? Certainly the film maintains a negative attitude to the London of 1972, but this may be as much down to Houghton’s old fashioned attitude to permissiveness than any wider sense of Hammer forlornly looking to a past they cannot recuperate. This failure to address modern youth extends to some of the worst dialogue ever spoken in a film, as Houghton creates a farcical world in which the height of anarchy is the occasional spliff in a Kensington coffee bar and the gate crashing of upper class parties.

This extended scene which sees the band Stoneground get to sing not one, but two songs, in their entirety, is almost unbelievable in its silliness. It is also hilarious because it illustrates with painful lucidity the attempts of middle aged, middle class men to visualise what they consider to be the youth of the day. In other words hippy rejects from a London scene that had resolutely stopped swinging for several years, if indeed, it had truly ever swung in the first place. This is the most horrifying aspect of AD 1972, its creation of a rarefied closeted world that had never really existed in the first place, but one informed by the condescending attitude of a previous generation to which Houghton belonged. The efforts of Stephanie Beacham, Michael Kitchen and Caroline Munro et al, go beyond laughable and into the realm where you’d gladly take a chainsaw to each one of them; an experience they would probably acclaim as being “wild”.

The main villain of the piece is in actual fact Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame) who switches with aplomb from dandyish hippy to the disciple of Dracula. The character enjoys many of the best scenes in the film, not least of which is the fight he has with Lorimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), a novel finale sees him unable too escape from the running waters of a shower. This is a film that seems very concerned with the question of familial descent. Whereas Van Helsing struggles to adapt to the modern world because of his dedication to the academic line he has followed, Alucard adapts perfectly because his connection to Dracula means he can enjoy the full fruits of the permissive era. Dracula himself is more of an afterthought, but unlike Taste the Blood of Dracula where his appearances play second fiddle to an excellent statement about Victorian and patriarchal hypocrisy, here he simply has nothing to do. His purpose is to destroy the Van Helsing line, a petty motive hardly in keeping with the one who “commanded nations”, and fairly hard to achieve stuck in a church that is about to be demolished. One gets the impression he hasn’t thought this thing through. This doesn’t matter though, because Houghton’s screenplay is on hand to provide all the contrivance you need to get Dracula and Van Helsing in the same space for a disappointing finale.

That is some double bill!

AD 1972 is further hampered by an hilariously inappropriate score by Mike Vickers. The music is in fact very good, and is an enjoyable listen in isolation, but a bizarre travesty when married to the images. The Canadian Alan Gibson who had the unenviable task of trying to direct this actually does well despite the material. He was making his second film for Hammer after the passable Crescendo (1969) and would follow this with the sequel The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973), which is a much better film, despite the reputation it has attained over the years. All of the above elements have however contrived to make AD 1972 something of a cult film, and in certain quarters its reputation has been revised and rejuvenated. The main defence would seem to be that amid all of the shortcomings the film is essentially a lot of fun, a position I would totally agree with.

© Shaun Anderson 2010


  1. Totally agree with ya man, this was a rehash of Taste the Blood of Dracula, right down to the pupil of Dracula convincing a couple of people to participate in a black mass, certain scenes are extremely familiar.

    The only problem is that while Taste had a good story, this one as you mentioned comes off as silly. That party scene oh man, it was tough to watch, especially in a Hammer Dracula film. It kind of didnt fit the rhyme scheme.

    And that music during the Satanic Ritual...barrrf, it just didnt gel well.

    Need to give Satanic Rites a re-watch, I seem to remember hating it but more then a few people have actually praised it. Need to see it again.

  2. AD 1972 isn't without some moments of weird charm, but they are few and far between. I can't say I actually dislike the film, there are very few Hammer's that I do. But it might have benefited from a little research into actual youth trends of the day. Instead of a middle aged and middle class conception of what youth constituted in England in 1972. It is worth watching just for the opening chase/fight scene between Drac and Van Helsing, and for Alucard's fight with Van Helsing. SATANIC RITES appears to be unavailable at present (at least in the UK), but I have recently read that a DVD release is proposed for early next year. I really rather like it, so I'm looking forward to that. Thanks for the comment buddy :-)

  3. Is that the opening scene where Dracula gets impailed on a wheel while fighting off Van Helsing? I'd want to eliminate his family if he pulled something like that on me as well!

    That black mass, though not very original is one of the highlights because they poor blood all over this hot chick! I remember THAT!

    I have Satanic Rites on a double disc that Anchor Bay produced a few years ago, I'll be re-watching it soon and reviewing it, just to make up my mind as to my hate or love for it. Look out for that review coming at ya soon!

  4. Yes thats the one! - I look forward to your review of SATANIC RITES Franco!

  5. I have a certain fondness for this one, mainly as a brave if ultimately failed attempt to breathe new life into their Dracula cycle. With the follow-up The Satanic Rites of Dracula they got the formula right.

    I actually think Hammer's movies of this period include some of their best and most interesting productions. Vampire Circus is superb, as are Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde and Blood from the Mummy's Tomb. Hammer were still making great gothic horror movies, they just weren't making money with them, not because the films failed at the box-office but because of some very bad financial deals. To the Devil - a Daughter was typical - a box-office hit that made the studio no money.

  6. Thanks for the comment Doom - always appreciated. I agree about this period in Hammer's history, it's fascinating to see how their increased financial desperation leaked onto the screen in a series of offbeat and plain odd/stupid attempts too arrest their decline. Although I don't rate VAMPIRE CIRCUS highly, it was an interesting departure. One of the more interesting is their Bond rip off SHATTER which was a Shaw Brothers co-production, and of course CAPTAIN KRONOS.

  7. Of the films I have seen in the series, this is easily at the bottom of my list, but glad to see some support for SATANIC RITES. There are a few interesting elements that fail to reach the same heights as TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA.

  8. Thanks for the comment Carl - I wouldn't place this bottom of my Hammer Dracula league table, that is reserved for SCARS OF DRACULA. But it is certainly in the relegation zone! I'm somewhat surprised by the general positivity toward SATANIC RITES, it's a film I've always liked a lot on the quiet.

  9. Despite its overt silliness, I'd rate AD 72 miles above SATANIC RITES. The latter was all set to get married to a great story, but the lack of cohesion left the script at the altar.

    SATANIC RITES does have some good moments, but by this point, Hammer had relegated vampires to the wimpiest monsters imaginable and not much of a threat. Virtually ANYTHING could kill one--in SATANIC RITES alone any kind of silver is lethal to them as is a damn thorn bush for crying out loud.

  10. I think one of the areas we fundamentally disagree on Brian with regard to Hammer's Dracula movies is the treatment of the vampires. For example I dont think its a bad thing at all that Dracula isn't in TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA very much. I certainly think he is misused in AD 72, but I find the action, conspiracy, and detection elements of SATANIC RITES to be entertaining and well handled. We know that the vampires will be despatched at some point in the narrative, so it's never unduly bothered me what the means of their execution are. If I remember correctly the major threat of SATANIC RITES isn't the vampires anyway, but the release of a disease.

  11. I don't have a problem with TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, but it makes little sense to even bother with a vampire movie if your title character is barely in the movie at all. I do think it has the most creative way in which the character was dispatched by having god do him in.

    I think the plot in SATANIC RITES is fine, but would have likely been better served without any horror elements period. It seems the writers at Hammer were constantly trying to purposely FIND ways to exclude Dracula from his own movies. Without vampires in the film, it would have made an enticing low level Bondian style adventure, or even better, a modern day Fu Manchu feature of which Lee had already starred in five.

    Also, for me, anyways, the character of Dracula is supposed to have an air of menace about him. When relatively minor methods are created to subdue him, it lessens the villainy of the character.

    At one time, I didn't really care much for either of these modern day Hammer vampire movies. But over the years, AD 72 has grown on me in ways SATANIC RITES hasn't. I don't dislike either one of them, but out of Lee's pictures, his last two aren't revisited often.

    I did enjoy Neame's spirited performance and seeing both Caroline Munro and Stephanie Beacham in tight, and or revealing dresses was a highlight. Also, the opening and closing confrontations were nicely done and I happen to dig the score, too. The horror cues are a curious mix of Hammer's more familiar oldeworld sound mixed with a modern style. This score became available recently and I have yet to pick it up.

    Other than that, AD 72 is intermittently kitschy, but its datedness seems to work in its favor now. I am curious, though, just where Rod Stewart would be had he and his band been able to appear during the party scene.


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