Year: 1972 (Naturally)
Director: Alan Gibson
Writer: Don Houghton
Starring: Sir Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Stephanie Beacham, Christopher Neame, Michael Coles, Caroline Munro, Philip Miller
You would play your brains against mine. Against me who has commanded nations?
I’ve always skipped this entry in the Hammer Dracula series, perhaps I’ve felt that by placing the movie in modern day some of the magic of the Count would be lost…I am here with hat in hand today to tell you all I was very wrong. This is not only a charming and entertaining film but after the ending credits I wish there had been yet another Hammer modern day Dracula feature to start watching.
We begin the film in 1872 as Lawrence Van Helsing (Cushing) and Count Dracula (Lee) are locked in a furious battle, Van Helsing at the beginning is madly beating at the Count about the head and shoulders with the top of his silver cane, on the roof of a runaway coach. The battle starts to turn in Dracula’s favor, choking the life out of Van Helsing, when the horses pulling the coach break free of their reigns causing it to crash into a tree at full speed but not before Dracula backhands Van Helsing off of the coach to the ground below. To Van Helsing’s dismay, the coach has done half the work for him as the Count stumbles into view with half of a wooden wagon wheel impaled in his chest. Van Helsing finishes the job as he breaks off the wheel strut within the Count’s chest so that it can’t be pulled out and watches as Dracula slowly dissolves until nothing remains but ash. Then the vampire hunter perishes from his own wounds suffered during the battle. A few moments later however comes a horse and ride down the country path, a disciple (Neames) of Dracula who upon seeing the outcome of the battle collects some of the ash of Dracula into a vial as well as the Count’s signet ring. Later at the funeral of Van Helsing, the disciple plants the vial near the vampire hunter’s grave site at St. Bartolph’s Church.
100 years later and we are introduced to Jessica Van Helsing (Beacham) and her group of hippie friends as they crash a party where StoneGround is playing (I went to Itunes after the movie and picked up a few of their songs!). Among her group of friends is Johnny Alucard (Neames) who is of course a descendant of the disciple we saw earlier. The group’s idea of fun is to crash a high society party, wait until one of the patrons calls the cops and then escape with one minute to spare. Later as the group escapes the long arm of the law they convene at a local coffee shop to plan the next evenings fun and games. Johnny suggests that since he is a master of the occult (How could you not be if your family were disciples of Dracula?) they should all have a black magic ceremony at the abandoned St. Bartolph’s church. Most of the group finds this to sound like some good fun but Jessica is less than thrilled by it, her boyfriend Bob (Miller) finally talks her into going.
As Jessica returns home for the night we meet her grandfather, Professor Lorrimer Van Helsing (Cushing), who we learn retains a fair bit of occult knowledge himself, even going so far as to aid the police from time to time in the matters of cults. He finds his Jessica looking through one of his books on black magic, he has a pretty full library of the black arts actually including a book on vampires from the quill of his ancestor. Van Helsing voices his concerns over his granddaughters reading, “Jessica, this is not a subject to mess around with. These are scientific works.” But Jessica laughs off any concern from her grandfather and bids him goodnight.
The next night the group meets up at St. Bartolph’s and before the ceremony it is plain to see that Jessica really wants nothing to do with this, but once again Bob talks into going inside the church. Inside Johnny Alucard handles the part of head ‘priest’ and commands them to begin to chant and aid him in summoning up dark forces as they breathe in what seems to be mind numbing incense, at its climax Johnny calls for Jessica to join him at the church’s altar, she refuses but her friend Laura (Munro) is more than eager to take her place. Laying upon the altar she holds a chalice for Johnny as he produces a vial of Dracula’s ash and sprinkles it into the cup, he continues to chant and cuts his wrist, letting the blood fill the cup and mix with the ash. At this point the group is starting to get very unnerved and when he dumps the contents of the chalice on Laura’s body they all freak out and run away, leaving a wailing Laura behind them on the altar, with Johnny calling for them to come back. Outside the church the spot where Dracula’s ashes were buried begin to smoke and the ground churns, Johnny falls to his knees as he witnesses moments later the resurrection of Count Dracula. The Count is not pleased when he enters the church, we find out later he can enter the once holy site because it had been deconsecrated, and the great granddaughter of Lawrence Van Helsing is not waiting for him. He wastes little time none the less before he begins to feast on the petrified Laura to regain his strength.
I’ll end the spoilers there. Looking at the reviews for the movie it seems I am in a small vocal minority that think this movie while being cheesy and subject sometimes to a really awful 70’s score believe it to be very enjoyable to watch. Cushing delivers a wonderful performance or should I say performances as two generations of Van Helsings. I found myself very amused at how Neame handled his role, reminded me just a little of what Stephen Geoffreys would do as Evil Ed in Fright Night, he has kind of a maniacal twinkle in his eyes as he goes about doing Dracula’s will. I guess I have two complaints about the movie, the first is the 70’s blaxploitation sounding score that doesn’t fit certain scenes and the second is that Lee isn’t really given too much to do beside order Johnny around and drain a few people dry.
Still, even with these minor complaints I will bestow four and a half pumpkins out of five on Dracula A.D. 1972!