Dracula AD 1972 Review

The seventh entry in the Hammer Dracula series. This film saw Peter Cushing return to the role of Van Helsing (and his descendant).

It also saw the setting of the series change from sleepy villages in the 19th century to London in the swinging er 70’s.

Definitely one of my favourite Dracula films, this is more what I’d call a camp classic in that it may not be quite as scary as Scars of Dracula or as well made as the original, but damn is it fun!

Plot

The year is 1872. Count Dracula and his nemesis Lawrence Van Helsing are fighting one another atop a moving carriage. Dracula gets the better of his adversary and throws him off the top of the carriage which crashes into a tree seconds later.

Dracula is impaled on the wooden wheel. Van Helsing with his last ounce of strength attacks the Vampire and manages to push the wooden wheel through his heart, staking him.

After Dracula crumbles into dust Van Helsing dies from his injuries. Later as Van Helsing is being buried, one of Dracula’s followers buries his remains nearby. This follower having now been freed from his masters influence buries his ashes in the church, holy ground to prevent his resurrection and leaves to continue his life.

Flash forward to 100 years later in 1972 and we follow Van Helsing’s great, great grand daughter, Jessica Van Helsing and her friends, which include a girl named Laura and Johnny Alucard.

Johnny suggests to the gang try something new and exciting in an old abandoned church, a black mass ritual.

Jessica’s grandfather Lorrimer Van Helsing (who looks identical to the original Van Helsing at the start, his grandfather, as both are played by Peter Cushing.) is an expert on the occult. He has an extensive library on supernatural creatures and is a known expert on the occult having even been called in by the police to help them deal with Demonic killings in the past.

Jessica however does not take her grandfathers work seriously and accompanies Johnny and her friends to the abandoned church to perform a black mass ritual. The church is actually where both Van Helsing and Dracula’s remains are buried.

Johnny Alucard is in fact the descendant of the man who buried Dracula. Unlike his ancestor Johnny is evil and seeks to bring Dracula back so that he can gain immortality.

Johnny performs the ritual using Laura and blood pours all over her which horrifies everyone so much that they flee leaving a terrified Laura behind. After they all leave Dracula rises from the dead in he churchyard.

He does not thank Alucard, telling him that it was his will influencing him from beyond the grave that made Alucard bring him back.

Dracula subsequently kills Laura and her body is then mutilated by Johnny to cover up her cause of death. When the police find her body they call in Van Helsing suspecting it is a cult killing. Despite Johnny attempting to cover up her cause of death Van Helsing is able to deduce that it is the work of a Vampire. He is later after questioning Jessica able to work out that Dracula is involved as Alucard is Dracula spelled backwards.

Unfortunately Johnny meanwhile is able to seduce a friend of Jessica’s Gaynor who he brings to Dracula. Dracula is furious that she is not Jessica. Dracula only came back from the dead to make the Van Helsing family, the kin of his now deceased archenemy pay by turning one of them into a Vampire the thing they hate the most.

Dracula nevertheless kills Gaynor after which he then agrees to make Johnny a Vampire when Johnny convinces him that it would be easier to bring Jessica to him if he had the power of a Vampire.

After killing a young woman Johnny makes Jessica’s boyfriend into a Vampire and the two bring Jessica to Dracula.

With his job done Johnny flees whilst Jessica’s boyfriend is killed by Dracula. Unfortunately for Johnny before he can skip town and enjoy his new found immortality Van Helsing tracks him down with the aid of one of Jessica’s friends. Van Helsing demands to know where Jessica is, but Johnny refuses and attacks him. Very nearly tearing his throat out with his teeth, the sun begins to rise and Van Helsing uses it fight Johnny off driving him up the stairs and into his bathroom, there whilst dazzled Johnny pulls open the blinds by mistake and sunlight floods the room forcing him backwards into his shower which he accidently turns on.

The combination of the sunlight and the clear running water kill Johnny who in his dying breath still refuses to tell Van Helsing where Jessica is, sneering at him that he’ll never find her.

Van Helsing however is able to deduce that Dracula is using the resting place of the original Van Helsing as the place of his revenge.

Van Helsing goes there during the day and finds Jessica in a trance. Knowing that he can’t wake her from it and that he will not be able to find Dracula during the day Van Helsing spends all night preparing for a final showdown with the Vampire.

He gets a bottle of holy water, a silver knife, digs a massive pit full of wooden stakes, and places a cross round Jessica’s neck.

That night as Dracula arrives to make her into a Vampire Van Helsing confronts him.

The two enemies battle it out with Dracula pursuing Van Helsing up to the top of the church. Van Helsing is no match for the Vampires inhuman strength. Dracula effortlessly batters his nemesis across the room, but just as he is about to kill Van Helsing, he strikes Dracula in the heart with a silver blade sending him tumbling over the edge of the upper level of the church.

Unfortunately Van Helsing doesn’t strike it in deep enough to actually pierce the Vampires heart and Jessica still under the Demons thrall removes it from his chest. Now completely recovered Dracula chases Van Helsing outside.

There Van Helsing almost falls into his own pit of stakes. With Dracula noticing the trap he is somewhat cautious and once again Van Helsing manages to catch him off guard and throws holy water in his face. Dracula lets out an ear piercing scream and tumbles backwards into the pit. Landing on one of the stakes Van Helsing uses a shovel to push the Vampire further down onto one of them. The stake goes right through his heart and Dracula dies once again.

As he crumbles to dust Jessica is released from his thrall and she and her grandfather embrace.

 Review

Dracula AD 1972 is arguably one of the most maligned entries in the series alongside its immediate sequel The Satanic Rites of Dracula.

As much as I love it I can see why its not quite so highly regarded. This movie was clearly an attempt by Hammer to appeal to the younger crowd. Sadly its clearly written by people in their 40’s who are somewhat out of touch shall we say with the younger generation.

Really a lot of the dialogue that the young characters come out with reminds me of this scene from Still Game.

The movie was clearly about 5 years out of date in terms of styles and fashion and general attitudes when it was first released. It would make more sense if it was set in the mid 60’s, though ironically whilst it might have seemed somewhat dated at the time, if anything nowadays it has a certain kitsch appeal due to its setting as it almost feels like an Austin Powers movie with Vampires at certain points!

Its basic plot is somewhat derivative of previous Dracula’s in that once again we have Dracula try and get revenge on one of his enemies by turning their loved one, who happens to be a gorgeous young woman into a Vampire. He’s lucky his enemies like the Monsignor, Hargood and Van Helsing’s relatives aren’t sweaty fat guys isn’t he.

This film does in fact owe quite a bit to Taste the Blood of Dracula. Once again we have a group of people who are bored with their usual antics who are approached by someone from outside of their little group who promises them new thrills, which leads to them preforming a blood ritual in a Church which brings the Vampire back from the grave. Dracula in both films goes on to make the abandoned church his base of operations before being destroyed in it at the end of the film.

In addition to this the films score can seem somewhat inappropriate at times. Its a funky jazzy, blaxsploitation type theme which does fit the 70’s setting, but at the same time it doesn’t seem to mesh with Dracula and Van Helsing.

As a piece of music in itself I actually really like the theme for this film, but again it does feel more like either a blaxsploitation film or the theme to something like the Sweeney.

Finally another big fault with this movie is that Christopher Lee is given very little to do. In fact I’d say that this and Taste the Blood of Dracula are the two films in the series that waste Lee the most. This makes slightly better use of him than Taste as it at least gives him a climactic fight scene with Peter Cushing, his greatest on screen adversary, though other than that Lee spends all of the film basically skulking about a church, jumping out and biting women and nothing else.

Still despite these negative qualities overall I’d still rank Dracula AD as one of my favourites as I think in some ways it refreshes the series.

I for one like the modern day setting. Okay yes in this film Hammer maybe don’t use it as well as they could, but still the basic idea of bringing Dracula into a modern setting is an inspired one.

A lot of people (including the star of the film Christopher Lee himself) hated the idea of Dracula in modern times, but I think it was the right thing to do for many reasons.

To start with after 6 films the 19th century setting had become stale. Really there is only so many times I can watch the villagers of Klausenberg live in terror of a single Vampire and really I think Scars of Dracula took that idea as far as it could go.

The count needed a change of scenery at least and really a big flashy modern day setting is about as different to the quite sleepy little village in the middle of nowhere as you can imagine.

Also I think the modern day setting offers up several interesting ideas that you couldn’t really explore in the previous 19th century setting.

In the modern day you can see how a creature like a Vampire is able to operate more freely in a society that no longer is aware of the paranormal. In the village of Klausenberg Dracula had to do all he could to terrify the villagers into not crossing him, as every single last person in the village knew what a Vampire was. Similarly just about every priest Dracula ran into knew what a Vampire was too.

In this film however Dracula is able to commit his killings with nobody but Van Helsing being aware of his existence. Its kind of a nice take on the whole, “the worst trick the devil did was convincing you he didn’t exist” idea.

In actual fact in this respect this film is closer to the original Novel than its predecessors.

People forget that Stokers Dracula much like this film was actually a modern day Vampire story. It no longer seems like that because obviously a century has passed, but at the time it was a contemporary horror story that similarly explored the idea of an ancient evil venturing into a society that had no idea it existed, and preying on the unsuspecting population. In this respect this film captured that prominent theme far more than any of the previous films, which featured Dracula living in remote little villages where everyone was aware of the occult.

The best thing about this film however is the long awaited return of Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. In some ways I actually like the modern Van Helsing as much as the original.

He’s a fascinating character that sadly I feel we are only able to really scratch the surface of. In many ways I think he is a precursor to the character of Kolchak the Night Stalker. He is a special advisor to the police on supernatural cases, and in the movie its said he has helped them out before in dealing with other paranormal cases involving other creatures such as Demons.

I would love to have seen more films with Lorrimer Van Helsing fighting monsters and Jessica as his sidekick. It would have been an interesting companion piece to Kolchak that started a few years later.

The idea of there being a lineage of Vampire hunters is also a fascinating concept too, and again one that would be utilized in many later works such as in the Tomb of Dracula which featured the Van Helsing lineage, and the Mr Vampire film series which saw the descendants of Master Kau carry on his Vampire hunting legacy.

This movie also I feel fleshes Van Helsing out more than the earlier films through his relationship to his grand daughter Jessica. I think we see a much more vulnerable side to the iron willed Vampire hunter here, as this battle is more personal, with Dracula now going after the person he cares about more than anything else. In the previous films Van Helsing always kept his calm, but here he is brought close to tears.

I love his confrontation with Johnny, where Johnny taunts him about Jessica and he just loses his cool and throws a candle stick at him. It would have been unthinkable in the previous movies with Cushing as Van Helsing to have seen him just blow his top like that.

Unlike with Lee as Dracula this movie actually allows Cushing to do something new with the character and explore a more vulnerable side to Van Helsing. This just clearly goes to show that Hammer were more interested in exploring Van Helsing’s character than Dracula, which just makes me wonder why they left him out of the past 4 films?

Peter Cushing is of course excellent as Van Helsing. Unlike Lee whose enthusiasm was clearly long gone by this point, Cushing really gives it his all. He absolutely loved the role of Van Helsing even once stating “Give up playing Van Helsing in the Dracula’s? Over my dead body”.

He really carries the film and helps elevate it above being just a standard horror flick. If nothing else I’d say that this movie is a minor classic simply because it has one of the best performances of an actor playing Van Helsing you are likely to see in any adaptation of Dracula.

What’s quite remarkable about this film is how despite his advanced age Cushing is every bit as capable as he was in the first Dracula movie. Remember this was a good 12 years after Horror of Dracula, also Cushing was pushing 60 at this point.

If anything the role of Van Helsing was even more demanding in this film as he has three massive big fight scenes including one atop a moving carriage.

He is kind of like Jon Pertwee as the Doctor here in that, even though he is an older man he can still kick some serious ass. He is an action grandpa.

The final fight between Van Helsing and Dracula is definitely the highlight of the film, its well staged and choreographed. You can tell that Lee is a lot more enthusiastic in these fight scenes when given a strong actor like Cushing to play off of in such a dramatic way. Of course that’s not to say that Lee phones it in in the other scenes in the movie, but still you can tell in the scenes where he just jumps out and kills people he is kind of going through the motions.

Its understandable as he has done this kind of thing dozens of times before. Stand, look scary, kill some beautiful woman etc. With the Van Helsing fight however you can see Lee relishes the chance to really show us how much the Vampire despises Van Helsing above all else. He snarls like an animal when he first sees him, there’s an evil little smile when he thinks he finally has him cornered, and finally the sheer desperation when he is in the pit struggling to get up and tear Van Helsings throat out.

Its just such a shame that there aren’t more scenes in the film between Dracula and Van Helsing, but fortunately this is still a spectacular confrontation none the less.

This fight also clearly shows what was wrong with the previous films in the series as here Dracula given a foe who is worthy of him seems like the towering presence of evil he should be. Van Helsing the worlds greatest expert on Vampires, whose fought Demons and all manner of monsters flees from him and has to use every single resource and weapon he can to bring him down.

If this film had been like the previous few entries in the series then the lead character would have been Jessica’s boyfriend (probably named Paul) and either he would have killed Dracula, which would have completely undermined him, or Dracula would have died in some ridiculous way like tripping and falling onto a well placed piece of wood.

The presence of Van Helsing however makes the Vampires seem far more threatening as here the only person who can face them is the expert monster hunter and even for him its a dangerous, drawn out experience killing them. Johnny Alucard seems more difficult to kill in this film than Dracula did in Taste the Blood of Dracula.

I must admit whilst I can understand the criticisms this film gets, I would have thought that seeing Cushing and Van Helsing in their most iconic roles in such a long, thrilling brutal fight would have at least been something that would have given this a higher reputation.

Aside from Cushing and Lee the other stand out performance in this film is definitely Christopher Neame as Johnny Alucard. Neame is an actor I have always rated highly as he is always good at playing really over the top villains.

I admit at times he does go a bit too over the top, but still for the most part he is very charismatic as Johnny Alucard. Indeed I’d say he helps carry the film along with Cushing. He creates a character that seems like almost as big a presence as Dracula himself in the film.

Unlike Dracula’s other servants Johnny isn’t just content to sit around as a lapdog for Dracula. He brings him back for his own purposes as he wants to be a Vampire. I like the way Johnny is shown to be so single minded in his quest to become a Vampire, being willing to sacrifice all of his own friends just to get it.

Its also interesting the way Dracula underestimates Johnny. He thinks that his will has influenced Johnny to bring him back from beyond the grave, but clearly Johnny is not someone he can manipulate and use and the proof of that is that Johnny is able to actually trick Dracula into giving him what he wants. Also unlike Dracula’s other servants he is smart enough to realize that Dracula will dispose of him. Thus after bringing Jessica to him he flees, unlike Jessica’s Vampire boyfriend who is typically disposed of by Dracula.

His final fight with Cushing’s Van Helsing is also another highlight. I actually do like the music here I think it goes well with the intense struggle between both characters.

An interesting thing to note about Johnny is that he is actually one of cinema’s first characters to have an interracial kiss.

The Omega Man was one of the first ever films to have an interracial kiss and it came out the previous year, within a few months actually of Dracula AD 1972.

What’s interesting about this interracial kiss however is that its not a big deal. Its not presented as a huge moment between the two lead characters like in The Omega Man.

Its just a casual moment between Johnny and Gaynor played by Marsha Hunt, and we actually see several kisses between them too.

Watch other films from this time and you will not see anything like that.

Its actually probably one of the first interracial kisses in British media. Prior to this the only other kiss between a black woman and a white man in any form of British entertainment I am aware of was in Emergency Ward 10 in the early 60’s almost ten years before this.

The cast overall for this film is very strong. Stephanie Beacham, Marsha Hunt and Caroline Munro are all absolutely gorgeous!

I feel that the main characters are also a bit more fleshed out here than in some of the other hammer horrors. For instance we actually get to see Jessica’s reaction to Caroline Munro’s characters death and its a very moving moment. Its not like when Julie was killed in Scars of Dracula and we never heard about her again, or when Zena is killed in Dracula Has Risen from the Grave and we never hear about her again even from the people who worked with.

Michael Coles who plays Inspector Murray is also a very likable character. He is kind of like the Brigadier to Van Helsing’s Doctor Who. He’s the stiff upper lip ordinary head of the police who is a bit taken a back at Van Helsing’s suggestions that it is the work of a Vampire, but he is smart enough to realize that there is something unusual going on and trust Van Helsing. Coles and Cushing also have a great rapport and chemistry with one another too.

Overall whilst I am not going to deny that this movie is flawed at the end of the day its fantastic entertainment. Indeed I have probably watched this one back more than any other.

Really at the end of the day if you want just a fun Hammer film this is a great choice.

Its got Peter Cushing in one of his absolute greatest performances, arguably the best Van Helsing/Dracula fight, great hammy over the top villains, the most beautiful Hammer actresses of all time and plenty of blood and gore. What the hell more could you want if you are a fan of Hammer horror?

I’d rate this with all its faults as one of the best Hammer flicks. I’d give it 4 and a half stars. Its 70’s cheesiness doesn’t weigh it down too much and if anything like I said almost gives it an Austin Powersesque charm.

Continuity and place within the Hammer Dracula cycle

This movie presents a continuity blip with the other Dracula movies. Horror of Dracula is set in the year 1880, which means that all of the other 19th Century Hammer Dracula’s take place in the 1890’s as Dracula Pince of Darkness takes place ten years after Horror. However this film establishes Van Helsing and Dracula’s final battle as taking place in the year 1872.

This coupled with the fact that it does not follow on from the ending of Scars of Dracula has led many fans to see this as a reboot that is not set in the same universe as the original Hammer Dracula’s.

Personally however I still say that its a sequel to the original films. As far as I’m concerned the conflicting dates to me are just like the UNIT dating controversy in Doctor Who. Yes they its a continuity blip, but I just put it down to the fact that this was before video or DVDs were released.

I think that this does take place in the same universe as the original Hammer Dracula’s. I think that the Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires meanwhile takes place in between Scars and Dracula AD, though I’ll explain more on what I think about the Hammer continuity in my review for Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires review.

Notes and Trivia

  • Tim Burton listed this as one of his top 10 favourite films. Kim Newman also listed this as one of his top 10 favourite Vampire films. He also named a character in the Anno Dracula series after Johnny Alucard.
  • This movie was also an inspiration on Mr Vampire 2. Both feature a similar plot of a descendant of a famous Vampire Killer (who looks identical to them) having to face the Vampire that killed their ancestor in modern day.

 

One thought on “Dracula AD 1972 Review

  1. One of the best reviews I’ve read in a longtime. I must have watched this movie about a hundred times now since the 1980’s. I loved the connection with Pertwee’s Doctor Who and the brigadier. I never considered that before.

    The critics should quit judging it by comparing it to the earlier standard 19th century Christopher Lee Dracula films, and just see it as a great fun vampire flick with gorgeous women, and with another added bonus of having Lee and Cushing play their iconic roles. For me this is not only personally my favourite movie of the series (far better than the awful sequel Satanic Rites which I personally found mostly slow and boring), but it’s my favourite vampire film of all time.

    Christopher Neame as Johnny Alucard really made up for the lack of Lee’s Dracula. Sure he was pretty OTT at times, but he still played the sinister role very well. That black magic church scene will always be an iconic Hammer moment. The church settings were more spooky gothic and eerie than ever and it’s slap bang somewhere in the middle of a more modern London. Also we also saw his dark humour at the beginning when he tormented that posh old dear by toying with that expensive statue before finally sneakily tipping it to the floor. Great moment.

    BTW, why on earth did Charles invite The Stoneground? They seem more at home rocking out and getting high at a music festival with all the other stoners with the strong stench of weed everywhere. They don’t seem like his cup of tea at all, and certainly seems most misplaced performing for his aristocratic family in a posh Chelsea suburb. Is it any surprise that they got gatecrashed by groovy hippies and stoners? Silly naive Charles. Still it was all very fun and enjoyable to watch nevertheless.

    Incidentally, I also love the movie soundtrack, and personally find it perfect for the groovy 1970’s setting, including with the final showdown at the end. It just smacks of gothic drama regardless of the perceived blaxploitation vibe. If another younger vampire and vampire hunter had replaced Dracula and Helsing, I guess people wouldn’t complain about the funky track. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Another scene which also made me scratch my head a little, was why on earth did Van Helsing need to draw lines to decipher Johnny’s surname? He seemed to only genuinely realise the connection afterwards. I mean it’s hardly the Enigma code, is it?

    Well many of the greatest movies have their flaws too, this is no different. The many pro’s certainly outweigh any of the few negatives. About time for a remastered DVD and blu-ray rerelease I think.

    Thanks for a great review.

    Like

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