Monday, December 17, 2012

Vampires 101: Dracula A.D.1972

DRACULA A.D.1972 (1972)
Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Stephanie Beacham, Christopher Neame
Directed by: Alan Gibson

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT, ALFIE? Damn, that's a lot of numbers in the headline. It looks like a math problem. Anyway, Count Dracula is resurrected in the swinging '70s by a bunch of horny young hedonists. Bad shit ensues. 

WHAT'S IT REALLY ABOUT? Old people are scared of young people, which was the theme of a LOT of movies in the late '60s/early '70s. When DRACULA A.D.1972 was released, some people over the age of 40 couldn't tell the difference between The Beatles, The Manson Family and The Brady Bunch, and this panic quickly found its way to the silver screen in different ways. Some of the more interesting were the "Devil Child" films of the 1970s, such as THE EXORCIST, THE OMEN, etc. Where those movies played fast and loose with the subtext, DRACULA A.D.1972 wears its terror of youth on its sleeve. The Moral of the Story: If kids don't quit with the sex, drugs and rock and roll, Dracula is going to kill their asses.

DRACULA A.D.1972 is about a lot of things, but story really isn't one of them. The movie is a pandering attempt to make a hip, "modern" film for the youth market, and it works best when it totally fails. A movie made by old people who really don't understand young people, in some ways its more a film of its time than its soulmates, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, because it serves as an unintended commentary its contemporary counterculture. In fact, the character of Count Dracula is almost beside the point in this film.

Interestingly, the movie also has the habit of lingering a little too long on the cleavage of its young female stars. This wouldn't be a problem if it didn't have such an authoritative tone, making the movie come across like the creepy uncle who's always bitching about "These Kids Today" while also ogling every young lady within eye shot.

DRACULA A.D.1972 begins with a mindfuck of epic proportions. Peter Cushing, reprising his role as Van Helsing, slays Dracula after a quick fight scene atop a racing carriage. His enemy vanquished, Van Helsing promptly dies, robbing the movie of both its hero and its villain during the first five minutes.

Audiences should rightfully have felt a little confused at the start of DRACULA A.D.1972. The opening has the hallmarks of a "... previously in DRACULA" segment to remind viewers how the previous film ended, only this is an entirely new bit of footage. It's safe to assume Dracula persisted in returning from the grave so many times that we missed a movie or two in the interim since 1970's SCARS OF DRACULA.

The world had changed quite a bit since Hammer made its first Dracula film in the late '50s. By 1972, the Comics Code Authority had been amended to allow for vampires, werewolves and other monsters, while DARK SHADOWS had spent several year giving American audiences daily doses of creature features for free. The original Bram Stoker novel went into the public domain in Europe in 1962, meaning anyone could make their own Dracula movie. Even Hammer was helping to dilute its own brand with movies like COUNTESS DRACULA, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS and THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES.

So, a change was inevitable.

WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT THIS MOVIE? In addition to all the Dracula-come-lately vampires that were invading popular culture, Hammer was having an increasingly difficult time convincing Christoper Lee to return for sequels. The series had to adapt to survive, and that sense of desperation pervades DRACULA A.D.1972, but in a good way. Desperation isn't the worst motive to ever inspire a movie. In the case of DRACULA A.D.1972 it produced a lively, bugnuts motion picture that's hard not to love. It's like someone took glam rock, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Oscar Wilde, slasher movies, REEFER MADNESS and gothic horror and made a Banana Split Sundae of Insanity. 

While the cinematography is inconsistent, it's usually a visually interesting film, shot in bright, lurid colors that hint at SUSPIRIA a few years later. DRACULA A.D.1972 also boasts a few good performances, not only from Hammer stalwart Peter Cushing as the latest Van Helsing to get saddled with the chore of kicking vampire ass, but Christopher Neame, as well. As Bowie-esque "Johnny Alucard" (yes, they went there) he steals the movie as a fey satanist manipulating everyone to achieve a very specific goal. He's just as charming as he needs to be in the film, stopping shy of making Alucard romantic or sympathetic. He's not only the real villain of the film, but the real star, as well.

IS IT TIME TO STOP TALKING ABOUT IT? DRACULA A.D.1972 is a time capsule from another world, and it depends on your interest in the period. By 1972 audiences had already seen tons of "modern" vampire stories and this movie still sticks closely to the Hammer formula despite its groovy pretenses. Still, it's a blast watching the formula play play out in a contemporary setting, and it adds a dose of realism to Hammer's dreamy romanticism. It's a singular film worth searching out.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

The creepy uncle of Dracula films - I love it!

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