Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Dracula AD 1972 - A Review

It's nearly Halloween folks 'n' fiends, and what better time to revive this unholy corpse of a blog, than with a review of a campy underrated classic that has a reputation it simply doesn't deserve. It's a film very close to my blackened heart, simply because it's so much fun. Cancel the fish and chips: We're having stake tonight.
'AD 1972' is brilliant from the off, with a fantastic final battle between Laurence Van Helsing and Count Dracula back in the 1800's, which results in both of their deaths. It's a swift, action-packed, and VERY familiar scene that recalls the grand finales of pretty much every Hammer vampire flick before this one.
       However, director Alan Gibson then neatly pulls the rug from under the feet of the audience, with a shot of a loud aeroplane zooming through the sky, to the accompaniment of some 'modern' 70s disco music. It's so unusual to see buses and shopping centres in a Hammer vampire film, and Gibson delights in emphasising this change of scenery. Brilliant!
As director, Gibson makes the most of every scene. Dracula's return from the grave (all smoke and rising mud) is excellently executed, and the moment in the church where the teenagers are under the spell of 'Alucard' is strangely erotic. Particularly the part when Caroline Munro has a goblet of blood poured over her chest...
       In short, the swift and tight direction helps to sell this Hammer film (made at a time when the company was struggling) as something fresh and vibrant. And it works.
Plotwise, the script is barmy and OTT, just like a Hammer film should be. It involves Dracula (Christopher Lee) being revived by one Johnny 'Alucard' (get it), to wreak havoc and revenge on Laurence Van Helsing, namely his son Lorrimer (Peter Cushing) and his glamorous daughter Jessica (Stephanie Beacham). In between all this, Cushing manages to persuade a pair of policemen that vampires are real, and it's his duty as a descendent of Van Helsing to rid the world of their evil. Let's face it, the film involves vampires, blood, heaving cleavage and lavish scenery. The plot is just a bonus!
Gibson's direction aside, the 'AD 1972's big selling point is the cast. Peter Cushing, as Lorrimer (the first time he has played a Van Helsing since 1960's Brides of Dracula') is sublime. He has charisma, a gentle charm, and yet a ferocity when fighting Alucard and Dracula. It's such a melancholy, dignified performance, and is one of the big selling points of the film.
       Christopher Lee, too, is brilliant. It's no secret he became increasingly fed-up with the later Hammer Dracula movies, but here, he is commanding and sinister, a genuine threat with decent (if infrequent) dialogue to deliver. It's the first film since the original 1958 edition that Lee & Cushing played Dracula and Van Helsing in the same picture, and the chemistry between the two is electric.
       The rest of the cast are great too. Stephanie Beacham is splendid as Jessica, a typical upper-class young lady with that harmless rebellious streak a lot of the more sensible teens have. She gives a witty and fairly amusing performance, in a role that could have been rather wet.

       As Johnny Alucard, Christopher Neame simply eats the scenery. He's a perverse, twisted creation - almost pathetic really. A power-mad psychopath with hopes of grandeur. Dracula only puts up with him because he's useful. Another strong perfomance.
       Then there's Caroline Munro, Hammer semi-regular. She's killed-off pretty quickly but she gives an energetic performance and shows the required amount of cleavage throughout her brief stint.
The movie heads to a gripping climax, accompanied by the jazzy soundtrack courtesy of Manfred Mann, albeit with an admittedly old-school setting. Even in 1972, Hammer can't seem to shake off the deserted churches and desolate graveyards. But let's be honest, we love them for it, don't we?
All in all, 'Dracula AD 1972' is a campy classic. It's scary, fun, and very silly, with big performances, bigger setpieces, and a funky soundtrack, brought together by some very tight direction from Gibson. Turn your nose up at it if you must, but we all need a bit of fun in our horror films sometimes, don't we?