DRACULA A.D. 1972
After the unexpected success of Count Yorga, it was no surprise that Hammers next Dracula entry followed suit and brought Christopher Lees Dracula into the modern-day too. It may well have been an act of creative novelty the Hammer Draculas were starting to seem stale and most of the sequels could never find much to have Christopher Lee do once they revived him. Dracula A.D. 1972 looked promising. It boasted the return to the series of Peter Cushing who had not played Van Helsing for twelve years since The Brides of Dracula (1960). The film starts to deal with a modern-day Dracula in encouraging ways the transition being cleverly signalled by the camera panning from a 19th Century funeral service up into the sky as a jet plane passes overhead.
Despite the intriguing possibilities of seeing Christopher Lee preying on the modern day, Dracula A.D. 1972 proves a major disappointment. Whereas the Count Yorga films and Love at First Bite poked gentle amusement at the idea of a traditional be-caped vampire in the modern world and later efforts such as Salems Lot, The Hunger (1983), Fright Night (1985) and Near Dark (1987) made a strong and confidant attempt to show us vampires having adjusted to the modern world, Dracula A.D. 1972 avoids any of its conceptual promise whatsoever and keeps Dracula within the confines of a Gothic church for the entire running time. The film is half over before it gets Christopher Lee resurrected, while the script only gives him a single line during the first hour. Indeed, the film seems more interested in the petty deviltry of acolyte Christopher Neame, B plot scenes of the youths running around/making out and Peter Cushing trying to warn the investigating police what they are dealing with than giving Dracula anything to do. (Mindedly, you could argue that this is not too different than what Bram Stoker did with Dracula in Dracula (1897) where he made a strong appearance at the start and then remained off-stage for the rest of the book).
There was also the increasing in-roads being made by the youth movement at the time. Since around 1970, Hammer started making concessions to this by casting younger leads and overturning the conservatism that underlay many of their films in favour of open sexuality. The opening scenes where hippies have taken over a posh London party is fascinating to watch a few decades later we get Stephanie Beacham who appeared in a number of early Anglo-horror films before finding fame as a US soap opera queen in the 1980s, and Caroline Munro an actress with a long line of genre credits in films such as Hammers Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter (1972), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) and Star Crash (1978) as dancing Flower Children, an unrecognisable Michael Kitchen of numerous British tv arts programs, and Christopher Neame, another B movie actor subsequently, who looks decidedly raffish in ruffled shirt, velvet coat and rakishly titled fedora. Mindedly, the scene also features the rock group Stoneground, who no-one except perhaps the most obscure vinyl collectors has ever heard of since, which represents the dangers of the appeal to a passing trend of the moment.
On the other hand, the incorporation of the Swinging London youth movement into the Hammer Dracula milieu borders on the laughable: Dig the music, kids, says Christopher Neame during the black magic ceremony in one particularly cringeworthy line. [Here Draculas resurrection is tied to a Satanic ceremony something that had never been part of the other Dracula films and sees Hammer also trying to jump aboard the fad for occult films following the huge success of Rosemarys Baby (1968)]. It was an attempt to appeal to the Swinging 60s London youth movement made by people that werent a part of it and feels badly like old school Hammer trying to play catch up and jump aboard a trend that they missed the boat with. There was a point when Hammer Films represented a challenge to the staidness of the British establishment when the initial films came out they brought in sexuality and blood, causing a shock and a stir. Now ironically, the studio looks like the old guard trying to get a grasp on the runaway youth movement and realising they dont have a clue. Peter Cushing, the vanguard of the studios outrage as the ruthlessly amoral Baron Frankenstein, is sadly reduced to shaking his head and dispensing grandfatherly concerns that his granddaughter behave in a chaste manner and not hang out with the wrong crowd.
There are minor positive aspects. There is a good opening confrontation with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing fighting aboard a coach as it crashes, whereupon Dracula falls and is killed by being impaled upon the shattered spokes of a broken cartwheel. It is a sequence that you could easily imagine as the climax of one of Terence Fishers florid Dracula entries, which specialised in setting up spectacular dispatches for Dracula, even if Alan Gibson never quite brings it to the type of enthralling brio that you feel that Fisher would have. There is also a moderately exciting scene where Peter Cushing drives Christopher Neame into the bathroom using a mirror to reflect the sunlight in his apartment whereupon Neame falls and turns on the shower and is killed by the running water. Mindedly, in both of these scenes, the vampire is only killed accidentally, something that you feel like Fisher would never have allowed to happen. On the other hand, Christopher Lee probably has the least to do of any of his Dracula airings, although Peter Cushing comes out suitably distinguished. Crucially though, both of the actors are now starting to look old. A young Stephanie Beachem proves an energetic addition to the canon.
The American version of Dracula A.D. 1972 contains a three-minute sequence at the opening by Donald Glut inviting audiences to join the Dracula Society.
Hammers other Dracula films are: Dracula/The Horror of Dracula (1958), The Brides of Dracula (1960), Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Scars of Dracula (1971), The Satanic Rites of Dracula/Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride (1973) and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires/The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula (1974).
Alan Gibson was a Canadian-born director who had been working in British television during the 1960s. Hammer gave him the reins of the psycho-thriller Crescendo (1970) and then turned the Dracula series over to him with Dracula A.D. 1972 and the subsequent The Satanic Rites of Dracula, which are almost always the poorest regarded entries in the series. Gibson returned to directing British television after that the only other work he did with Hammer was directing two episodes of their tv series Hammers House of Horrors (1980).