Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Dracula AD 1972 (1972)

Directed by Alan Gibson
Starring Stephanie Beacham, Caroline Munro, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing
Rated PG

"The operative word is....ecch!"

In an attempt to seem relevant to the 'kids', stodgy ol' Hammer films decided to update their musty Drac-flicks by dragging Christopher Lee's regal vamp into the psychedelic 70's and pitching him against his old nemesis's shag-haired, great-great-great grand daughter and her gang of funky friends.

The prologue is classic Hammer stuff. Back in Victorian England, Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) and Dracula (Christopher Lee) battle it out on a runaway stage coach. Drac ends up impaled on a wheel spoke and then burns up into ash. The end.

Fast Forward exactly one hundred years. Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame) is a skinny, decadent glam-rocker with a gang of sexy followers (including Caroline Munro, Marsha Hunt - the girl Mick Jagger wrote Brown Sugar about, Janet Key, and the gorgeous Stephanie Beacham as Van Helsing Jr.) who gets his kicks crashing parties and splitting right before the cops show up. And, indeed, that's what he's doing when we first meet the Satanic bastard.

US hippie-prog jam band Stoneground (Faces were asked first, but reportedly, Rod Stewart read the occult-ridden script and balked) thunders through a couple groovy numbers at an upper-crusty party full of old squares while Jack and the gang dance, make out, gulp expensive booze, and generally have a swell time. This scene is fairly amazing, with lots of way-out fashions, including a very fetching aqua-blue hotpants/halter top outfit on one uncredited  dollybird, and some pretty effective rock n' roll.

Unfortunately, the cops show up, and the party is over. The kids gather at a local Clockwork Orange-y coffeeshop and ponder their next move. Jack - actually a witch of some kind in disguise - convinces the gang to meet him at a 'desanctified' church the following evening to, you know, goof around. They agree. "Might be good for a giggle."

Jessica Van Helsing goes home and bones up on the black arts in her grandpa's library. He catches her and starts blathering about the Van Helsings' long-standing commitment to fighting occult-y evil. Grand-dad is, naturally, played by Peter Cushing. Jess laughs him off and heads off to the church.

You see where this is going, right? The gang thinks this is just theater, but Johnny actually performs some sort of Satanic resurrection. It involved Caroline Munro on a stone slab, getting bright-red blood poured all over her heaving bosoms. Dracula returns, bites and drains Munro, and begins his usual reign of terror.

Cushing teams up with a couple of dubious cops to battle Dracula. Jessica gets snatched by Johnny and also ends up on a stone-slab. Her bosoms are quite heaving, as well.

Various bits of vampiric mayhem ensues, and then you get the usual gooey meltdown. The end. Until next time!

Listen, the fine folks at Hammer were many things, but hip was never one of them. The clothes, tunes (beside Stoneground, Manfred Mann guitarist Mike Vickers provided the with-it soundtrack) and hair (future Dynasty star Beacham's grown-out shag-mullet is a wonder to behold) are all expectionally groovy, and Neame makes for a fantastic low-rent libertine, but director Gibson cannot wait to get back the talky stuff.

Every ten or so minutes, Cushing pops back up to lull viewers to sleep with endless explanations about Van Helsings and Draculas and the devil and all the bullshit we've heard on zillion times before, already, in 1972. Also, bringing the Dracula mythos up to date is a fine idea, but why not take it all the way? No nudity in 1972, Hammer? No gore? I am aware that Hammer's blueprint was understated horror, but less yapping, more blood, and a little celebrity skin, and Dracula AD 1972 would be a bonafide 70's horror classic.

Still, a fitfully entertaining vampire romp slathered with tasty crumpet. Worth the effort for the camp value and a few seriously far-our set-designs.

- Ken McIntyre

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