In 1872 Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) battles Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) atop a runaway coach in London’s Hyde Park. Dracula gets impaled on a broken wheel spoke, causing him to disintegrate. Van Helsing also dies… just as a youthful Dracula acolyte (Christopher Neame) arrives on the scene and collects the powdery remains of Dracula. He hides the evil dust in a church graveyard where Van Helsing has just been buried, then the camera points up at the sky… and a jet plane flies overhead!
This entry in Hammer’s Dracula series is very enjoyable!
This was the first of Hammer’s Dracula series to take place in a contemporary setting, with Dracula being brought back to life in modern London by an acolyte called Johnny Alucard (also played by Neame). Dracula then preys on a group of young ‘hip’ partygoers, one of whom is actually a descendant of his arch enemy… Van Helsing.
DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) was the sixth Hammer film to star Christopher Lee as Dracula, with Peter Cushing returning to play Van Helsing: the last time he’d played the part was in THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960), which hadn’t featured Lee. So this film was also the first to star both Lee and Cushing in their respective roles since DRACULA (aka HORROR OF DRACULA) in 1958.
This film is looked down upon by many Hammer fans and critics, and I am aware of its shortcomings. Dracula never strays from the derelict deconsecrated church and the ‘swinging London’ trappings seemed dated even at the time of the film’s release (as filmmaker Brett Piper pointed out to me a while back: the “kids” are some old men’s idea of “the younger generation”). It’s also hard not to smile at the scene where Cushing needs to use a pen and paper to work out that ‘Alucard’ is ‘Dracula’ spelled backwards!
But I think the modern day setting does add to the story: just how many more period-set Hammer Dracula stories could have been made? The ‘hippy’ protagonists are far more interesting than the rather bland leads in the previous couple of Dracula outings, Christopher Lee looks great as the Count and Cushing is good, as always, playing a descendant of Van Helsing. Christopher Neame is memorable as smarmy acolyte Johnny Alucard, who has a great fight with Van Helsing, Caroline Munro & Stephanie Beacham supply the Hammer glamour and Michael Coles provides solid support as Inspector Murray.
There’s an enjoyable final showdown between Lee and Cushing, where the contemporary score (guitars, etc) contributes to the sequence as Van Helsing combats the Count in the church ruin with a silver knife, holy water and a stake-filled pit.
Mike Vickers’ great soundtrack has a blaxploitation vibe to it, really adding to the viewing pleasure of this film, which has been re-evaluated by the likes of Kim Newman, who chose DRACULA A.D. 1972 as one of his top 10 favourite vampire movies. Newman also featured a character called Johnny Alucard in his fantastic ANNO DRACULA series of novels.
Author and actor Mark Gatiss is a fan too, setting the third episode of his BBC/Netflix DRACULA (2020) miniseries in modern times. The episode sees the descendent of Van Helsing lying in a hospital bed, and the number of her ward is… AD | 072.
Give the movie another viewing, I’m sure you’ll dig it, man!