Wednesday, November 26, 2008

FILM REVIEW OF "DRACULA A.D. 1972" (1972-British)

Veteran British television director Alan Gibson's "Dracula A.D. 1972" qualifies as one of the least appetizing entries in the Hammer Studios series about Bram Stoker's immortal bloodsucker. Actually, this represented the first time since Terence Fisher's memorable "Horror of Dracula" (1958) that Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing fought each other as mortal enemies. They would reprise the same roles a few years later in the final Hammer Dracula: "The Satanic Rites of Dracula." Further, it was the second-to-last Dracula for Hammer in which Lee performed as the infamous fangster. For the record, "Dracula A.D. 1972" was the seventh Hammer Dracula.

The exciting prologue from 1872 prepares you for something vastly different than what the rest of this disappointing horror flick yields. Eternal rivals Count Dracula and his nemesis Professor Lawrence Van Helsing are literally at each other's throats atop a runaway carriage in London's Hyde Park for a vigorous opening scene that makes everything else look comparatively anticlimactic. The carriage crashes, and Dracula emerges hugging half of a wooden wheel with its shattered spokes embedded in his chest. Of course, Christopher Lee has to grip this broken wheel against his body, but the imagery is striking enough in its own way to pass muster. The Count expires and so does his opponent Van Helsing. However, one of Dracula's disciples snatches the Count's ring and scoops some of the vampire's ashes into a vial for safe-keeping.

Don Houghton's screenplay hurtles the action ahead a hundred years to swinging London in 1972. We meet a smarmy young man, Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame of "No Blade of Grass"), who loves to raise hell with a group of hippies that crash parties and drive the British police with their antics. Alucard happens to be the descendant of one of Dracula's servants. Now, Alucard has the Count's ring and a vial of his dehydrated blood. Alucard chooses the sight of a desecrated church to arrange a black mass. He invites his trendy friends, among them Laura (super sexy Carolina Munro of "The Spy Who Loved Me"), Gayner (Marsha Hunt), and Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham) to attend this black mass because it offers them something different. Not surprisingly, they resurrect the Count, and the evil bloodsucker sets his eyes on Jessica. Meanwhile, after Laura's body is discovered drained of blood, Scotland Yard Inspector Murray (Michael Coles of "Doctor Who and the Dalkes") solicits help from Van Helsing's modern day offspring Lorrimar (Peter Cushing). Dracula wants to exact revenge on Van Helsing by taking the latter's granddaughter as his bride. Lorrimar tracks down Alucard; they fight in his Chelsea apartment, and the young vampire drowns in a tub of water. Remember, running water is just as lethal to vampires as sunlight and crucifix. Van Helsing finds Dracula in the deserted church with his daughter awaiting the Count. Van Helsing and Dracula tangle. Van Helsing flings Holy Water into Dracula's face. The vampire falls into an open gravesite with a stake awaiting him and he decomposes again.

The chief problem with "Dracula A.D. 1972" is that we don't get enough of Lee as the Count, though we do get considerably more of Cushing as Van Helsing. Furthermore, scenarist Don Houghton keeps Dracula confined to the ramshackle church and never allows the vampire to venture out into the city. Despite its low budget, "Dracula A.D. 1972" could have been a lot better. The scene where the contemporary Van Helsing has to jot down Alucard and spell it backwards to get Dracula seems almost laughable. You'd think that he'd know about this backwards spelling trick. Unless you are afraid of horror movies, this one will make you yawn. Occasionally, Gibson presents us with a superb close-up of Dracula with his bared fangs and blood-shot eyes, but this is about as scary as this chiller gets, and that isn't saying much.

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