After being shot, stabbed, electrocuted by lightning, set on fire and thrown off a cliff, Dracula apparently got better because we now return to an exciting horse-drawn carriage chase already in progress.
The year is 1872 and we’re a hundred years too early for the film you were expecting. Luckily, we’re just in time for a climactic final battle between Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) and Count Dracula (Christopher Lee). Of course, by this point, a “Dracula” film opening with a shot of a galloping horse-drawn carriage through a forest is as de rigueur as a Lucas “Star Wars” film opening with a shot of a Star Destroyer (or Star Destroyer proxy, pedants). It’s all a bit 19th century fast & furious and ends in a crash which sees Dracula impaled on a broken wagon wheel, and not the good chocolate kind. Van Helsing presses his point home by pressing the spoke’s point home and Dracula is finally, irrevocably defeated once and for all, I’m sure.
Flash forward 100 years and Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame) and his hippy gang of freaky freeloaders are crashing the party of a bunch of posh folk, causing monocles to fall into champagne coupes at unprecedented rates. When some narc calls the fuzz, the gang cheese it until the next swinging happening they can bogart. But Johnny has a plan: to stick it to The Man by un-sticking it to the Bat and plans to use none other than Van Helsing’s great-great-granddaughter Jessica (Stephanie Beacham) to do it. The ceremony goes a little awry, though, and Johnny is forced to use Laura (Caroline Munro) instead. With Dracula revitalised, he turns Alucard into a vampire as a reward for the resurrection and sets out to avenge himself on the Van Helsing family.
The dippy gang of free-loving freeloaders who open the modern day part of the film are so irritating that within 15 minutes, you’ll be the one figuring out which ritual will summon up fang face to come and slaughter them all but once the interminably cheesy party scene is over, the film begins in earnest and it’s actually pretty good. Although Lee is still playing the nefarious Count, there’s an irreconcilable break in continuity between this and the preceding Hammer Dracula films, ending a continuity which stretched all the way back to 1958’s “Dracula”.
It’s gratifying that the film doesn’t play into any kind of ‘fish out of water’ hilarity, because Lee’s Dracula is unconcerned with such trifles as the technological progress of the past century. He literally has no fucks to give because all he’s focussed on is tearing the Van Helsing line a new one, and by ‘new one’ he means gaping throat wound, at least for Van Helsing senior. For Jessica, he plans to consummate his revenge by turning her into a vampire too.
Cushing, here playing his own grandson (foreshadowing Philip J Fry of “Futurama”), is on terrific form and the modern setting doesn’t harm the action one bit. Neame is great value as the occult-obsessed dilettante, especially once he willingly becomes one of Dracula’s undead. Stephanie Powers plays the damsel in distress well and everything ticks along at a fair old clip. The only thing which lets the side down is the grotesquely inappropriate score by Michael Vickers which feels more suited to a detective thriller rather than a modernised gothic horror.
“Dracula A.D. 1972” is the cheesiest Hammer Dracula movie so far, but it’s a lot of fun and has some good ideas even if they struggle at times to make themselves heard amidst the kitsch seventies ambience.