DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) Blu-ray
Director: Alan Gibson
Warner Archive Collection

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). "Dig the music kids!", because DRACULA A.D. 1972 now makes its U.S. Blu-ray debut courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection.

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, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE) possesses his remains and organizes a black mass in a desanctified church, inviting all of his hips friends to participate. Dracula is revived and rises from his burial place on the abandoned church grounds, first putting the bite on Laura (Caroline Munro, AT THE EARTH’S CORE) and then Gaynor (Marsha Hunt, HOWLING II). But to complete Dracula’s revenge, he wants to obtain Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham, THE HOUSE OF MORTAL SIN) 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, DR. WHO AND THE DALEKS) 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 by a handful of uptights, DRACULA A.D. 1972 (which was shot as "Dracula Today") is hardly that. Some blame Don Hougton’s script which leaves Dracula confined to a gothic church and seems a bit out-of-touch with early 1970s youth, or Michael Vickers’ (of Manfred Mann fame) “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 cape 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?

Channeling a trendy Malcolm McDowell in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE somewhat, 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.

DRACULA A.D. 1972 first appeared on Region 0 Blu-ray in 2016 through a German company called ELEA Media (in a Blu-ray/DVD mediabook edition) in a 1080i presentation that was lackluster, looking only slightly better than a standard DVD. Just recently, Anolis in Germany released the film on Region B Blu-ray (in a regular edition and three mediabook editions, all including a 38-minute documentary and other extras) using what looks to be the same older HD transfer as the ELEA Blu-ray, but this time in a slightly improved 1080p rendering. The Warner Archive Collection’s Region 0 Blu-ray of DRACULA A.D. 1972 is from a new 2018 scan, and comes out as the clear winner in terms of picture quality. First thing you’ll notice is that this new scan carries the original 1970s Warner Bros logo before the opening credits which play over the famous James Bernard “Dracula” fanfare, as the German Blu-rays and DVD version carried a newish WB “A Time Warner Company” logo. The 1.78:1-framed, 1080p HD presentation that follows is quite impressive, with brilliantly bold colors (the color timing here looks better than ever before, so the numerous nighttime scenes also impress). Film grain is present without ever appearing noisy or intrusive, detail levels are terrific (even long shots have a clarity not witnessed in previous transfers) and flesh tones look accurate and perfectly healthy. Black levels are also properly deep, further providing depth to the presentation. Age-related blemishes are pretty much nonexistent. The audio is provided in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track; dialogue is clean and clear throughout (is that Mungo Jerry's “In The Summertime” that William Ellis is humming as he enters thd desanctified church?) and Michael Vickers’ score has good range. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.

The only extra on the WAC Blu-ray is the original theatrical trailer (which looks to be a new scan as well and carries the “PG” rating at its conclusion). But WAC releases are not known for extensive extras, with the actual film presentation being the main draw, and Warner has clearly done an excellent job, so long-time fans of DRACULA A.D. 1972 will be more than pleased. WAC’s highly anticipated Blu-ray of THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA will be upon us shortly, and the results of this certainly bode well for that release. (George R. Reis)