Despite this film’s reputation not being great, I’m going to put my delectable, tasty neck on the line and say that there’s a lot that’s good in DRACULA AD 1972. I’m actually here to praise rather than stake and bury it in holy ground. But I’m going to say that with the ridiculous caveat that it’s not well shot, the dialogue is often actively bad, the performances are all over the place and the music is absolutely atrocious. Seriously, if we ever find ourselves in Hell, the soundtrack to this will be in The Devil’s own record collection.
But if you ignore all that, then there’s a great deal to admire.
For the first half at least, we have Hammer’s take on The Manson Murders. There’s this band of blissed-out hippies, who are manipulated by their new charismatic leader. It even opens with them bring involved in a home invasion, although a much more benign, polite, English, middle-class version. Even so, they are the crazy, disruptive, menacing presence of new youth.
Really, they’re no more harmful than herbal tea and they don’t really do anything comparable to what The Manson Family did, but the inferences are made again and again – with a police detective even referring to the cult murders in America. Hammer, although a horror studio, wasn’t in anyway culturally equipped to deal with real life horrors. It knows this though and instead of going to the edge of what’s appropriate and tasteful, stands a good twenty feet back and tries to be risqué from there. The result is tame stuff, but it’s an interesting direction for Hammer to go. Particularly as the film isn’t reactionary so doesn’t see the teenagers as a threat. Indeed, they’re as much victims as villains.
Of course, the reason these kids have been brought together is to revive Dracula, and in many ways The Count’s appearance is where the film loses its momentum. There is a deeply unpleasant murder scene involving Marsha Hunt, which skirts as close to real life horror as Hammer ever gets, but the main point of interest in that second half is how good Cushing is. His intensity and commitment propels the film forward by force of will. It even has the effect of making Lee, in the few scenes he’s in, seem much more engaged in the role of Dracula.
I’ll be honest, I’d wanted to watch THE SCARS OF DRACULA, but settled for this when it proved to be unavailable on Amazon Prime. I thought I’d have some campy fun with it, but it’s a much better and more interesting film than my memory of it – or its reputation – suggested.
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