…So ran the rather lurid tag line from London’s billboards in 1972! The film was initially inspired by the story of the Highgate vampire—a media sensation of the time involving disturbed tombs and grave robbing in Highgate cemetery. Hammer films decided for Christopher Lee’s sixth and penultimate outing as the count that the franchise needed updating to the present. And so, with the help of some young fresh blood in the shapely form of upcoming starlets Stephanie Beacham, Caroline Munroe, and (straight out of ‘Hair’) Marsh Hunt, also ably assisted by Michael Kitchen and Christopher Neame, we have Dracula AD 1972!
The main thrust of the story is this: Neames character Johnny Alucard (Dracula spelled backwards) is a descendant of one of Dracula’s side-kicks from the 19th century. His mission is to bring Dracula back to life and in doing so gaining power and eternal life for himself. It just so happens that the group he latches onto includes Stephanie Beacham’s character Jessica—the latest in the line of Van Helsings. Alucard convinces ‘the group’ that he has a ‘new way’; ‘the ultimate kick’ to shake off this ‘tired scene, man’! …A black mass, no less, in an old abandoned church! This is where it all starts to go horribly wrong for the kids… Various members come a cropper or are ‘turned’ before Jessica’s grandfather, an expert in the occult, gets involved (played by—yes, you guessed it—Peter Cushing). Cushing knows a thing or two about tackling vampires and he soon gets on the trail of Alucard before finishing off the count in time honoured fashion.
Whilst Hammer purists at the time (and some even now) are decidedly lukewarm about the film, citing its cringe worthy use of hippie speak and blatant attempt to appeal to younger hip audience, for the student of Sixties/Seventies pop culture there’s much to enjoy here! The first scene set in the 20th century features a party with the American band Stoneground (they replaced the Faces who were first choice) playing some funky rock to the assembled ‘kids’ and some rather shocked oldies! There’s some full-on seventies gear on show: hot pants, frilly shirts, crushed velvet, floppy hats… the lot! There’s even the groovy surroundings of the Cavern coffee bar in the Kings Road where the group hang out. This was situated at 372 Kings Road and was still a café up to recent times. Alucad’s flat (72 Hollgate Place in Notting Hill), where he takes Marsha Hunts character Gaynor for some late-night action, is all 70s decadence. And then there’s the music… Mike Vickers of Manfred Mann wrote the score, a funky brass laden gem, plus you have the aforementioned Stoneground, and for the Black Mass scene the far out ‘electric storm in hell’ by Delia Derbyshire’s White Noise can be heard (on reel to reel tape, of course). Best of all though is the dialogue! Christopher Lee was appalled when he read the script and you can see why. However, watching it now there’s a certain period charm to be enjoyed, as long as you like your horror with a large helping of cheese!
Here’s a few choice examples:
Alucard to Gaynor as he puts a record on: “They were really zonked when they made this”
Gaynor: “yeah, aren’t they always”
Alucard at the black mass: “Dig the music, kids”
Van Helsing to the police inspector: “There is a satan”
Inspector: “Of course, otherwise we wouldn’t need a police force, would we?”.
Gaynor: Is this the place Johnny?”
Alucard: “Yeah, why don’t you drop in for a bite?”
The film has now reached cult status with some fairly prominent fans amongst them, notably horror writer Kim Newman and U.S. director Tim Burton. It’s what most people would describe as ‘so bad, it’s good’ and I can see that. But I adore it! It’s probably up there in my list of top ten films, not just horror films, but all-time greats. A few years ago, I managed to get my DVD copy signed by Caroline Munroe, which was a thrill and, hey, it was released on the 28th of September which is my birthday—That must mean something!
Here’s the trailer: