HAMMER films hit pay dirt when they unleashed their bold and bloody reboot of Dracula in 1958 but by the early 70s their dealings with Bram Stoker’s most famous gothic creation had pretty much run out of juice.
Frantically scrambling around for new veins for the Count to sink his cinematic teeth into, they decided that bringing him bang up to date was the way to go. Dracula AD 1972, their first attempt at doing just that, proves they were sadly mistaken.
Out now for the first time on Blu-ray via Warner Archive, AD 1972 is a real shocker – a bright, hilarious and hugely entertaining shocker but a shocker all the same. An ill-conceived attempt to try and cash in on contemporary audiences' enjoyment of modern-day vampire fodder like the Count Yorga series, it comes over as a hopeless attempt to meld hippies with horror and has to be considered the least effective effort in the franchise.
It’s not without its good points, of course. It does have good old Christopher Lee back, with extreme reluctance apparently, as the cape-clad Count and the always reliable Peter Cushing returns as a direct descendant of his arch nemesis Van Helsing which immediately makes it essential viewing in my book.
It also keeps Lee’s scenes to within a crumbling old Gothic church and there’s a mighty battle atop an old horse-driven carriage between our two protagonists to get things started but that’s where the classic Hammer horror tropes end.
Directed by Canadian Alan Gibson, this Dracula adventure is mostly about “the kids”, if you count well-spoken 30-something actors slipping on kaftans and pretending to be hipsters on the Chelsea club scene of 1972 “the kids” that is.
Full of cringe inducing “youngsters” hanging out in “swinging” – or perhaps that should be “limping” by 1972 – London, it’s got groovy nightclubs, wah wah squelching guitars on the soundtrack and more shudder-inducing lines than you could shake a wooden stake at.
Leader of the gang is one Johnny Alucard (whose name inexplicably confuses Cushing enormously), a black-magic dabbler and wearer of outrageous velvet flares. Played by Christopher Neame, he’s wildly over the top and leads his King’s Road pals, who include the beautiful Caroline Munro and Stephanie Beacham, into all kinds of scrapes when he brings Dracula back to life.
Needless to say old Van Helsing is there to step in with some knowledgeable vampire-hunting nonsense and a battle to the death with Drac arrives in between all the groovy house party cavorting and general fake camaraderie.
Hammer would further drive the stake into the heart of their most lucrative cash cow with The Satanic Rites Of Dracula, another contemporary tale of diabolical doings in 70s London that arrived in 1973, but AD 1972 marks the point of no return really.
Watch it in the right, slightly giddy, mood and it's tremendous fun. Watch it in the cold light of day and it’s an absolute bloody mess.