Dir: ALAN GIBSON
This film desperately needs to be restored and transferred to the digital medium. I have the DVDs which are to my mind in the wrong ratio and the colour is fading. And I completely accept that Christopher Lee had less and less to do as the films went on. All this said; I think that attempting to remake the 1958 Dracula would have been an even greater folly. Aside from an attempt to put the novel on screen, which would have been a great idea, it makes perfect sense to me to keep the Count in the shadows and build up gradually to his appearance. To focus on the other characters and allow the audience to get to know them, to care for them and to allow the audience to get involved. So that when they finally meet their peril it is more disturbing. By the time the final ‘period’ movie of the Dracula series Scars of Dracula was released in 1970 most of the possible scenarios had been played out. A new direction, setting and indeed drive was sought to re-vamp the vamp. And so in the early 70’s Hammer decided to move their Dracula movie cycle from the 19th Century villages of Europe to the swinging London of the 20th.
The first of these forays into modern culture was Dracula AD 1972. Directed by Alan Gibson and produced by Josephine Douglas from a screenplay by Don Houghton. This entry would be Christopher Lee’s sixth outing as Count Dracula. Peter Cushing would return as the Grandson of Van Helsing from the first time round. And Stephanie Beacham stars as his Granddaughter Jessica. Michael Coles plays Inspector Murray of the yard while Christopher Neame is the ever faithful disciple of Dracula Johnny Alucard. There is also an early appearance by Michael Kitchen as one of Jessica’s gang of friends. The pre-title sequence of this film is a neat conceit; it is set back in the 19th Century and has Van Helsing chasing Dracula at night on horseback through a leafy suburb of London. Dracula fleeing from his nemesis on a horse drawn carriage is thrown to the ground and impaled on a broken spoke from one of the wheels. Van Helsing dismounts his steed to break off the wheel and plunge the spoke deeper into the Count before dying himself presumably from exhaustion. Christopher Neame is at hand to take a sample of the ashes after disintegration. He then buries the ashes near to the Churchyard where Van Helsing is laid to rest. As the funeral rites can be heard and Johnny grins demonically we are magically transported to modern times as a Jet plane zooms across the skies and the titles begin accompanied by a jazz score a million miles away from the 1958 score that heralded the beginning of Hammer’s Dracula 14 years previously. We are now most definitely out of the village and into the city.
The first scene with Johnny Alucard teasing the rich woman with her ornaments while Rock group 'The Stoneground' plays in the background is excellent. You totally believe that this is happening at the same time that the events of Straight on till Morning (another Hammer film set around swinging London) are unfolding a few miles away. The Naivety of the 'Youth' characters stumbling from one sexual conquest to another are already jaded and bored with the swinging London Scene. Their trashy post psychedelic proto prog-rock fag end lives already burnt out and desperate not to be square, are the perfect sect ripe for infiltration by the disciple of Dracula. Completely unaware or ignoring the fact that adulthood and normality, the work ethic and Christian lifestyle are their only hope of salvation. The mystique and danger of Johnny Alucard’s satanic alternative is an easy, misunderstood and rash choice to take for kicks! Hammer was still proffering morality plays even with a Jazz score. As Johnny picks his way through the female members of the group and the odd stoner Laundromat customer, a gritty nihilism overtakes the proceedings. This is the world of drug abuse, abortions, police negligence and institutionalised brutality. The optimism of the mid-sixties and the overindulgence of the eighties were a generation away in either direction. This is the true horror of the human condition.
Count Dracula feeds off Johnny’s victims like a twisted uncle feeding his nephews drug habit so he can take advantage of the girlfriends. When Jessica tells her Grandfather that she’s “...not dropping acid...not shooting up and...Not sleeping with anyone just yet.” The expression on Cushing’s face is priceless. A few scenes later at the resurrection of Dracula she has dropped acid and is tripping big style as Johnny Alucard commands her and her friends to “Dig the music kids!” All this is discovered when a couple of kids looking for a football they’ve kicked over a fence leads to a body hidden under the rubble of the church where Dracula and Van Helsing have been buried. Enter Inspector Murray of the yard played by Michael Coles. He would return for the next Hammer sequel (which is in an even worse condition than AD 72 and crying out for restoration.) The Inspector links the body to Jessica’s gang of friends and asks her grandfather for help. “How the hell do you fight a vampire?” Of course the venerable Mr. Cushing knows exactly how to fight a vampire. And realises this is all revenge for the activities of the pre-title sequence.
The final act sees Van Helsing visiting the churchyard before sundown to lay traps for Dracula and ultimately vanquish the fiend. This done with great aplomb and a physical dexterity reminiscent of the immortal curtain leap from the 1958 Dracula Jessica asks about the Latin inscription on her great grandfather Van Helsing’s grave. Cushing says "Rest in Final Peace" Jessica replies with "Why Final?" Well after one more entry it would be final. The camera work is fascinating, very reminiscent of the camera work in The Ipcress File (1965). The credit sequence and score is a great scene setter. As in 1958 there is an ensemble cast littered with cameos by excellent character actors. Although there have been many good vampire films in the past 40 years there haven’t been any good Draculas. No actor since Christopher Lee has matched the intensity of his performance. For god sake re-master the ageing print. Give it the full clean and correct aspect ratio. Remove it from the bargain basement crappy video nasty market and allow the talents involved to claim the credit they deserve. Imagine ‘The Stoneground’ in 5.1 surround sound? All together now:”I'm an Alligator man from an Alligator clan!" Classic!
© David A. Skene 2013