Monday, October 6, 2014

Hammer Dracula: Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

Dracula A.D. 1972
Director:  Alan Gibson
Starring:  Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Stephanie Beacham, Caroline Munro, Christopher Neame, Michael Coles
Rated: R

Come in for a bite.
    ~Johnny Alucard

It was time to take Dracula and do something significantly different with him this time.  Just as years later, Jason would take Manhattan, Dracula would take the year 1972.  In an attempt to get people back on board with the blood sucking king, Hammer felt they need to modernize the setting and bring Count Dracula into "the now".  Horror at this time in general was moving away from the Gothic settings of old and getting more intimate and familiar with its general settings and territory.  Give the kids stuff to relate too or try and cash in on what's popular.  Horror has always sort of taken that kind of road and this would be no different.
Excitement comes in the form of Peter Cushing returning to the film as not one, but two Van Helsings.  Unlike his counterpart, Christopher Lee, Cushing was enjoying doing all these Hammer Horror movies and delighted to return again and again.  He wasn't in many of the Dracula movies because he was the star of the Hammer Frankenstein series and was needed over there.  But, here we have him back for his third go round as Dracula's arch nemesis, and the first film to feature both Lee and Cushing since the original.  Its funny how the passage of time and looking back makes you think these films were just full of Lee and Cushing doing battle, but in reality between 1958 and 1972 they'd only done two Dracula films together.
This one takes off immediately pitting us in a battle to the death on a runaway carriage between Dracula and Van Helsing.  And it is frickin' awesome.  The two trade blows and battle to the death, culminating in Van Helsing staking Dracula with a broken wheel from the carriage and Dracula fades to dust in the sunlight and Van Helsing takes his final breaths.  A storybook sort of finish for two adversaries.  But wait!  This is just the beginning!  As Van Helsing is buried, a strange man comes by and scoops up some of his dust and nabs his ring.  A shot to the sky and then flying across that 1800s sky comes a plane, taking us to 1972!
Now, this opening and film was meant as a reboot to the series.  But, its awkward because we're using the same actors.  The date the opening is set in even makes the first film in the series not very plausible.  But, personally I think it can be the 7th film.  We just sort of retroactively change the dates or the originals with this, or make the date irrelevant.  Sure, we don't see how Dracula was resurrected from Scars, but we can assume it happened.  Then, we can also imagine there's some lost story or film about that resurrection and Van Helsing stumbling upon Dracula again that leads us to this opening fight.  This opening fight would be the recap from said lost film leading us into this new movie.  See, it works :)
With such an awesome opening, we're set for one hell of a movie, right? WRONG!  Oh so wrong.  Once we the time jump to 1972, we get to witness Stoneground.  A band they're proud to promote in the credits.  Its this little party scene were everyone is pretty much perfectly placed and doesn't move anywhere aside from dancing and fake conversating.  Stoneground plays what feels like three full songs that aren't very interesting.  Its very late 60s in that it was just amusing for people to just watch parties and people dancing and having fun.  However, we've come along way and this kind of stuff is boring as hell to watch and feels very much like time filler.  Within seconds they've already killed whatever high you're on from watching the exciting prologue.
We get a brief moment of this movie being interesting with Dracula's resurrection.  Most of that has to do with the stunning Caroline Munro stealing every frame she lingers into.  Later a Bond girl, she has much more star power and attention grabbing quality than our lead.  Unfortunately though, she doesn't last much longer after the ritual.  Which, we've seen this ritual done before in Taste, but here they make it a bit more sexy and gory.  She gets the Hammer blood doused all over her and begins to shriek around in horrifying fashion before Dracula returns and feeds on her.  They didn't have her turn into a vampire either, which is strange.  And the thought of Munro being a vampire sounds like it would have improved this film much more than having Johnny Alucard being the sort of crazy servant to Dracula.
Johnny Alucard.  Of course his last name means you have to include a scene where someone discovers its Dracula spelled backward.  This guy strongly resembles the man in the opening, but the film makes it clear he's not him.  Why not?  I thought maybe he had discovered a way to prolong his life a bit with Dracula's dust, but apparently its just something his family has decided to pass down generations.  The actor himself reminded me of Malcolm McDowell.  Unlike McDowell though, this guy can't really perform.  I didn't find him campy or sort of "going big" kinda fun, he was just pretty much terrible and hard to watch at different moments.  The actor seemed to be on a different page than the rest of the cast.
Peter Cushing is a welcome return, but it sucks it was this movie.  He's great in every scene he's in and commits to the dialogue like an old pro.  Still the best Van Helsing ever.  This film is just too boring and dull to make any of it work for his "in between" scenes.  And he's not the 'real' Van Helsing either, just a descendant of him.  But, since its the same actor for both, I guess its as close as we can get.  Production probably didn't want to have the story involving two resurrections or time travelers.  Aside from this being a pretty lousy movie, the refreshing factor in it all is that we get to spend time with Cushing's "Van Helsing" entity again.
You'd think Peter Cushing coming back aboard would have had Lee wanting to be more involved again, but he's not.  In fact, his shoot was obviously short as he never leaves his damn headquarters.  His headquarters is an old abandoned church.  I give them credit for keeping some of the gothic roots to the series by having this church present.  And it looks really awesome.  However, this is Dracula in the year 1972.  He never leaves this damn church.  Going in, one would expect him to wander the streets of a big city at night and take victims under the allure of neon signs and wet sidewalks.  But, no, this is Dracula hangs out in an abandoned church while 1972 goes on all around him and with other characters.  All that street roaming is left to Johnny Alucard, which as you can see above, I just loved him.
There's one thing I do want to make sure I credit this film for.  Its actually shot pretty well.  The action scenes are really well constructed.  The opening and ending of the film are actually pretty intense and suspenseful.  They also really know how to shoot Dracula.  When he first arrives, its one of the best reveals or just shots of Dracula in the entire Hammer Horror history itself.  I just wish there were more interesting things and events in this film for the production to lend itself to shoot.  Would have made for a better movie.
The film's finale is pretty awesome.  Van Helsing tracks Dracula to the abandoned church, in hopes to find his granddaughter.  He then sets a trap during the day to prepare for night.  They get into a great chase and fight.  Dracula's demise is pretty awesome as he's laid out onto a bed of stakes buried into the ground.  After the spell on his niece is broken, Van Helsing goes to her and we pan to a tombstone and the screen reads "Rest In Final Piece".  Its as if to say that Dracula A.D. 1972 is intended to be the final film in the series.  But, as we know there's another film after this.  And in my research I couldn't find anywhere where it was planned to be the last one, so that makes the text a little strange.
Dracula A.D. 1972 is a film that both starts and ends fantastically.  As good as the best in the series could get.  What sucks though, is that there's a really boring and dull movie in between that.  Now, I enjoy all the stuff with Caroline Munro and the ritual to raise Dracula, but that's probably even a tad bit skippable.  Really all you need from this movie is the start and the finish.  The movie in between is pretty dreadful, which is sad because hiding in there is another strong performance as Van Helsing (Lorrimer this time) from Peter Cushing.  Pitting Dracula Vs Van Helsing again and taking Dracula to 1972 sounds like a great way to refresh the franchise,  But you REALLY need to take him to 1972, not just have him hanging in a Gothic church that really gives us nothing different from 1872.  People complain, but Jason at least did take Manhattan in that film.  Dracula may have been in 1972, but with all of his scenes I never really felt he ever was in 1972.  I didn't even get a chance to describe how terrible the score for the film is, but you know that the minute it hits 1972.

NEXT TIME:  You have the Satanic Rite to remain silent...

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