Review Date: October 13, 2005
Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 10/11/2005
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
With 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein
, Hammer Films made their name as the world’s new premier horror studio. Along with Hammer, Curse
also made stars out of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, who would find great success in their many films under the Hammer label. They’ll be most remembered, however, for respectively playing Dracula and Van Helsing in Hammer’s classic Horror of Dracula
. Throughout the fifties and sixties Hammer, Cushing and Lee saw great success, but as the sixties flowered into the countercultural seventies, there was demand for a new kind of horror. Gothic horror was no longer chic, as events like the Charles Manson murders made the present much scarier than the fangs and cape of old. As Hammer continued to see their box office erode, they attempted to cater to the new, youthful audience pictures set distinctly in swingin’ London.
The film most obvious of Hammer’s cultural shift was 1972’s Dracula A.D. 1972
. Not only did it posit Dracula in hippie England to bring in a younger audience, but it also went to lengths to re-team Cushing and Lee after a lengthy hiatus. The two hadn’t shared the screen since Horror of Dracula
in 1958. The re-teaming of cinema’s most famous Dracula/Van Helsing combination was a return to old for Hammer, yet at the same time it was the start of the new as they continued to focus on present day settings over the gothic that Hammer had become known for. With that in mind, Dracula A.D. 1972
is somewhat of a weird mesh between old and new. At the very least it is a peculiarity worth preserving, and thankfully Warner Brothers has elected to release it finally on DVD. Just how sharp is this seventh sequel’s bite after all these years? Let’s find out.
The year is 1872 and Dracula (Christopher Lee
) and Van Helsing (Peter Cushing
) seem to be continuing where they left off in Horror of Dracula
– fighting. As a high speed carriage runs on, the two wrestle and are eventually thrown from the carriage. Van Helsing is the first to rise, sending a stake through Dracula’s evil little heart. The bloody blows Van Helsing withstood were too severe however, and moments after Dracula is staked to death, Van Helsing falls to his untimely grave as well. For the time being, the vampire is defeated, but in the swingin’ 1970’s, nobody sleeps.
It is now 1972, and a bunch of hipsters indulge in drugs, alcohol and bad American rock music at a local party in new Chelsea. Of the Chelsea children are Jessica (Stephanie Beacham
), a great granddaughter of the original Professor Van Helsing, and the mysterious Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame). Johnny suggests the group get together and hold a séance at a local church, you know, for fun. The way cool group like totally obliges, and pretty soon they are bringing back the dead. It just so happens that Johnny has some ash remains of Dracula from a hundred years ago, and once Johnny’s blood is mixed with it and poured over the chest of a busty Hammer girl (a young Caroline Munro
) Dracula comes again to startling life. He has more than just hippies on his menu though. In specific he wants Jess, who will serve as his way to finally get back at Van Helsing for punishing him all those years ago.
What Dracula doesn’t know is that Van Helsing has somewhat been resurrected somewhat in his grandson (also played by Peter Cushing
). The younger Van Helsing is a scholar in the same was as the old, and immediately suspects Dracula is on the prowl again when bodies start coming up sans blood. When Jess is kidnapped, the professor realizes that he must continue where his grandfather left off in dispensing of Dracula once again. Will Jess live long enough to be saved, or will the atrocious sound of the Stoneground band at the start drive her to tortured madness?
As previously mentioned, Dracula A.D. 1972
is a somewhat disjointed combination between old and new, good and bad. Much of the film is dated with the scent of cheese, with some terrible “hip” indie rock music and much more unkempt dancing. The references to seventies culture come across as forced and totally manufactured, with some lines that were probably dated before the movie was even green-lighted. Favorites are “weird, man…way out!” and “don’t get your knickers in a twist!” Multiple attempts to reference those crazy Manson “cult murders in America” also seem totally forced and unnatural. There is even a bit when the group listen to some satanic records, naturally. Much of the film is actually quite amusing in the way it tries to present itself as hip and trendy. It certainly doesn’t work now, and I have a feeling it rang just as false when it came out, if the middling box office receipts were any indicator.
Yet, despite all the failed attempts at presenting the swingin’ London scene, the movie succeeds with its Dracula/Van Helsing core. Cushing and Lee are magnetic together and their presence alone lends the film a quality that was missing throughout many of the tired sequels before A.D.
. The opening battle is a nice throwback to the older films, but the ending stands on its own as one of the finer moments in all of the Hammer Dracula series. Lee barely has any lines at all yet again, but when paired with the articulate Cushing his snarls and stares seem to take on added significance. The scenes between Lee and Cushing are so good it’s a shame they didn’t encompass the entire film, as it would have made the film hands down the best Dracula effort.
As it stands though, this is an amusing cheese piece with momentary bits of brilliance peppered throughout. While the filmmakers failed to truly capitalize on its modern setting (Lee remains by himself in an old church rather than roaming the swingin’ streets) their attempts to recreate youth culture of the time is enjoyably humorous. Another big laugh comes from the big Van Helsing revelation near the end where he discovers that Johnny’s last name, Alucard, is actually Dracula spelled backwards! Not since Troll 2
has the backwards name trick been such a potent discovery.
There is much to laugh at in Dracula A.D. 1972
, yet what is surprising is that there is also a lot to admire. There are some well staged action scenes, some good uses of blood, and most importantly some electric scenes between two Hammer masters. Cushing and Lee are legends, and seeing them paired again for this film is like seeing an old band reunite for a farewell tour. They may be older, slower in step and softer in voice, yet they can still hit every note as good as they ever could. Lee and Cushing manage to deliver sincere entertainment in a film otherwise seeped in dated hippie hijinks.
Warner Brothers presents the film in an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, and this is a much better transfer than their Night of the Lepus
DVD. Color depth and saturation is much better, with that typically bright Hammer blood coming through nice and vivid. The psychedelic pinks, purples and blues all come through distinct and without any smearing. There is a slight overall grain to the picture, but it isn’t nearly as noticeable as it was in Lepus. There are a few nicks and scratches throughout the transfer, but overall its pretty clean. While not a masterpiece in restoration, this is nonetheless a fine transfer and without a doubt the best the film has looked on video.
The film is presented in either English or French mono, and both sound pretty good. There is no noticeable hissing or muffled dialogue throughout, as everything comes through nice and clearly. It is an acceptable track, and one that suits the film just fine. Considering how bad that Stoneground music is, we should be thankful that Warner has elected to play it in only one channel instead of 6.
Like the rest of Warner’s horror havoc titles this year, all that is afforded to the film is a theatrical trailer. It’s a rather amusing little ad for the film, with a humorous color changing of the title every time it is plastered on screen. Groovy, man!
Dracula A.D. 1972
is in one way a cheesy little piece of flower power kitsch and in another a fine return to form for Hammer legends Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. It really is two films in one, with a great story between Cushing and Lee offset by some laughably dated hippie antics. The image and sound quality are both solid and a major improvement over the drained and hollow home video releases to come before this. Only a theatrical trailer is included as an extra, but at $19.98, this is still recommended to anyone interested in Hammer or Dracula films. Lee owns the pearly whites, and Cushing proves himself again to be the master of the monologue. Fun stuff all around.
Movie - B
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B-
Supplements - C
- Running Time - 1 hour 36 minutes
- Rated PG
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- French mono
- English subtitles
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles