FANTASIA OBSCURA: Welcome to the Seventies, Dracula

There are some fantasy, science fiction, and horror films that not every fan has caught. Not every film ever made has been seen by the audience that lives for such fare. Some of these deserve another look, because sometimes not every film should remain obscure.

Sometimes, you realize that the term “a man out of time” has more than one meaning…

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

Distributor: Warner Brothers
Director: Alan Gibson

There’s a moment when some of us get a brief flash of insight, where we realize that no, what we’re doing isn’t working, and that it’s all about to come to an end, isn’t it? And if we’re lucky, this hopefully happens in private, when we can quietly come to terms with it and find a way to gracefully move on.

When it happened to Hammer Films, unfortunately, they had the bad luck of having it all happen out in the open…

Our film opens the way most Hammer Films focusing on Dracula end: The evil Count (Christopher Lee) is being relentlessly hunted by Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), with their battle atop a runaway carriage in 1872 ending with a crash. Van Helsing dies soon after using one of the carriage spokes as a stake to kill Dracula, and things glide into the denouement…

…during which time one of Dracula’s minions (Christopher Neame) collects his master’s ashes and hides them at the edge of a cemetery. As he does this, the camera takes a quick cut upward to a commercial jet airplane overhead, and we get scenes of London, circa 1972, playing under the credits.

We cut to a wild party, where the band Stoneground (who were Hammer’s second choice to be in the film, as the Faces declined to appear) have an extended two-song set that goes on way too long, sapping a lot of the film’s momentum. During the sequence, which could have been trimmed, we see Johnny Alucard (Neame, again) with his tight friends, all of whom crashed the party on a quest for kicks, one of whom is Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham), a descendant of the Van Helsing who dies in the beginning of the film, and the granddaughter of Professor Lorrimer Van Helsing (Cushing, again).

Gathered together after the party at their hangout, a coffee bar called the Cavern (yeah, the décor suggests Todd Browning, while the name screams a whole different scene…),  Alucard suggests for kicks that they hold a black mass at a deconsecrated church. Jessica checks granddad’s library about the gig before showing up, then evades his questions about her interest. She goes to the ceremony, where Alucard is desperate to get her very involved in the ritual, before fellow foolish thrill seeker Laura (Caroline Munro) insists on the honor. For her effort, she becomes the first good meal Dracula’s had in 100 years.

From there, it’s pretty standard set of story beats. Dracula tries to get back at the Van Helsings for staking him last century, wanting to make Jessica his bride and Lorrimer his dinner; Johnny wants to get in on his master’s action and become one of the Undead, which has mixed results for him; and Lorrimer wants to save Jenny and put down Dracula once and for all. All of whom kinda-sorta-not-really gets what they want.

On the way to their resolutions, we watch what should have been a much more engaging film get undercut along the way. Musically, aside from the pointless Stoneground scene, we have a score by Michael Vickers that makes incompetent use of a guitar’s wah pedal that detracts from everything we see on screen. And while Beacham’s Jessica and Michael Coles’ Inspector Murray (the detective taking up the case as the bodies are discovered, who allies with Lorrimer against Dracula) are decent performances, both Lee and Cushing feel tired as they go through the paces, even during their dynamic second end-of-film fight.

The worst element is the script by Don Houghton, who did the film right after doing two serials for Doctor Who. It seems rote and unfocused, especially having the Count stay in a deserted churchyard the whole time instead of reacting to the modern era, which seems to be the point of having Dracula be moved ahead in time. (We don’t get a proper such film that covers that until 1979’s Love at First Bite.) Worse, some of the aspects are just lazy, especially when Lorrimer finds out what ”Alucard” is spelled backward…

No, seriously, try it; we’ll wait…

Yeah, you know? Yeooh fo daol taf elohw a, that…

The end result is disappointing. This should have been a fairly reasonable project to pull off, having Lee and Cushing back on screen as Dracula and Van Helsing; on paper it sounds like the crew could have just given them their marks and just let them go without worry. Moving the setting up to the modern day had plenty of opportunity to add something dynamic to the film, as well, shaking up the look of the franchise to give it a new vibe. But it never comes together, undercut by the weak links noted above and unable to get in sync as it bleeds out from their control like blood from a puncture wound.

As noted, everyone kinda-sorta-not-really gets what they want. You can guess how the Count and Johnny fare, while Lorrimer has to fight Dracula again in The Satanic Rites of Dracula. With most of the characters in the first film along for the ride (along with most of the cast as well, although Jessica was played in the second film by Joanna Lumley), we are left with two truths:

But, that’s a tale of terror for another time; meanwhile…

NEXT TIME: So, we’re about to get Kenneth Branagh’s take as Hercule Poirot. Hopefully he didn’t ask Neil Simon for pointers…

About James Ryan 118 Articles
James Ryan is still out there on the loose. He’s responsible for the novels Raging Gail and Red Jenny and the Pirates of Buffalo, as well as the popular history The Pirates of New York. He has also been spotted associating with the publications Pyramid Online, Dragon, The Urbanite, The Dream Zone, Rational Magic, and Rooftop Sessions. He has been spotted too often in the vicinity of Kinja. Should you meet him, proceed with caution. He is to be considered disarming and slightly dangerous…