Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

"The Count is back with an eye for London's Hot Pants - And a Taste for Everything."

To quote Bob Dylan, the times they are a changin'. Sadly, that didn't work for Hammer. The venerable studio had made a huge name for itself in the 50's and 60's, but by the time the 70's came about, the public had started to take interest in other types of horror fare. At this time, genres like Giallo and films like "Night of the Living Dead" and "The Last House on the Left" were changing the name of the game. Suddenly, Frankenstein and Dracula seemed like old news to some. So, the studio decided to get with the times. Granted, the studio had proven they could get with the times thanks to films like "Vampire Lovers", but two years later, they would give the world a misfire in "Dracula A.D. 1972", which should just be seen just for the fact that somebody actually thought that this movie would be a good idea.

The film actually begins in fine fashion, as we are transported to London circa 1872, in which Dracula (Christopher Lee) and Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) are fighting once again. The whole thing ends with the horse buggy crashing, and Dracula being impaled by the remains of a wooden wheel. Though the scene (and indeed the whole film) is scored by Manfred Mann member Michael Vickers in what sounds like leftover "Scooby Doo" music, it's all filmed as if it were one of Terence Fisher's essential Hammer horrors.

Cut to 100 years later, in which cops stop a party featuring a bunch of actors in their 30's playing teens, as well as something more evil and dastardly than Dracula himself-hippies. Granted, why anyone would want to stop a party with Caroline Munro and Stephanie Beacham is beyond me. What's also notable is that Hammer's usually keen eye for capturing generational and class conflict fails here, as you can't blame the older folks for throwing out these obnoxious hippies.

I really hate hippies.

Anywho, the cleverly named Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame) decides to bring along some of these hippies for a black mass. Well, they don't conjure up Satan, but they do get the next best (or worst) thing-Dracula, and he has his eye on the Van Helsing house, particularly Jessica Van Helsing (Beacham) and Abraham Van Helsing, a distant relative of Dr. Van Helsing (Cushing again.)

There's a lot about the movie that falls flat-it mostly lacks atmosphere, has an inappropriate sounding score, has a dreadful performance from Neame, it often feels like "Austin Powers vs. Dracula", etc. The movies biggest problem though, is that it doesn't go far enough. The studio had shown prior to this that they could further as far as sex and violence is concerned. Here, in 1972, horror was starting to push boundaries, yet this movie just plays it too safe. I'm sorry, but a PG rated Dracula movie in this time just feels out of place. It reeks of a studio trying to stay with the changing times, but simultaneously feeling afraid to do so.

Still, it needs to be seen, as it's mostly hilarious. Sure, it's bad, but it's the kind of bad movie that's never a painful experience, with incredible dated dialogue ("Dig the music kids!"), poor fashion, and more somehow making this watchable and unintentionally gut busting. Plus, Lee and Cushing still come off with their dignity entact, with Cushing doing fine as a man who must beat the clock to stop the count, and Lee still maintaining the same imposing, evil performance that commands the screen whenever he's there (and sadly, that ain't much.)

As a curiosity, "Dracula A.D. 1972" is beyond any kind of proper rating. It lives in complete paradox-it's both dire to watch and one of the funniest films of the 70's, though it's not supposed to be. It really must be seen to be believed.

Rating: I Don't Know

While the film ends with "Rest in Final Peace", Hammer would bring Dracula back two more times-once for the equally misguided "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" and for the entertaining and energetic Shaw Bros. Kung-Fu mash-up "Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires" (which didn't feature Lee as Dracula.)

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