Judge Dennis Prince gladly reviewed this early-'70s release to keep abreast of the Hammer canon. Oop! Did he just say "breast?"
Past, present, or future…never count out The Count!
Johnny Alucard: Master, I did it. I summoned you!
Hey, baby, he is undead after all.
What horrors await us when the blood-thirsty Count wills himself out of the crumbling 19th Century and penetrates modern-day London, circa 1972? Following his demise at the hands of Abraham Van Helsing (Peter Cushing, Tales from the Crypt) in London's Hyde Park, Count Dracula (Christopher Lee, The Man with the Golden Gun) appears to be vanquished at last. Following the collapse of Van Helsing after the bloody standoff, a dark figure retrieves some of Dracula's ashen remains and (somehow) they survive the next 100 years and wind up in the hands of the mod and mysterious Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame). With his hip friends in tow, Johnny gets his kicks by crashing parties and carrying on until just minutes before the bobbies can arrive, making a dramatic exit just out of reach of the long arm of the law. Now, though, that whole scene has gotten to be a real drag and Johnny and his friends are looking for a new sort of turn on. He coaxes the gang to a nearby church for a night of evil incantations with intentions to raise old Beelzebub himself.
"Okay, okay. But if we do get to summon up the Big Daddy with the horns and the tail, he gets to bring his own liquor, his own bird…and his own pot."
Well, they don't raise the Devil but, rather, the next best thing. Count Dracula is resurrected through to the mixing of the Count's ashes with Johnny's own blood, poured over the game but unsuspecting Laura (Caroline Munro, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Starcrash). Naturally, the Count partakes of Laura's carotid artery after the others have fled. Trouble soon cloaks blond-and-buxom Jessica (Stephanie Beacham) when Dracula discovers she is the great-granddaughter to Abraham Van Helsing and is living nearby with her grandfather, Lawrence Van Helsing (Cushing). With hatred in his black heart and vengeance in his sinister soul, Dracula sets forth to cleanse the Earth of the entire Van Helsing lineage.
Some adore the decade of the Seventies, others abhor it. Interestingly, even enthusiasts who've completely acclimatized themselves to the throwback generation of mini-skirts and mood rings find themselves cringing when exposed to Britain's take on the whole paisley and polyester affair (and if you thought the Austin Powers production design was rather exaggerated, think again). When the mod Seventies took Britain by storm and essentially challenged all social norms formerly put forth (generally those of good fashion tastes), the Hammer Film Studios found cause to refashion one of their own cash cows. For whatever reason, the studio believed there was a need to "modernize" the crimson-craving Count and, well, they did.
Of course, the film becomes immediately and irreparably dated by the calling out of "1972" in the film title. Not that it would matter much because there's more than enough fashion faux pas and dated dialect to remind even casual viewers that this crawled out of the Seventies. Granted, there's nothing truly wrong with Seventies in regards to its pop-culture artifacts, especially when presented naturally in a period setting. Dracula A.D. 1972, however, seems severely unoriginal and unnatural given the style and attitude portrayed by the "hipsters" in the picture are clearly thirty-somethings attempting to pass themselves off as young adults. It's a bad trip, man.
There's no quibbling over Hammer's intentional casting of healthy, heaving bosoms that would certainly redirect the blood flow of even the most sexually-indeterminate male. Sadly, the strikingly gorgeous Caroline Munro departs the proceedings much too quickly. Thankfully, Stephanie Beachum endures to visually captivate us, especially when frocked in a sweeping and lacey white gown in the film's finale. As for the characters themselves, they're generally insufferable to listen to, especially Johnny Alucard (employing that all-too-obvious reverse reference to the Lord of the Undead) who appears to be trying far too hard to don the Alex-of-Clockwork Orange attire; here it just looks tiresome.
Naturally, Lee and Cushing are genuinely captivating yet, unfortunately, are in far too few scenes (Lee's Dracula is practically relegated to supporting character status here). When they are on screen, they deliver mightily and you'll no doubt recognize several frames that have gone on to be widely published in all manner of horror film retrospectives as well as profusely proliferated throughout the pages of the original Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. For that level of recognition, the film fares reasonably well with the well-indoctrinated yet, as a film in its own right, it fails.
Presented here by Warner Brothers Home Video, Dracula A.D. 1972 is digitally adept. The widescreen transfer looks remarkable, always clear, crisp, and with very few noticeable compression artifacts. There is a bit of source print damage visible from time to time but nothing too offensive. The audio comes by way of a reasonably energetic Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix. The dialogue does get a bit muddled from time to time but is usually clear and decipherable (for better or for worse). The only extra on the disc is the film's original theatrical trailer.
Dracula A.D. 1972 is definitely one of the weakest installments in Hammer's horror catalog and will likely only have strong appeal to Dracula completists. Otherwise, it's decent for a lark when rented for a one-night spin.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Theatrical trailer
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