Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dracula AD 1972 - FilmReview

Article author: Alwyn Ash

Taking a look at the seventh in the successful Hammer Horror Dracula film series...

It has been described by some as one of the weakest in the Hammer Horror Dracula franchise. However I disagree. "Dracula AD 1972" has always been a favourite of mine since I first discovered it at the same time that I purchased "Satanic Rights of Dracula" on video tape. It is even possible that it was "Dracula AD 1972"'s appeal that led me to sampling and enjoying further Hammer tales. So what is it that excites about this movie? Firstly the casting, with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee reprising their roles as Van Helsing and Dracula respectively; Cushing even gets to play two generations of the Van Helsing family: Lawrence in 1872 and descendant Lorrimer in 1972. Other cast include Christopher Neame as the mysterious Jonnny Alucard, and sex bombs Stephanie Beacham as Jessica Van Helsing and Caroline Munro as Laura Bellows certainly add to the attraction.

Secondly there is a freshness about "Dracula AD 1972" that permeates throughout the film, matched by a funky soundtrack written by fellow Manfred Mann member Mike Vickers. There is even a brief appearance by American band Stoneground.

The contemporary feel of 1970s London, with the upper class being invaded by hippies strikes a workable contrast to the film's opening fight sequence set in 1872 between Lawrence Van Helsing and Dracula - of course, the opening few minutes for the prologue do raise problems in the chronology of the Dracula film series: as the original Hammer Dracula 1958 motion picture was set in 1885, and Van Helsing had not even encountered Dracula until that year, how is it that Lawrence Van Helsing has managed to feature in the 1872 opening scene battling a vampire he was yet to meet? To be fair, I didn't even realise this piece of trivia until researching both Hammer movies - it has been some years since I last watched the 1958 outing directed by Terence Fisher...

Though Hammer had been known for its contemporary productions, "Dracula AD 1972" was a considerable jump from what had gone before compared to period pieces such as "Horror of Dracula", "Dracula: Prince of Darkness" (1966) and "Taste the Blood of Dracula" (1969).

Something that should be acknowledged is that Peter Cushing's original Van Helsing does not even seem to share the same name as his 1897 novel counterpart, Abraham Van Helsing. In "The Horror of Dracula" he is simply referred to as Doctor Van Helsing; its sequel "Brides of Dracula" (1960) suggests his name to be "J. Van Helsing", though perhaps the "J" was a reference to a middle name? Still, the only explanation for "Lawrence" in "AD 1972" is that Cushing's Van Helsing in the 1958 feature had been called "Lawrence" and not "Abraham". Taking this in mind, "Doctor Lawrence J Van Helsing" makes the most sense.

And so back to director Alan Gibson's offering... The prologue gives us a battle between Count Dracula and Van Helsing, and the final death of our vampire slayer. As Lawrence is laid to rest ("Requiescat In Pace Ultima"), one of Dracula's disciples buries some of his master's ashes nearby. Cue title sequence and we are now one hundred years forward, in 1972. How nice that both the disciple and Lawrence's descendants look identical to their ancestors, allowing the same actors to play both parts. Though in a contemporary setting, Peter Cushing's character remains the same elegant and charming gentleman. As previously mentioned, among the young cast is Neame as Johnny Alucard, whose fascination with the occult is more than just a passing phase: he hopes to raise the dark lord, and serve under him.

Dracula's hatred for the Van Helsing family is so strong that he wishes to turn Jessica Van Helsing (Beacham) into a vampire, and his bride! Very surprising that he didn't keep Laura as a bride too - such a waste! Munroe did, however, feature in another Hammer film as Carla, a Gypsy girl in "Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter", released in 1974.

Perhaps a small part now, but one of the interesting characters in "Dracula AD 1972" is Inspector Murray (played by Michael Coles - who also starred opposite Peter Cushing in the 1965 feature-length "Dr. Who and the Daleks" as a Thal, Ganatus). Though he doesn't have much to do in this production, Murray does return for the follow-up "Satanic Rites of Dracula", in which he plays a more prominent role.

For those who still believe "Dracula AD 1972" to be poor, it was surely more of a shame that the 1974 feature "The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires" featured Peter Cushing once more as Lawrence Van Helsing, in 1904 - thirty-two years after he was supposed to have perished? Perhaps "Legend of... Vampires" was trying its best to wipe away any trace of the two films that had preceded it, or am I missing something? Whatever the reason, Gibson at least managed to update a tiring film franchise with his direction, even if it divided fans in the process. At heart, this is simply a fun movie.

Purchase Dracula AD 1972 from the Store:
DVD - Running time: 92 minutes