Monday, October 15, 2007

TODAY'S HALLOWEENIE VAMPIRE MOVIE: DRACULA A.D. 1972. The only actor to seriously rival Bela Lugosi as Dracula is Christopher Lee. Most times I give Lee the edge; occasionally I prefer Bela. I guess I can only put them on equal pedestals because, after all these years, I don't think I can choose between them. So, for my first Chris Lee Dracula movie of the month, I'm choosing one that usually gets dogged by everyone. However, after the classic, towering "Horror of Dracula", this is my next favourite Hammer Dracula film. It starts with the terrific 19th century battle between Dracula and Van Helsing (the long-awaited return of Peter Cushing in the role) and it's a breathless, kinetic battle on an out-of-control horse-drawn carriage. All this pre-credit sequence. The carriage upends and poor Drac is impaled on a broken wooden wheel.
Next we find ourselves 100 years later in the (then) present day. Here's really where the film's detractors get their ammo because we're subjected to an horrendous musical group playing horrendous early-70's rock & roll (which sounds NOTHING like the actually music of the time -- even then). The scene of this musical MURDER is a pseudo-hippie party and, quite frankly, this entire scene can be cut completely out of the movie without ANY loss at all. And quite a bit of gain. In fact, I usually skip right past it on the DVD. And, as far as the bashers of this movie are concerned -- that's where they can stop bashing because the rest of the film from this point on is really terrific. Another of the (tired) complaints people have is that updating the film to the present was a mistake; they prefer the 19th century setting of the previous Hammer Draculas. Well, not only is this a ridiculous argument (the original Dracula with Bela Lugosi took place in the "present day" as did all the sequels) but it's not even true. Just watch "Scars of Dracula" and tell me that "Dracula A.D. 1972" was not an improvement. The film is ALSO not camp at all; this is another strange misconception people seem to have about this movie. It's all done perfectly straight and effectively with nice performances and snappy direction throughout.
The cast, of course, is equally terrific. Not only are Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing headlining but they are supported by the glorious Caroline Munro (as Drac's first human drink box) and the pulchritudinous Stephanie Beacham (as Van Helsing's granddaughter). Add into this mix the oddly earnest and freaky Johnny Alucard (there's that name again) as the occult-obsessed disciple of Dracula and you've got a Hammer with quite a lot going for it. The musical score is a little "James Bond superspy" sounding but, while I would've preferred something more atmospheric, doesn't detract overmuch from the film in my mind. Actually, 1972 is rather the perfect time in which to set the film since horror was EVERYWHERE at that time and the supernaturally curious young people in the film mirror the interest in the occult which was so popular.
Alucard is one of those surly young men who meddle in occult matters they should leave alone. He convinces his jaded gang of 20-somethings to participate in a black mass at which he reconstitutes the ashes of Dracula so the king of vampires may walk again. As a "reward", Dracula puts the bite on Alucard so Johnny boy becomes a vampire as well. The spate of pasty, blood-drained murders brings in the police and, through them, the current descendant of Van Helsing (also played by Peter Cushing). Another lethal chess game between Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing finds the two men outmaneuvering each other for the remainder of the film.
If one would just look at the film (minus the admittedly ridiculous party scene at the beginning) and judge it for what it is, one will undoubtedly find it to be an entertaining Hammer vampire film (and quite a bit more entertaining then some of the movies which preceded it in the series). If one's sole criteria for judging a movie is influenced by the clothing people wear (and since the film was made in 1972 and takes place in 1972, what exactly WOULD they be wearing other than what they ARE wearing), then you'll simply be blinding yourself to one of the better Hammer Dracula movies to come out of the studio that dripped blood.


Cerpts said...

Oh yeah, and plus "Dracula A.D. 1972" (and Alucard) played an integral role in the epochal, legendary first meeting between Cheekies and Yours Truly.

Cheekies said...

I have no idea what you are talking about.

Cerpts said...

Oh shut up and restock those plates!