I’d like to preface this post by saying that I love Hammer Horror films. I discovered them as a teen, but my uncle and mother had both spoken about them before that, although I wasn’t allowed to watch them. Some of my favourites include The Hound of the Baskervilles, Dracula, The Mummy, The Vampire Lovers, Twins of Evil and Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter.
These films are all examples of Hammer’s capacity for great output. And they made many great films, which is why their influence on the cinema of the latter half of the twentieth century and beyond is so incalculable. I’ll often watch a film and think “This part kind of reminds me of something in a Hammer film.” But not all of their films were of the same calibre. While Lust for a Vampire is wonderful campy fun, for example, it features a rather unlikable “hero” and a rather paper thin plot line that the director is trying to distract you from with Yvette Stensgaard’s lovely…assets.
Dracula 1972 A.D. is like Lust for a Vampire, it’s good fun, and highly rewatchable. But no one can call it one of the great Hammer films. And the film is telling of Hammer’s decline in the early to mid 1970s, although films such as Countess Dracula, Twins of Evil and Captain Kronos, stand out as exceptions of that downward trend. Hammer’s heyday was from the mid 1950s to the late 1960s (depending on which film critic or aficionado you ask). The studio’s golden age is well illustrated by The Curse of Frankenstein and The Devil Rides Out. In contrast, Dracula 1972 A.D. seems to be illustrative of a long standing studio’s attempts to appeal to a younger audience. This attempt has rather mixed results.
Drac is Back…Again
The film begins with a voice over informing us that Dracula’s reign of terror has extended from the Carpathian mountains of his origin, to England of 1872. Dracula (played once again by Christopher Lee) and his arch nemesis, the heroic vampire hunter, Lawrence Van Helsing (also played once again by Peter Cushing), are battling it out atop a speeding carriage. What would the start of a Hammer Horror be without a barreling horse drawn carriage? After Dracula flings Van Helsing from the carriage onto the grassy roadside, said carriage crashes into a tree after the horses break free and bolt.
Van Helsing rouses and drags himself towards the shattered carriage, to discover that Dracula has (conveniently) been impaled with one of the wheel spokes. He teeters around, blood seeping from his fanged mouth, before trying to fight Van Helsing off. This is to no avail, and Van Helsing drives the spoke home like a makeshift stake. Dracula disintegrates into a gooey heap before becoming ash (for about the sixth time). Van Helsing also succumbs to his injuries and dies. A young, smirking man rides up on a black horse and collects Dracula’s ashes in a vial, and also takes the ashy Count’s signet ring. He then proceeds to bury the ashes next to the graveyard where Van Helsing’s funeral is being held. Rather disrespectful, really.
Fast forward exactly a century, and a group of maybe older teenagers, maybe young twenty somethings have crashed a party at an uptight nerd’s house. They dance awkwardly to some caterwauling from a band called “Stoneground”, before the police are summoned and they beat a hasty retreat. They all convene at a local coffee shop called “Cavern” the next morning. Whilst there, Johnny Alucard (wonder what his surname could possibly be an anagram for?), who just happens to look exactly like the smirking young man at the beginning of the film; proposes to the group, which comprises of Bob, Laura, Joe, Gaynor and Jessica, that they summon the Devil. Everyone is understandably rather resistant to such an idea, aside from Laura who seems rather out of her bracket. Eventually Johnny convinces everyone that it will be so much fun, and not at all the most dangerous and stupid idea ever. Jessica is still reluctant, because she, unlike the others, has some semblance of a brain and self preservation.
Johnny then goes home to his rather large apartment, and it is revealed that he has a shrine to Dracula. Who. Would. Have. Thunk. It. He puts on the Count’s ring whilst gazing lovingly at a rather creepy drawing of Dracula, because he’s his number one fang. Boy needs to get out more and see a shrink.
Jessica, who turns out to be Larimer Van Helsing’s (also played by Cushing) granddaughter, an academic who is an authority in the occult and a descendant of Lawrence Van Helsing R.I.P, expresses her continued reluctance to her braindead boyfriend, Bob, who dismisses her concerns in one of the worst cockney accents ever produced on screen.
Jess gets home at the same time as her grandfather, who cottons onto the fact that she’s planning to take part in a Black mass because she just happens to be reading one of his books on the subject, which has one of the most literal titles. Jessica dismisses her grandfather’s sensible concerns that his granddaughter isn’t doing normal things like smoking weed and might be summoning the undead. Jessica becomes annoyed at all this logic stuff and rejects her grandfather’s efforts to connect with her and derides his work. Rather uneven character construction here.
Jessica, who manages to wear an even stranger outfit than she did earlier in the day, a cross between a fortune teller and Rambo, goes to the abandoned grave yard that Johnny proposed as a summoning place, with braindead Bob. They find Lawrence Van Helsing’s mouldy tombstone and grown over grave. What a coincidence. Jessica is understandably rather upset and confused, as I think much of the audience is at this point, too.
After Joe, who may be even more braindead than Bob and dresses like Friar Tuck for no discernible reason, scares Jess and Bob; the group enters the church. They all sit in a Devil’s circle around a giant pentagram on the floor, whilst Johnny plays hypnotic music on a tape recorder. Everyone does sexual neck rolls and Johnny acts even more creepy than before, encouraging them all to get into the ritual like some demented, satanic spinning class leader.
The ground outside starts to crack and pulsate, and everyone finally starts to look a bit perturbed, as if pentagrams and satanic alters didn’t already set off alarm bells. Johnny wants Jessica to offer herself for the completion of the ritual, but Laura does instead. She lies on the alter before Johnny pours ash into a chalice on her chest (alliteration), and then cuts himself so that his blood flows into said chalice. Johnny must have far more blood than the average human because a lot blood pours onto poor Laura’s neck (that must have been a pain for Caroline Munro to scrub off later). Everyone finally hightails it out of the church. Jessica wants to go back for Laura, but Bob, like the absolute gentleman he is, strong arms her out of there and leaves their friend to die horribly.
Dracula rises out of the smoky, pulsating ground. He looks and sounds utterly unimpressed before swatting Johnny aside like an annoying gnat (which, you know) and proceeds to have a glamoured Laura as an appetiser. Johnny pervs behind a pillar.
Jessica and Bob the flop have an argument over what happened, especially over leaving Laura to an uncertain fate. But Bob says some empty things and acts like a nice guy (yawn) which wins Jessica over in about three seconds.
The next day Laura is missing and everyone is traumatised about the events of the previous night. But no one is in a particular hurry to find Laura. Whilst Johnny tells a smarmy lie about Laura going to Ramsgate to get money from her parents, some children kick a ball over the wall of the cemetery, and discover Laura’s wide eyed corpse amongst the rubble. Johnny is then shown trying to get Jessica to go to a concert with him, but when she firmly refuses, he agrees to take Gaynor instead.
The police are then shown looking at Laura’s bloodied body, and the Inspector, who is wearing a fur lined coat like a pimp, waffles on about it possibly being a cult murder. The coroner looks unconvinced and tries to suggest other possibilities, but Inspector Waffle ignores him.
Jessica, who seems like a fairly decent human being, expresses worry about Laura being missing and Johnny’s bogus sounding story. Braindead Bob tells her to forget about the possibility that her friend might be dead because she’s kind of a slut and also takes drugs, so meh, no biggie. Jessica, whose hair looks like a pixie cut that the hairdresser forgot to finish, is once again easily convinced.
The Inspector talks to Van Helsing, who seems initially unsure about how he can help solve a cult murder. But he is, understandably, concerned when the Inspector mentions that Laura’s body was entirely drained of blood. The Inspector, despite coming to a known specialist in the occult, is reluctant to believe in Van Helsing’s theory which centres around the occult practice of vampirism. Van Helsing is also, once again understandably concerned about Jessica’s possible connection to Laura’s murder.
Jessica arrives home, and after some reluctance, admits everything to the Inspector and her grandfather, whilst dressed like a milkmaid. Van Helsing then realises that Johnny’s surname is an anagram for Dracula (read: plot twist).
After taking her back to his place and having sex with her, Johnny feeds a drugged Gaynor to Dracula. Dracula is super pissed off that Gaynor isn’t Jessica, but snacks on her anyway. Because you know, waste not want not.
Jessica then wakes up screaming from a nightmare, and Van Helsing soothes her sweaty brow.
Johnny begs Dracula for the power he was promised. Dracula is furious, and handily explains his motivations, which consist of him exacting his revenge on the Van Helsing family by turning Jessica into his sucubis. He then exasperatedly gives in and stares at Johnny’s exposed neck. *Eyebrow wriggle*.
Dracula then walks around the church moodily, showing off his austere profile and nifty cape, whilst Johnny sloppily disposes of Gaynor’s corpse, and shows his huge fangs whilst eyeing a sunken eyed girl in a laundry. What. Could. He. Want. With. Her.
Van Helsing fastens a crucifix around his granddaughter’s neck whilst she sleeps. He then collects holy water from a nearby church, before visiting Inspector Scepticism at his office. The Inspector tells Van Helsing about the two recent murders, and then moans about Van Helsing’s well thought out and painstakingly explained theories. He finally seems to come around when Van Helsing looks kind of bored with the whole “it’s a dangerous mad man on the loose” malarky.
Bob follows Johnny to the “Cavern” café, which has been closed down by the drugs squad. He then goes to Jessica’s house, and convinces her to leave with him, despite his story sounding really lame and nonsensical, and her grandfather asking her not to leave the house whilst there’s an ancient vampire sort of on the loose. When they reach the “Cavern”, Bob is revealed to be a big fanged vampire, too. Jessica tries to resist he and Johnny, but passes out when Bob tries to bite her. Johnny tells him that she’s for the master so he’d better put away his…er…fangs.
Van Hesling rushes to the “Cavern” after learning that Jessica has left the house from the housekeeper. He finds her crucifix on the ground, and then rushes to save her from becoming involved with a dude old enough to be her grandfather times fifteen. He happens to run into Anna, who admits she knows where Johnny lives, and offers no explanation for not offering this information up to the police despite admitting that Johnny’s apartment “was so weird”. Convenient.
Van Helsing then hightails it to Johnny’s lair, where, after fighting with the big fanged twit, he throws a bible and a crucifix into Johnny’s coffin. Johnny begs him to remove them and calls Van Helsing a bad word, like that’s going to convince him to help you out. After Van Helsing uses a mirror to try and get Johnny extra crispy, Johnny, like the worst vampire in history, accidentally exposes himself to a huge skylight in his bathroom and then drowns himself in his bathtub with the shower head. Dracula really can’t find good help these days.
After the Inspector and his bespectacled sergeant patch a wounded Van Helsing up, he marches off to the graveyard, where he finds Bob’s corpse due to being exposed to sunlight. Bob couldn’t even get into his coffin. Which was right next to him. Inside the church, Jessica is on the alter, and dressed in a revealing white dress, whilst comatose. Perfect comatose attire. Van Hesling puts her crucifix on again, before preparing for Dracula’s reappearance by putting stakes in a pit near the Count’s grave.
Dracula rises from the his rest with a gust of loud wind (make of that what you will) and removes Jessica’s pesky crucifix with a smokey hand. Van Helsing then stops Dracula from snacking on Jessica, causing Dracula to have PTSD about dying (again). Van Helsing then runs up a tower (not sure why) and stabs Dracula with a silver knife. Dracula falls to the ground below, but Jessica, like the glamoured twit she currently is, removes the knife.
Van Helsing runs outside, and then throws holy water on a weirdly hesitant Dracula, who then falls sideways into the pit of stakes. Van Helsing gets rather hardcore and shoves him farther down with a shovel, and a spurt of red velvet milkshake blood seeps out. Dracula dissolves (yet again).
Van Helsing covers his granddaughter’s cleavage with his coat, and tries to soothe her about Bob’s vampirism and corpse status by reading the epitaph of Lawrence’s grave: Rest in Final Peace. Which, unsurprisingly, just makes her sob more.
Dracula Gets Groovy
By the time Dracula 1972 A.D. was released, Christopher Lee had had the part in chunks. Pun intended. But he would go on to do, arguably, the worst instalment in the Hammer Dracula series, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, where he’s even more inactive and bored than in this film. But Lee somehow still manages not to phone it in, even though he’s biting girls young enough to be his daughter, and having to put up with a human familiar who is really rather useless. Plus, Lee still looks wonderfully distinguished in the part, with his gray streaked hair, and cape acting.
Peter Cushing also gives a lovely performance. He was supposed to play Jessica’s father, but the shock of his wife’s sudden death aged him considerably, and so they shifted his part to that of her grandfather. This means that there is no explanation of her parent’s fate, and why Jessica is so reluctant to believe in the occult when she comes from a famous line of vampire hunters. But watching Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee be reunited in roles they originated fourteen years before is indeed wonderful. Like Lee, Cushing is rocking the gray streaked hair, with some lovely golden highlights, and his cheekbones still look sharp enough to cut a diamond. He and Lee hold the film together, because without them, it really wouldn’t work, even though the young supporting players aren’t phoning it in either.
Christopher Neame as Johnny Alucard is rather over the top, but he does manage to convey the disturbing elements of his character fairly well. This is especially apparent in his psychosexual connection to Dracula, and his delivering of young tasty women to the Count. His death scene is entirely ridiculous, but Neame does give it his all, and should be given recognition for being able to hold his breath underwater, whilst keeping his eyes open, for a good while.
Stephanie Beacham, despite her abortive hairstyle, also really tries to add something extra to her character. Although she’s made to say some of the most painful lines in the film, she really does show that she can make a rather uneven character somewhat appealing. If a weaker actress had been cast as Jessica, I would have had to grit my teeth through it all. As it is, she isn’t given all that much to do, except express her worries about Johnny’s shadiness and be ignored by her utterly annoying boyfriend. And her performance during the ritual scene and the film’s climax are quite good. One does feel rather awful for her character by the end.
Caroline Munro makes a very brief appearance, but shows why she was cast in a fairly major role two years later in Captain Kronos. She also looks absolutely stunning as usual, with her lovely black hair and pale eyes. Her acting during the scene where she is covered in milkshake blood is really intense, and I think it’s a real pity that (to my knowledge, please correct me if I’m wrong) she wasn’t given a Hammer vehicle of her own at some point.
Overall, there’s no doubt that this film is one of the weakest in the series, and it’s clear that Christopher Lee has really had a belly full by this point. However, despite the poor script, no one gives an entirely blah performance. Even Michael Coles, who’s literally billed as “Inspector”, gives it his best go. If you don’t want to think very hard, or really at all, on a Sunday afternoon when you’ve nothing better to do, you could do worse, probably not much worse, but still, than Dracula 1972 A.D.
This is my contribution for the It’s So Bad It’s Good Blogathon being hosted by Taking Up Room. Please check out her blog for more info and to read everyone else’s posts.