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Aw, sad times. With this film, I reach the end of my joyful rewatching of Hammer's Dracula series - or at least, the ones with Christopher Lee in them, anyway. I've saved it till last partly because I watched it only 18 months ago, but also because I unironically and enthusiastically love it. I am thus ending the series on a high, and I am very happy to have the opportunity to write about this film again, and in more detail than in my previous review.

As the Wikipedia article's section on its reception puts it, "Critical reaction to Dracula AD 1972 has been mixed to negative." This makes me wonder whether those so-called 'critics' saw the same film as I did, and I suspect is largely a consequence of people condemning it for not being what they expected, rather than giving the film it actually is a fair viewing. Certainly, if you came to Dracula AD 1972 expecting straight-down-the-line Gothic horror, you would be pretty disappointed. It's not actually that swirling mists, ruined buildings, howling winds and Satanic rituals are completely absent - indeed, they are all present and correct, carefully gathered around Dracula like a protective bubble which allows him to survive the transition from late Victoriana to the brash noise and lights of 1970s London. But outside that bubble we have swinging hot-pants, self-consciously 'yoof' dialogue, divey coffee bars and a downright funky soundtrack. If you don't like '70s youth films, or can stomach them in their own right but think that trying to cross-breed them with Dracula is A Step Too Far, then you're not going to like this movie.

Personally, though, I bloody love that stuff. I love almost all cultural output from the early 1970s - the music, the clothes, the films - and would enjoy this film even if it didn't have Dracula in it. But I also think that the mash-up of 1970s youth culture and dark Gothic Victoriana is even greater than the sum of its two (excellent) parts. It is effective partly for the same reason as the contrast between the cheery inn scenes and the dark Gothic menace in Risen from the Grave is also effective - setting the two off against one another throws each into sharp relief, and makes you excited to discover what will happen when they finally clash head-on. But here we get an extra time-travel element, bouncing two cultural settings which should never be able to meet at all off one another - and since time-travel is another genre of which I am inordinately fond, that's so much the better for me. I'm also very happy to see the Hammer Dracula series going somewhere new. There were already five straightforwardly Gothic entries in the series after all (six if you count Brides), and it's not like the last one (Scars) was terribly good or anything. Here, the change of setting, coupled with a new-to-the-franchise director, gives the film a real energy which I find incredibly endearing.

Certainly, the story-line and the characters are much more engaging than they were in Scars or Taste the Blood, so that this is the first sequel since Risen from the Grave during which I didn't find myself constantly watching the clock while waiting for them to get the hell on with it and resurrect Dracula already. Both the roar of 1970s London and the dark menace inside the Gothic bubble of St. Bartolph's church are captured very nicely through some extremely competent cinematography, editing and music, and most of the acting is pretty damned sound, too. Philip Miller as Jessica Van Helsing's boyfriend, Bob, had about as successful a career as he deserved, but everyone else is great. And what a cast, anyway! Stephanie Beacham and Caroline Munro as our leading delectable ladies, Christopher Neame combining kooky with evil as Johnny Alucard, Michael Coles as the hard-nosed Metropolitan police inspector, and - hello, so-called critics, I don't know if you noticed, but this is the first Hammer Dracula film to have BOTH Christopher Lee AND Peter Cushing in it since the original! How can this not be a thing of greatness?

But Christopher Lee's Dracula is the real draw for me, so let's talk about him. As I've noted above, keeping Dracula in the semi-ruined and deconsecrated St. Bartolph's setting, rather than out amongst clothes shops and coffee bars, helps to preserve the correct aura of Gothic mystique around his character. But it actually also follows a pattern already established in two of the earlier sequels - that is, the creepingly malicious modus operandi which I identified in Risen from the Grave and Taste the Blood. Under this model, he works at one remove through enslaved servants, rather than attacking people directly, and while he is waiting for them to bring him his desired victim, he lurks - in a cellar in Risen, and in a church in both Taste and AD 1972.

There is an important difference, in that for the first time Johnny Alucard is an entirely willing accomplice, rather than a victim like Zena and the priest in Risen or Alice in Taste. On the one hand, that's a pity, because (as as I said in relation to Taste), the concept of the enthralled servants helplessly doing things they consciously detest has a powerful creep factor. But on the other, it's nice to see something different, and the sheer pleasure which Johnny Alucard takes in his own evil-doing is great fun to watch in itself. Either way, Dracula comes out of it just as well, because the whole set-up affords him ample opportunities to be imperious and demanding and angry when the servants let him down. We never quite get the icy politeness here of his scenes with Jonathan Harker in Dracula, or with a series of uninvited castle guests in Scars, but we definitely get the haughty aristocrat. There is also plenty of dark sexuality in his predation scenes, of course, while the climactic confrontation with Van Helsing is packed full of violent monsterishness. So, good - all boxes ticked.

There was one scene, though, which really caught my attention this time because of the potential it offered for fannish insights into the Dracula character (in a similar way to the detail about him inviting a librarian to his castle in the first film). It's only a very short sequence, probably about ten seconds or so long, and has no dialogue at all. Coming roughly two-thirds of the way through the film, and cut in between sequences of Van Helsing placing a cross around Jessica's neck and Johnny Alucard disposing of a body, we see Dracula, alone, waiting in the church for Johnny to bring the right girl to him. Fairly obviously, the sequence is there to remind us of Dracula's menacing presence in the story, driving the actions of the other characters. Also fairly obviously, for a scene like this you can't just show Dracula sitting around looking at his watch and maybe drumming his fingers a bit. If he's going to be on the screen, he needs to be doing something a bit evil and Gothic-looking. Otherwise, you're just not conveying the necessary menace. So dry leaves blow across the floor of the church, a moonbeam shines in from the right, and Dracula waits...

Dracula dancing alone 3 Dracula dancing alone 4

The direction given to Christopher Lee for this scene was probably something along the lines of "Pace towards the centre of the church, Chris, and then when you get to your mark stop, do a full turn and give your cloak a good swirl." That's exactly what he does, and I'm sure it conveys the intended theme of 'Dracula waiting impatiently' very nicely, with the added bonus of also showing off the excellent work of the costume department. Except that if you are looking at it with feverishly fannish eyes, as I currently am, whole extra layers of character are opened up by this scene. We very rarely see Dracula completely alone, you see, and certainly not alone and not also engaged in the urgent business of chasing after girls or escaping from his enemies. But suddenly, here he is - alone and at his leisure. And what do we discover he likes to do in these circumstances? Pace around and swirl his cloak - for fun. He's practically dancing in fact, on his own, in the middle of the church. Perhaps in evil self-satisfaction at having just drained two victims in rapid succession (Gaynor and then Johnny), and how well his plans in general seem to be going? Or perhaps just because he likes the feel of the movement? It's hard to say, but it is fascinating, and definitely a side of Dracula which we don't normally get to see in these stories.

Finally, another Thing Which Gets Said about this film is that because the opening sequence is set in 1872, it and Satanic Rites "do not correspond to the chronology established in the Victorian/Edwardian era films", the first of which is set in 1885. But this view is the result of an impoverished imagination and a failure to notice that the Van Helsing of the first film is not called Lawrence. I'm pretty confident that with a little lateral thinking, the entire sequence of films can be rammed into a perfectly sound continuity framework, even though they were never written in the first place with anything of the sort in mind. But to do that properly takes us rather beyond this particular film, and I will still need to go back and check a few details in some of the other films before I can really nail it. So I will save that for a later post.

Meanwhile, if, under the influence of some strange madness, delusion, or perhaps genius, you love this film as much as I do, there is a four-minute contemporary 'featurette' on it here complete with some fantastic behind-the-scenes footage and a bit of pontificating from Christopher Lee. Essential viewing, I think you'll agree, and especially for the way Dracula's wig blows straight up into the air at around 02:35, making him look for all the world like a member of an early 80s goth-punk band. LOVE!

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Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
ms_siobhan
Jan. 15th, 2014 12:47 pm (UTC)
Maybe part of the critics response to it was that it was too cheesy a portrayal of 70's ness - in that things go out of fashion so quickly, what strikes us as wonderful datedness now might have been excruiating then - in the way that whenever goths are portrayed in mainstream culture it is almost always wrong and clunky.

I hadn't twigged it was the first time since the 1958 film that Lee and Cushing were in together either but you can see the effect grief has had on Mr Cushing, IIRC the script had to be rewritten to make him a grandfather as opposed to a father.
strange_complex
Jan. 15th, 2014 12:52 pm (UTC)
Yes, it did indeed. There is also a framed photograph on the desk in his study, which in the film I guess we're meant to take as the character's deceased wife, but is actually of Peter Cushing's real wife. That seems a very nice way of paying tribute to his grief for her within the film.
ms_siobhan
Jan. 15th, 2014 12:53 pm (UTC)
They gave him the silver frame with the picture inside it afterwards.
strange_complex
Jan. 15th, 2014 12:54 pm (UTC)
Oh, did they? That is really nice.
angeoverhere
Jan. 15th, 2014 12:59 pm (UTC)
This reminds me - have you read Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series? Sort of a fantasy/historical mashup based on 'what if' Dracula hadn't been killed at the end of Stoker's novel. They're great fun and possibly right up your street - I've also just discovered that the latest one is called Johnny Alucard..
strange_complex
Jan. 15th, 2014 01:09 pm (UTC)
I'm aware of them, and have read a few summaries / reviews of them online, but haven't read the books themselves. I really should, though, you're right - I certainly always enjoy the things Kim Newman has to say about Dracula (whether on page or screen) in TV documentaries etc.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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