Long ago (1979 or 1980) CBS showed late-late movies, and one dark cold Friday night they showed Dracula A.D. 1972 , so being about ten years old and a monster fan I snuck down stairs and watched it on the only color TV in the house. My memories of that watching consists of being scared (but that was the fun of it) and wanting to see more of Christopher Lee as Dracula.
Now, in my late-late thirties, I decided to re-watch the movie for the first time since that dark and cold Friday night many moons ago. Of course I'm viewing the movie through a different lens now. The time of 1972 is 38 years in the past now, where it was only eight years in the past when I first watched it. The culture shock is more pronounced today after seeing those 1970's fashions and hearing the music of the Stoneground.
Also, after studying horror movies and the people that made them I have more insight into the movie and can place it in it's proper historical context. That's fancy talk for I know more than I did then.
The movie has Dracula, Lord of the Undead, in the hip and happening London of 1972 after his ashes were buried in unsanctified soil next to a church a hundred years before. Wanting revenge on the Van Helsing family, he seeks to make the great great grand daughter of the Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham) who killed him his vampire bride.
The great Peter Cushing plays both Van Helsings (1872 grandfather and 1972 grandson). He would play Van Helsing two more times, in The Satanic Rites of Dracula and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. Lee would be a Hammer Dracula only once more for Hammer (in the Satanic Rite of Dracula). Christopher Neame is devilish as the disciple of the Dracula Johnny Alucard (get it, Alucard) who raises him using a satanic ritual. There's a police detective character who does nothing but supply exposition to Van Helsing, which is a waste. Also wasted with too little screen time (but looking sexy in a black dress) is Caroline Munro, who should of been used more in this film.
So why did Hammer put Dracula in 1972? Much has been written about it, but here is my thoughts on the subject. First, coming into the 1970's Hammer was starting to loose money, a situation which would eventually shut them down (although they, like Dracula many times before, they have been resurrected recently). As a matter of fact I think they did only three more period movies before going into their long slumber from making films. It's more cost effective to set a movie in modern times than period settings, I'm sure the producers were thinking about that.
On the creative end, I'm sure they were running out of ideas of what to do with Dracula. Putting him in (then) contemporary London makes sense if you want to rejuvenate the franchise. Unfortunately, they never take advantage of it. All Dracula does is hang out in an abandoned church the whole time. Neame has to bring him victims to suck, you never see Dracula going out and hunting down Londoners in the streets or in the trendy clubs like Blackula or Count Yorga did. Why bring Dracula to 1972 if you're not going to make the most of it?
On this my ten year old self and I agree, we needed more Dracula. My late thirties self also thinks we needed more of Caroline Munro in a skimpy black dress, but we'll address that at a different time.
The band the Stoneground, who I didn't think were a real band until I looked this film up on Wikipedia, actually serve a purpose in this movie. After the opening set one hundred years before, they help set the movie in 1972 for the audience, then and now. And man do we know it's 1972 from the scenes after the opening credits. Oh, that early seventies music! Oh, those early seventies fashion! What was probably hip then is cheesy now, but ads to the charm of the film.
One scene I remember well, is of the modern day Van Helsing racing through the streets of London to save his grand daughter. At ten, this was a thrilling sequence that made me root for Van Helsing. Today I found myself yelling at the TV, upset that they made poor frail Peter Cushing run in the cold streets at his age. Poor, poor, Peter.
The big memory of this movie is the Resurrection ceremony in the old church the group of friends unwittingly attend, thinking it will be a far out scene to dig (oh, that early seventies slang!). That creepy music (White Noice's Black Mass: an Electric Storm in Hell ) stuck with me for a long time.
So, after all is said and done, ten year old me loved being scared and loved the movie. And you know what, for all it's faults it's still a fun movie.
Until Next Time, Stay Insane!