Found-Again Friday: Dracula A.D. 1972

“Dig the music, kids!” —Johnny Alucard

Why Found-Again? At the end of my last post, I mentioned the Five Film Fang Fest, a Hammer Dracula mini-marathon that aired on TBS in October in the late ’80s. That’s where I first saw my favorite (Taste the Blood of Dracula) and least favorite (The Satanic Rites of Dracula, or as I like to call it, Dracula vs. the Shrubbery, With Surprising Results) of Christopher Lee’s outings as the titular count. It’s also where I watched Dracula A.D. 1972, but other than the kind of “hip” counterculture stuff the Austin Powers movies mined for laughs, I don’t remember much about it.

The Premise: After his demise in the 19th century (impaled on a wagon wheel! must’ve been made of hawthorn), Dracula’s signet ring and ashes are stolen away by some young spark.

….in other words.

Later, in swingin’ 1972 London, we see a very familiar young-sparky face at a party/orgy. Johnny Alucard (I don’t write it, I just report it) convinces a bunch of hippies to do a black mass, resurrecting You-Know-Who. Sadly for Dracula, one of the hippies (Stephanie “Sister Kate” Beacham) is a van Helsing, with a grandfather played by Peter Cushing. This has predictable results.

Alucard.
The other one.

In some ways, this is a rehash of Taste the Blood of Dracula, in which Dracula is raised by a young nihilist who forms an ad hoc Hellfire Club. Cults were back in the news in the ’70s, and it shows in the police investigation that leads the cops to the vampire hunter who can help them. The attempt to drag Dracula into modernity—hiding vampires at a Chelsea nightclub, pairing him with a guy who strongly recalls Alex from A Clockwork Orange—is imperfectly executed but interesting, and the movie seems to sense this, since it regularly returns to the traditional creaky old church setting. There also seem to be a few scattered visual jokes: a shot of empty milk bottles on a sidewalk after Dracula attacks a victim, Peter Cushing racing to save his granddaughter through a service entrance marked “Goods.”

The Verdict: I wish I could say that Dracula A.D. 1972 won me over, but it’s just not quite…right. It has a lot going for it in its relatively balanced portrayal of the hippie kids, and Christopher Lee does a great job as always, but the old and new portions of the narrative never truly gel. (Honestly, the fact that there was a character named “Johnny Alucard”—and that van Helsing had to draw a diagram to work that one out—may have stuck a stake in this film as far as I’m concerned.) Given the goofy ways they kill off vampires in these Hammer movies, though, I am happy to report that Dracula ends up doused in holy water and speared on punji sticks. Van Helsing circa 1972 is not messing around.

Other random observations:

  • If you like ’70s music, this is kind of fun. The party that kicks off the 1972 timeline resembles some of the Incredible String Band’s album covers, and some of the incidental music sounds like long-lost James Bond.
  • Whoever gave Stephanie Beacham that haircut should be prosecuted.
  • Imagine those old houses where there always seems to be a print of Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, only instead of the blue boy, it’s a scary woodcut of Christopher Lee.

Might go well with: Tomato juice, the music of Donovan.

Next time: Doing that voodoo that…that bald guy on Jonny Quest…does so well.

J. A.

It reads. It writes. It watches. It researches. It overdoes many of those things!

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