They gave us a new life to live and learn
Some time to touch old friends and still return
- Paul Williams
You know kids, Tim Burton's Dark Shadows was not the first vampire movie set in 1972 with Christopher Lee in it. No, long before Burton, Hammer released the woefully, wonderfully dated movie that is Dracula A.D. 1972.
The movie centers around busty, blonde Jessica Van Helsing (a young Stephanie Beacham) and her gang of ne'er do wells as they dally their way through youth, crashing parties and hanging out at a local cafe to plot their next crazy adventure - much to the dismay of her Granddad (Peter Cushing.) Other members of the gang include leader Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neaume channeling Malcolm McDowell), sexy black mama Gaynor, a goth-before-there-was-goth chick (played by the lovely Caroline Munro), Joe, a be-robed wise-cracking comic foil (my personal favorite) and a couple of other groovy swinging characters.
One night whilst looking for kicks, Johnny oh so subtlety suggests they do a black magic ritual at an old abandoned church nearby. The gang seems to think this is a great idea and nobody takes it too seriously with Joe adding that "if we do get to summon up the big daddy with the horns and the tail, he gets to bring his own liquor, his own bird and his own pot." That seems fair enough, as one would think the Devil would have all those things at his disposal and might even be willing to share. Only problem is Johnny ain't exactly who he appears to be and their ritual brings back Dracula from the undead, who is intent on getting rid of those damn Van Helsings once and for all.
Dracula A.D. is okay for what it is. The music suits the times and the kids are alright but I sort of longed for more scenes between Cushing and Lee who play their scenes completely seriously for the most part, ignoring all the wacky grooviness around them. In fact, it's only their scenes together during the beginning and end of the film that tie the movie together. As it is, the middle to the last half really only stars Beacham’s cleavage and the group of friends, so important at the beginning of the movie take a back seat. At one point, Jessica's boyfriend is turned into a vampire and eventually killed, but we aren't shown how or why it happened to him. Who turned him? Probably Johnny, but we're never told. And several members of the "gang" suffer no ill will whatsoever and simply don't appear during the rest of the film.
Also, apart from the hairdos and fashions, this movie could have taken place in any year, as Dracula pretty much just hangs around the church and doesn't venture into the world outside. I would have almost liked to see Christopher Lee stumble around, looking at all the damn dirty hippies and wondering what the hell was going on. But Lee is not known for comedy and that would have almost been too much to watch one as distinguished as he try to pull it off, so I'll take the little screen time he has.
The result is rather uneven, and you can certainly watch much better Hammer films, but the presence of Cushing and Lee (however short their appearance may be) coupled with the high cheese factor make Dracula A.D. 1972 worthy of at least one viewing.
Favorite Moments (may contain spoilers):
- The crashing of the rich kid's party and the hilarity that ensues.
- The entire black magic ritual. Dig the music, kids!
- The opening and ending scenes of Lee and Cushing duking it out to the death. Just like old times. : )
- Marsha Hunt who plays Gaynor used to date Mick Jagger and the song "Brown Sugar" was written about her.
- The Cavern coffee bar gang hang-out was actually an Italian restaurant.
- The French and Spanish versions were released in 1973 so the movie title had to be changed.
- During the Cushing/Lee face-off at the end, some of Lee's dialogue was taken directly from the Stoker novel.
Agree? Disagree? Or just have a random string of curse words you'd like to share? Comment!