Friday, June 02, 2006

Dracula AD 1972 - review


Director: Alan Gibson

Release Date: 1972

Contains Spoilers

This movie is often much maligned and on the surface you can see why. Dracula is transported to 1972, there are many a bad youth phrase in the dialogue, there is an annoying prat in a monk’s habit (William Ellis) and the story is a direct rip off of the earlier, and very poor, Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969). Some parts of the story are also rather implausible. But scratch the surface (as well as become hardened to the awful turn of phrases, easier said than done) and you’ll find a film with potential which pits Christopher Lee against Peter Cushing playing not one but two Van Helsings.

The film ignores its predecessors completely and begins in 1872 (thirteen years before Horror of Dracula (1958) was set). A coach thunders through Hyde Park, London and Laurence Van Helsing battles against Dracula. The horses unhitch as Dracula throws Van Helsing off the coach, which then crashes. Van Helsing comes round and sees Dracula skewered by a broken carriage wheel, but still alive (Christopher Lee staggering around with a wheel stuck out of his chest, it has to be seen to be believed but its so camp its great). They struggle and Van Helsing is eventually able to push the spoke, which breaks from the rest of the wheel and forms a makeshift stake, deep into Dracula’s chest – who promptly crumbles to dust. Van Helsing dies as a disciple of Dracula (Christopher Neame) rides up and removes the stake, he then scoops some of the dust into a vial and takes the signet ring. Question – just how much of a vampire’s dust do you need to resurrect the creature? Note that at this point in the cycle his dust becomes grey again and not day-glo red, a sensible move. Van Helsing is buried in a churchyard and the disciple buries half the dust in nearby unhallowed ground and replaces the stake at the new spot. The credits role above scenes of 1972 London.

At a party, where the actually quite good band Stoneground are playing, the kids are going wild (I say kids, in the main they ranged in age from mid to late twenties, I say wild, but it all looked rather tame really) much to the disgust of the old people there, especially as the “youngsters” are all gatecrashers. The police are called and, when they arrive, the kids scarper. The scene is odd and terribly stereotyped throughout, unfortunately. The next day the main gang (sorry, not a gang as we are told later they like to call themselves a group) go to a coffee shop. One of them, Johnny (Christopher Neame), suggests a new stunt to keep themselves amused - a black mass. He tells them of a deconsecrated church where they can perform it and says that it would be best performed that very night, he makes up some occult feast for this purpose. Only Jessica (Stephanie Beacham) seems unsure but her boyfriend Bob (Phillip Miller) persuades her. We then discover that her grandfather is anthropologist Professor Larimer Van Helsing. Johnny (descendant of the disciple from the prologue) goes to his flat and picks up the vial still half full of ashes and Dracula’s ring.

At the church Bob spots a gravestone, it is Laurence Van Helsing’s and it is one hundred years to the day that he died (thus the real reason why the ritual is that night). A little error here as Jessica states that he was her Great Grandfather, but later (and more realistically) we discover it is her grandfather’s Grandfather. She puzzles at the tombstone saying “Rest in Final Peace”. Inside Johnny starts the ritual whilst psychedelic music plays, Neames plays his role with a delicious arrogance through most of the film and goes totally over the top at this point and his performance is reminiscent of Ralph Bates’ in Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969). The ritual is of a far better design than the one in the earlier film, writing wise, and feels that bit more sinister, in fact this whole scene is well put together. The church itself is a very gothic setting and adds a touch of old Hammer into the new look and feel. Outside the church the ground seems to shift. Johnny calls on Jessica to be baptised in blood as she has been chosen. Laura (the very beautiful Caroline Munro) leaps up and demands to be the one, as a mysterious wind blows inside, and so is taken to the altar where a chalice is placed upon her. Johnny pours the ashes into the chalice and cuts his wrist, letting the blood pour into the chalice. Outside mist seeps from the ground whilst inside the chalice has overflowed and the attendees have freaked. They all run as Johnny shouts for Jessica to stay as it is her that ‘he’ wants and Laura screams that she can’t move.

Johnny goes outside and pulls the stake from the ground – one of the implausible bits, how has it remained undisturbed for 100 years? Mist pours out and Dracula solidifies from the mist. Johnny cries that he has summoned him and Dracula tells him, in no uncertain terms, that it was actually done by his own will. To underline the point he shows the ring, now on his finger having mysteriously vanished from Johnny’s hand. The unfortunate Laura is now going to be a post resurrection snack and a little clip of that can be found here. Unfortunately this leads to an amusingly poor line (for all the wrong reasons) when, outside Jessica’s house, Bob suggests Laura will be alright and states that the next day, “Laura will be there. A bit drained, but she'll be there.”

The next day the group are back at the coffee shop, wondering where Laura and Johnny are. Johnny comes in and says that he has given Laura a lift to the station as she goes to Ramsgate once a month. Jessica is skeptical, not believing she comes from Ramsgate. Johnny then produces two tickets for a Jazz Spectacular but Jessica isn’t interested, eventually he suggest to Gaynor (Marsha Hunt) that she can go with him. Meanwhile, due to a football being kicked over a fence, Laura’s body has been found, her neck mutilated. The police quickly identify her as her prints are on record and Jessica’s name is associated with her. Inspector Murray (Michael Coles) has had help from Van Helsing before and so wants to speak to both the Professor, as he thinks the murder might have something to do with a cult, and to Jessica.

He talks to Van Helsing who, after Murray mentions the body being drained of blood, suggests vampirism and then Jessica comes home. On discovering that Laura has been murdered Jessica breaks down and spills the beans regarding the previous night’s events. After the cops have left, Van Helsing asks about Johnny, discovering that his surname is Alucard. This generation of Van Helsings must be a little thick as he has to do a little doodle (pictured) to work out that it is Dracula backwards! Meanwhile Johnny has got Gaynor stoned and taken her back to the church as another snack for Dracula. The Count is incensed as it is not Jessica; he has come back specifically to destroy the house of Van Helsing. Johnny demands immortality, not a good idea to demand a boon from the Count, and then suggests it would be easier to get Jessica if he were a vampire. We see Van Helsing put a cross around the neck of a sleeping Jessica and then see Johnny ditch Gaynor’s body and then go after a girl himself, fangs extended.

The next day Van Helsing goes to church and gets holy water, he then goes to see the police. Johnny has been sloppy, where Dracula has mutilated the necks to hide the bite marks, Johnny’s victim just has the puncture wounds. Van Helsing now spells out the killing vampire rules. Silver bullets are impractical and garlic not one hundred percent reliable. However silver is abhorred and a silver knife would do much damage, also running clear water should kill them. Murray mentions that the coffee shop is shut due to it being used for drug distribution. Bob, however, has spotted Johnny’s car outside the coffee bar and nipped around the back in order to gain access. He then turns up at Jessica’s and persuades her to go back with him. In the coffee shop she is confronted by Johnny and Bob, both vampires. Johnny pulls the cross off her, burning his hand, and then stops Bob biting her as she is for the master. Van Helsing discovers where they have gone but arrives too late, finding only the cross. He panics but is found by another group member, Anna (Janet Key), who tells him where Johnny lives.

Johnny seems to be packing (despite the fact the sun will soon come up). Van Helsing confronts him and discovers that Jessica is to be Dracula’s bride. Johnny vamps and they fight but daybreaks, Johnny looks to his coffin and Van Helsing throws a bible and cross into it. Johnny stabs Van Helsing who then uses a mirror to reflect the sun at the new vampire. Johnny stumbles into the bathroom which, unfortunately, has a skylight and, because of the sunlight streaming through it, falls into the bath knocking the shower on – the running water killing him. It begs the question, how does a vampire go out in the rain? I really don’t like the running water concept as Hammer used it here, not being able to cross a river or stream is one thing, but death by shower is another altogether. Murray turns up and gives Van Helsing one hour at the church after the sun sets.

Van Helsing goes to the church (Bob is dead in the churchyard and just like the earlier movie that this film borrows from, these young vampires don’t seem to like to turn to dust in the sun) and finds Jessica in a trance from which she cannot be woken and so replaces the cross around her neck and then goes out to dig a pit, which he fills with stakes and then covers with grass. The sun sets and Dracula approaches Jessica, he pulls the cross from her neck but before he can bite her Van Helsing confronts him. They fight and it seems to end when Van Helsing stabs him with a silver knife. Unfortunately the still entranced Jessica removes it. Van Helsing runs outside, he intends to jump the pit but falls and reveals it and so he tosses holy water into Dracula’s face, causing the Count to fall into the pit. A quick push with a spade and the Count is defeated. The film ends with the words “Rest in Final Peace” emblazoned on the screen.

Despite the film’s faults it did feel good to watch Cushing and Lee do battle again. Lee is most definitely under used, some have suggested that he would have looked silly anyway, out in the modern setting wearing his cloak, but the prat in a monk’s habit seemed to get away with walking through London. Lee does get to utter a line, almost lifted from Stoker’s book, “You would play your brains against mine. Against me who has commanded nations?” It’s not entirely accurate to Stoker, nor is it great English, but it does summon all the right feelings, though it was probably added to placate Lee who did not like the way Hammer was straying more and more from the source material. Cushing is on great form. The story works, though the lack of a particularly gothic setting (bar the church) makes this feel a little un-Hammer-like. All that said the film might have worked better as a disciple of Dracula type film, maybe only have the coach fight at the beginning, cut Dracula out altogether after that and have Johnny Alucard searching for the dust and ritual to make himself a vampire – that way the modern setting might have been more forgivable.

The film is very camp when watching it with modern eyes, but that doesn’t necessarily make it bad, on the contrary it has the potential to make it good in some perverse way. The use of a band and the upbeat funky music used in the soundtrack almost gives the film a feel of a blaxploitation flick, though it clearly isn’t. The ‘group’ scenes are just painful due to the bad slang used and Murray is under developed, though the character is in the next film as well. One thing I did like was that the film didn’t rely solely on coincidence, Johnny purposefully insinuated himself into the group to get Jessica. With a good resurrection and two death of Dracula scenes, this film has a lot and yet there are the glaring problems that I’ve outlined and so I’m giving this one 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

2 comments:

Mark said...

It's the return of Peter Cushing that really makes this movie watchable (though including Caroline Munro in the cast doesn't hurt).

I once saw some extra footage (I think it was part of the Flesh and Blood documentary) where Alan Gibson explains to Christopher Lee how the shattered carriage wheel is going to impale him.

The look on Lee's face is priceless. He rolls his eyes in disbelief as if to say, "Whatever you say."

This isn't one of my favorite films of the cycle, but, as you mention, it does have some camp appeal.

The funkified soundtrack is embarrassing, and all that slang dates the movie even more than the '1972' inserted into the title.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Mark
To me the funkified soundtrack was definitely trying to hit into the balxploitation scene and the slang is awful.

It is such a shame because there is a good movie desperately trying to get out - but it just gets lost in the stereotypes.

Cushing however, as always, can turn a sow's ear into a silk purse.