The seventh in Hammer's Dracula series and the first of their sequels not to be penned by the ever-reliable Anthony Hinds, this film is extraordinarily silly. From this point on the series would be written by Don "Inferno" Houghton and at first glance this might appear to be where things went off the rails. In fact these last three Draculas are rather wonderful, but this film in particular is even dafter than you'd guess from its title. It's enormous fun, but mostly in kitsch value.
I've ranked sixteen noteworthy points of this film in descending order of how entertaining they are. Notice that I didn't say "good".
1. The music. Unbelievable. It's funky blaxploitation big band stuff that absolutely does not belong in a horror movie. I didn't appreciate it during the final showdown between Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, but otherwise it never failed to put a smile on my face. Amazingly they seem to think it's scary, so you'll hear it during the big set-pieces of screaming and blood. What were they thinking? Was this film made by deaf people? I confidently expect The Satanic Rites of Dracula to use the Benny Hill theme, with a laugh track and swanee whistles.
2. The Austen Powers vibe. Surely 1972 wasn't really like that? This film feels like a Carry On parody, with one character you'd think was being played by Eric Idle. In the opening party scene he looks under a table, finds an amorous couple and says, "Still at it?" even though the girl's still wearing her bra. (Despite being a seventies Hammer horror film of vampires and swinging hep-cats, this film contains no tits.) Nevertheless despite all this, the film doesn't know that it's funny. All this apparent wackiness is played straight. It's hard to single out one shot as the most eye-popping, but I'm going to go for that car's paint job, revealed as they leave the carwash like the punchline to a joke.
3. Christopher Lee. He gets almost nothing to do but he's still great when he shows up, looking deeply pissed off to be in this movie. Ironically it's his best performance in the role yet. He'd been a bit bland in earlier films, but here he burns a hole in the screen. Shame about the hair, though.
4. Peter Cushing. He smokes cigarettes! That was oddly disturbing. Admittedly this was the year after Helen died and I don't think here he's in top gear, but I was still delighted to see him back. He was nearly sixty years old, but still badass with a spade and he even turns down an offer of police help at the climax, instead choosing to go single-handedly up against Dracula and an unknown number of vampires. Hmmm. Okay, that was stupid, but it's not Cushing's fault. Have I mentioned before that he's my favourite screen actor? He doesn't get enough to do either, though.
5. Stephanie Beacham's breasts.
6. The opening sequence set in 1872, which incidentally contradicts previous series continuity. Cushing! We have Cushing! We have a Dracula who manages to impale himself on a cartwheel! We have wildly amusing incidental music! What's more, after Dracula's disintegration a passer-by steals his ring (okay), then gathers up his ashes in a test tube he happens to be carrying (huh?) with which he'll do nothing for the rest of his life because he's in the 1872 prologue to a film called Dracula A.D. 1972. I presume he's meant to be Dracula's thrall, but even so that was wacky.
7. Christopher Neame, who given his "Alucard" surname is presumably the descendant of that aforementioned thrall. He's playing the kind of spoiled arrogant thrill-seeker normally played by Ralph Bates. Someone like Philip Madoc would have rocked the house in this role, but Neame:
- (a) has to say, "Dig the music, kids."
- (b) looks about twelve years old.
- (c) dances.
- (d) is as camp as a row of tents, thanks to a smug one-note performance with almost no variation in line delivery.
- (e) is dressed up as the third Doctor, but with the addition of a poncy hat.
8. The script, although it's probably better than the production makes it look. Nevertheless its first half is a rerun of Taste the Blood of Dracula, while the second half gets a bit boring. Dracula is now obsessing over the great-great-grandchildren of his dead enemies and can seemingly identify them on sight even when he's never seen them before. Admittedly the girl of whom he says, "She's not the one," happens to be black, but that needn't mean much after four generations. Furthermore during Christopher Neame's hell-raising ritual, Dracula starts turning in his grave without even a drop of blood having been poured on him. The jokes write themselves, don't they?
9. Caroline Munro and Stephanie Beacham, who are actually quite good. The rest of the Scooby Gang are forgettable but Beacham has gravitas and star quality, while the underused Munro has an animalistic bad girl thing going on. Why didn't they make her a vampire, eh?
10. Michael Coles as Inspector Murray, although we wouldn't learn his surname until the next film. He's taking his role seriously and makes for a suitable sidekick for Cushing.
11. The carelessness with family relationships. At first the script seems to say that Cushing is Beacham's uncle. We then learn that he's her grandfather and that 1872's Cushing was her great-grandfather. Huh? For this to be true, the original would have had to have fathered a child at the age of 100, even though we saw him get killed and then buried. We later learn that the two Cushings are two generations apart rather than one, but to me even that feels like a stretch.
12. A couple of ideas. The club called the Cavern has spiders' web decor, which is rather appropriate. There's also a nice moment where Cushing raises the spectre of Dracula's ever-multiplying kin spreading across London, which is creepy. Um, that's it.
13. The sexuality. I can't remember the last time Christopher Lee's Dracula was allowed to bite a man, but it happens here. Offscreen, but still a man. In fact it's only the men who get vampirised, which I'm sure must be significant given Hammer's long-standing self-consciousness about the sexual angle of vampirism. Is this another gay-themed film? If nothing else, Christopher Neame's costumes would seem to support this theory. In contrast the women just die. I'll be interested to see if they resurrect any of them as vampires in the sequel, although the one who got a post-mortem might have a few difficulties there.
14. Characters I'd swear were redubbed: Beacham's boyfriend and the van Helsings' housekeeper.
15. The knowing one-liners. "A bit drained." "Come in for a bite."
16. Those crazy kids. Alive, they're fashion victims. As vampires, they don't have the sense to lie down during the day or even close their curtains.
I know one person who adores this film for its charm and groovy panache, which I can understand even if I don't share his point of view. It's basically Taste the Blood of Dracula but with 1970s teenagers instead of loathsome Victorian patriarchs. My problem is that I identified more with the Victorians. Yes, I too am a hypocritical right-wing stuffed shirt who prefers books to young people. I can see that these teenagers are absolutely roaring with style and attitude, but unfortunately I find laughable pretty much everything they say, do and think. That's just me. I admire their lack of self-consciousness, but as far as being cool and enviable goes I find them pretty much on a par with greasy 50-year-old trainspotters who never bathe and live with their mothers. This will have informed my reaction.
I also think it's important to note that I've never seen more love for a Hammer film than for this one. I've heard lots of people call it their favourite, even if in their next breath they'd go on to call it rubbish. It's special. You'll never find anything else like it, that's for sure.
Dracula A.D. 1972 is two films in one. There's the Austen Powers surface, then if you're patient a proper film starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Nothing that stars those two actors can ever be without merit, although experienced Hammer-watchers will know how thoroughly the limits of that statement have been tested. Hammer's 1965 She, starring Ursula Andress. Ahem. Cushing and Lee are struggling against both the film and the incidental music, but if you're looking for class then that's where you'll find it.
If you're not looking for class, boy have you come to the right place!