Having used up everything “gothic” they could throw at the screen, Britain’s Hammer Studios decided to keep churning out Dracula movies anyway…only now with the vampire king prowling a modern-day setting. The first attempt at this, Dracula A.D. 1972, is a silly hodgepodge of dank, foggy crypts and Austin Powers-era youth culture. (It’s certainly the first Dracula film featuring a scene set at an automatic car wash.)
It opens with a pre-titles sequence that harkens back to the Hammer flicks of yore… In the year 1872, Dracula (Christopher Lee) and Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) are battling each other atop a runaway coach in London’s Hyde Park. (A narrator, who humorously rolls the “R” in “Dracula” with Pythonesque absurdity, tell us this.) Drac flings Van Helsing from the coach just before it tears loose from the traces. The coach smashes into a tree with Dracula aboard. When Van Helsing staggers to his senses he is attacked by the Count, who has the spokes of a broken coach wheel impaled in his chest. (Funny, but Drac doesn’t seem to mind that their little buggy ride through the park is obviously taking place in daylight.) Van Helsing manages to pin Dracula to the earth and the vampire expires for the umpteenth time into a pile of dust. Mortally wounded, Van Helsing slumps to the ground as a young man rides up on horseback. The man gathers some of Dracula’s ashes in a vial and takes his signet ring. The credits then transition us a century in time, with shots of driving along London’s motorways accompanied by jarringly “modern” music that could easily serve as the theme to a 70s TV action show.
The story picks up at an upscale soiree crashed by a bunch of hippies, who shimmy to the groovy sounds of the rock band Stoneground while the older stuffed shirts look on in disgust. (A musical group never heard from since, Stoneground gets to play two songs, including one called “Alligator Man”, during this party sequence.) Thankfully the cops are soon called and the hippies have to flee. That morning they’re back at their usual haunt, a coffee bar called The Cavern. The group’s unofficial leader, aloof bohemian Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame), promises a break from the usual “tired scene.” Something different and exciting, he says, “a date with the Devil. A bacchanal with Beelzebub.” Everyone seems game for a Black Mass except Jessica (nicely stacked Stephanie Beacham), who wonders if it might be a bit dangerous to fool around with the occult. She ought to know; her grandfather is Prof. Lorimer Van Helsing (Cushing again), renowned anthropologist and descendent of the great vampire slayer. Chided by her pals and boyfriend, Jessica hesitantly agrees to participate. They’re to meet at St. Bartoff’s, an abandoned church slated for demolition, at midnight for the ritual. What Jessica and her friends don’t know is that Johnny is an acolyte of Dracula, himself a descendent of the man who witnessed the death struggle between the vampire and his archenemy 100 years earlier. Dracula’s ring and the vial containing his ashes have been passed down to him, and he’s been waiting for the perfect moment to resurrect his undead idol. Dracula is brought back to life, and the willing Johnny offers up his friends one by one as aperitifs for the Count. First to go is the luscious Caroline Munro (as hippy chick Laura), who really should have had more screen time! While Drac skulks about the ruins of St. Bartoff’s waiting for his next meal delivery, Inspector Murray of Scotland Yard (Michael Coles) is investigating the bloodless corpses that have begun popping up. For help on the obvious occult angle to the case Murray consults with the field’s top expert in London, Prof. Van Helsing. Van Helsing is horrified to learn that his granddaughter Jessica is involved with Dracula’s minions, and is in fact soon slated for a date with the bloodsucker himself…
Now I’m a Hammer fan, but DRACULA A.D. 1972 is as dated as its title. The musical score is simply awful. (For obvious reasons, Dracula and Starsky and Hutch-style riffs just don’t go together.) The titular character again gets very limited screen time, spending the whole movie in and around the derelict church; scripter Don Houghton keeps Drac imprisoned in this one location as if he were chained inside his coffin. (Lee does get a few lines though… a bout seven.) Leave it to the always reliable Peter Cushing to keep things afloat. Still, one can have a fun time with this movie, mostly because of its faults. It’s cheese all right, professionally made cheese that’s attractively packaged. And did I mention that Caroline Munro is in it? Yummy, man! (Followed a year later by a direct sequel, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, aka Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride.)