Friday, October 30, 2015

DRACULA A.D. 1972 By Bethany Ruthven

#3: Bethany Ruthven
Good evening, darlings, and thank you for reading. Welcome back to our little Halloween soiree, and today we take a look at another of the Big D’s films, albeit a rather odd entry. The Big D is, of course, Count Dracula, and the film in question is Hammer Films’ Dracula A.D. 1972. While this entry is not well liked by many fans of Hammer’s Dracula oeuvre, one man’s nonsense is another man’s rationale. And the rationale of this film’s existence is that Hammer wanted to set a Dracula film in modern times, due to the success of the 1970 Warner Bros. film Count Yorga, Vampire, which had
 done the same.

The poster









The film opens in 1872, with the Big D (Christopher Lee) and his nemesis Lawrence Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) locked in battle on top of a runaway coach. Neither of them survive their battle, but a disciple of Big D (Christopher Neame) shows up and collects Dracula’s ring and ashes, burying them near Van Helsing’s grave in the churchyard of St. Bartolph’s for safekeeping.

Dracula and his dinner date
Exactly one century later, in swinging London, a group of young hipsters (I can’t really call them “hippies” because they have money and wear clean clothes—England always seems to do a few things better than you Yanks), which includes the descendant of the former Dracu-disciple, the laughingly named Johnny Alucard (Neame again), is looking for a new kind of kick after successfully wrecking a somewhat staid gathering in the city. Said group also includes the descendant of Van Helsing, Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham), who unlike the others seems to have a good relationship with her grandfather/parental guardian Lorrimer (Cushing again), thus setting her up as the obvious Good Girl among them. Bad Boy Johnny suggests a black magic ceremony at the now-ruined Bartolph’s, which has been abandoned and desecrated, ostensibly due to modern development. Breaking into the old place, Alucard And Gang proceed with a typically bloodsoaked ritual involving Laura (Caroline Munro), a member of their group who is more or less The Girl Who’s Up For Anything. Because such things never go well, the results of mucking about in Things Man Wot Not Of cause the group to flee in terror, and shortly after, Big D arrives and claims Laura as his first victim. From there, a police investigation and other highjinks ensue, eventually spurring Lorrimer to action in order to save his granddaughter and stop Alucard and The Big D, who plots revenge on Van Helsing once he learns that Jessica is a Van Helsing descendant.

Neame as Alucard, junior vampire in training
Regardless of what its detractors say, Big D In Moderne Times 1972 isn’t a terrible movie. It moves bracingly along, not too fast or too slow, and the story is the typical Hammer Big D plot formula (Big D comes back to life, highjinks ensue, blood, murder, Van Helsing or other Vampire Hunter to rescue, etc., etc.). One major problem is that the prologue begins the film in 1872, with what is supposed to be the final battle between Helsing and Dracula. However, the beginning of Hammer’s Big D cycle, Horror of Dracula (1958) begins all that preceded this film in 1885, which means that the other five films before this one never happened at all. Since Hollywood seems to be currently given to assembling universes, I suppose we could say the Big D has his own universe somewhere where vampires and vampire hunters run around after each other all night long, but it’s still rather a stretch.

Continuing, the cast turns in fine performances, with Cushing’s somewhat weary Van Helsing and 
The weary but faithful Van Helsing and his granddaughter
Lee’s ever-violent Big D being high points regardless of the plot’s modernized silliness. Because Big D seems to be confined largely to Bartolph’s once he shows up in 1972, Cushing winds up carrying the film, which he does with his usual grace. While neither actor really comes out of their respective wheelhouses (everything in these particular roles was probably old hat to them by this time), they are still a treat to watch, especially at this time of the season. Beacham is pleasingly fresh-faced as the new generation of Van Helsings, Munro (in her first film for Hammer) carries on the required toothsomeness for Big D’s victims, and Neame is more than over-the-top in his evil, almost cribbing from Malcolm McDowell in the previous year’s A Clockwork Orange.

But even so, Johnny Alucard? Really? Who isn’t going to pick up on that? However, Dracula Goes Disco 1972 is now as much of a period film as all its Victorian/Edwardian predecessors in the cycle, so perhaps it’s right in line with the continuing Legend of the Big D.

And so we come to the end, alas. Well, perhaps not. At any rate, we are almost to the day, and I do invite you back for the rest of our increasingly novel Thir13een For Halloween. Do enjoy yourselves safely and stay out of old abandoned churches.

Regards,
Bethany Ruthven

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