When Warner Bros. studied the box office appeal of modern-day vampire movies like COUNT YORGA VAMPIRE, the idea was proposed to place Hammer Film’s renowned Dracula (Christopher Lee) in the 20th Century. Hence the company produced DRACULA A.D. 1972, a film which alienated some loyal Hammer fans, but delighted another sector of filmgoers with its undeniable entertainment value and trendy atmosphere. DRACULA A.D. 1972 not only brought the vampire king to a very mod world, but the film also reunited him with Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing for the first time since their initial outing, HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).
In 1872, Dracula (Lee) and Van Helsing (Cushing) are dueling it out on top of a runaway stagecoach in Hyde Park. Eventually, Dracula is impaled on a spike from one of its broken wheels, and Van Helsing succumbs to exhaustion. One hundred years later, a descendant of a disciple of Dracula named Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame) possesses his remains and organizes a black mass in a desecrated church, inviting all of his hips friends to participate. Dracula is revived and rises from his burial place on the church grounds, first putting the bite on Laura (Caroline Munro) and then Gaynor (Marsha Hunt). But to complete Dracula’s revenge, he wants to obtain Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham) as his bride. She is the granddaughter of Van Helsing’s modern day descendant Lorrimar (Cushing again) who is called upon by Scotland Yard’s Inspector Murray (Michael Coles) as an authority on the rather bizarre "cult" killings happening in London. Van Helsing knows that Dracula is alive and well in the 20th Century, and when his granddaughter is abducted, he prepares to face him one on one in his place of dwelling.
Considered a low point in Hammer’s roster, DRACULA A.D. 1972 is hardly that. Some blame Don Hougton’s script which leaves Dracula confined to a gothic church, or Michael Vicker’s “wah-wah” and horn tinged music score (which is quite lively and suits the film well), the fact that the movie is dated, or the very limited screen time Dracula has. But the film has a number of things going for it, and even though Lee was disenchanted with having the character in a modern setting, he gives it his all and looks as menacing as ever in his capes and fangs. His confinement to the church actually keeps Dracula in a gothic setting throughout, making his appearances traditional in terms of Hammer horror. Cushing’s exceptional Van Helsing pretty much carries the film and his beginning and ending confrontations with Dracula are priceless and well handled by director Gibson (who would return to do the immediate sequel, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA). How can Hammer fans not like this stuff?
Christopher Neame is charismatically evil as Johnny Alucard (“Dracula” spelt backwards in case you didn’t know) who also becomes a vampire in order to carry out Dracula’s revenge – his stirring fight scene with Van Helsing is a highlight. Stephanie Beacham is not only very sexy (filling out a silky white shroud to great effect) but is also convincing and easy to take seriously as Van Helsing’s granddaughter. Caroline Munro, Marsha Hunt and Janet Key (THE VAMPIRE LOVERS) all add sex appeal and Philip Miller is tolerable as Jessica’s beau, Bob. As Inspector Murray, Michael Coles portrays an intelligent and likable authority figure, and it was a wise choice to bring his character back for the sequel. The American rock ensemble Stoneground appears in a party scene and performs two great songs: “You Better Come Through” and “Alligator Man.” Both tunes are currently available on a recommended live CD (recorded shortly before the original group split up in 1973) called “The Last Dance.” Rumor has it that Rod Stewart and The Faces were set to appear in the film but were replaced by the lesser known Stoneground for whatever reasons.
Warner Home Video presents DRACULA A.D. 1972 in its original 1.85:1 ratio with anamorphic enhancement, and the transfer looks spectacular, better than the film has ever looked before. The image is sharp and beautifully defined, with excellent contrast. Colors are vibrant and solidly rendered, with deep blacks, and there’s nothing in the way of film blemishes to be found. The Dolby Digital mono soundtrack appears to have been cleaned up, as most instances of background hiss and surface noise are absent here. Dialog is almost always crisp and the music comes through nice and clear as well. Optional French and Spanish language tracks are included as well as optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Warner has continued their great quality releases with this superbly transferred DVD, which also embodies beautiful packaging. It’s too bad that the disc has no extras except for its original theatrical trailer (which also looks better than ever). They could have added the original production featurette (currently available on All Day’s HORROR OF HAMMER DVD) or the American theatrical opening, which featured a "Horroritual" invitation and oath to join the Count Dracula Society with Barry Atwater (THE NIGHT STLAKER) as a green-faced vampire popping out of a coffin. But DRACULA A.D. 1972 has arrived on DVD looking spooktacular, and that’s a groovy thing! "Dig the music kids!" (George R. Reis)
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