In my experience, fellow Hammer horror fans either absolutely adore Dracula A.D. 1972 or despise it. The studio was obviously cashing in on the British mod craze and certainly the film's title dates itself in an unsavory way, but in general it's still a good trip for me. As a Hammer film however, it fails miserably. The great Christopher Lee has been relegated to what feels like a supporting role and Peter Cushing dashes around posing like he's in some uber stylized action movie (Yes, this is kind of awesome). There's even a really groovy Starsky & Hutch style score to help set the mood (I actually like it). What should be authentic comes across as cheddar. The cast is unbelievable as a group of young hipsters and instead plays out like a 30-something Austin Powers party. Hammer's attempt to update the Dracula story for contemporary audiences is nothing like the sleazy pussycat parade I want it to be, but it does have one thing going for it: a bag full of Hammer babes.
There's a vixen for every type in this movie. Stephanie Beacham stars as Jessica, the smart yet naive type who falls prey to the bloodthirsty Count because of her legendary namesake, Van Helsing. Marsha Hunt is Gaynor, the comely kitten who is lured into the vampiric clutches of one sneer-tastic villain, Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame). And last but certainly not least is Caroline Munro who plays Laura, the foxy lady who offers herself as the delicious sacrifice during the groovy gang's Satanic shenanigans.
"Prior to Dracula A.D. 1972 I thought of myself as more of a model than an actress and I didn't really take filming seriously. I felt as though I was just going through the motions, but the Dracula film felt right. When I was working with Christopher Lee I especially remember thinking, I really do like this--it's something I can do," Caroline relates in Marcus Hearn's book Hammer Glamour. Although she had a steadfast rule against nude scenes, Caroline's sensuality was not hindered by mere fabric. Her smoldering good looks are tempered by the feeling that perhaps she's not quite out of the average fellow's league. Yet, the smile and gaze that invites you in could be lethal on a whim. Dracula was her first role for Hammer and she totally steals the show. Unfortunately, she dies too soon leaving the audience hopeful that she might return as one of Drac's undead babes, but it never happens.
The movie plunges right into the action--London circa 1872. Dracula and Van Helsing are duking it out on a runaway coach. Van Helsing eventually impales his fanged rival in the chest with a spoke from a wagon wheel, transforming the vampire in a pile of ash. A passerby finds the smoky remains and gathers some of the ashes in a vial, takes the signet ring and wanders off. The familiar Hammer Gothic backdrop then fades to a London street scene one century later. There's an upscale house party happening but the local hippies have taken over. This is where we first meet our thrill-seeking friends. Alucard is the leader of the pack and he convinces the group to attend his black magic ceremony is an abandoned church. It's there that we learn Alucard (Dracula spelled backwards, duh) was the mystery man who took the vampire's remains in the beginning of the film. He wants to bring back the beast, Dracula, so he performs a blood ritual using Laura as the more than willing bait. That is, if you can call a technicolor marinara-like substance blood. The kids get spooked and take off, leaving Laura behind. Before we know it, she is neck to fang with the dark Prince who takes a bite out of the succulent victim. In a shot too sexy for words, we see Laura's face succumb happily to Dracula's thirst, though sadly this leads to her demise. Finally, Drac makes it clear to Alucard that he wants only one girl under his cape--Jessica Van Helsing. When Laura's body is found it spawns an investigation headed by Inspector Murray (Michael Coles) and good old Lorrimer Van Helsing, granddaddy to Jessica. They set off to find Dracula and put a stop to the killings so the city of London can "rest in final peace."
Favorite elements include over the top dialogue ("Dig the music kids!"); an occult dance party; an African American Hammer girl who actually doesn't die first. And yes, they were few but did exist; ironic vampire hippie death in a running shower; and some rare man on man suggestive vamp action, which is something Hammer isn't really known for. The movie is well shot, particularly scenes like the car wash make out session and at the coffee bar.
There's definitely a struggle between 'old' vs. 'new' Hammer here, which comes across as being completely self-conscious. It's the equivalent of the opening party scene where the old are scoffing at the young, except the old decided to make a movie about them and things got exaggerated. Hammer films are often viewed as morality plays--ripe with religious, sexual and nationality conflict among other things. Whether the filmmakers were conscious of this or not, I'm unclear on. It's hard to take it all seriously when you're focusing on bare breasts and bloody stakes, except in this film you're distracted by hippie speak and Christopher Lee's bad contact lenses. Still, throughout the studio's finest years they made many entertaining films and as much as you can find wrong with Dracula A.D. 1972, it's a damn fun movie. Recommended with pizza--extra cheese.