DVD brings Hammer Films' ''Dracula A.D. 1972'' -- a campy Peter Cushing vs. Christopher Lee transported to Swinging London vampire flick -- back from the dead

By Chris Nashawaty
Updated May 15, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Everett Collection

Dracula gets Hammered in ”A.D. 1972”

Sometimes a catchy tagline is enough to impair your judgment and make you fork over 15 bucks for a DVD. For instance, when I was recently browsing through a stack of Hammer Horror films, I was stopped dead in my tracks by this one-liner: ”The Count is back with an eye for London’s hot pants…and a taste for everything!”

Without even thinking about it, my hand reached for my wallet. It was like it wasn’t even attached to the rest of my body. Sold!

So, in the proud cinematic tradition of Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy and The Three Stooges Meet Hercules, I give you this week’s title, Dracula A.D. 1972 — a riotously campy encounter between Christopher Lee’s legendary Carpathian bloodsucker, Peter Cushing’s tweedy Van Helsing, and a bevy of swinging Carnaby Street ”birds”lining up for the kill in miniskirts and go-go boots.

Let me be clear about one thing upfront, because I wouldn’t want to poison our columnist-reader relationship with bad faith: Dracula A.D. 1972 isn’t a great movie. It isn’t even a great Hammer Dracula movie. But it is an undeniable hoot to watch on a call-into-work-sick day…especially if, like the Count, ”you’ve got an eye for London’s hot pants…”And who doesn’t, really?

The movie kicks off with a prologue set in 1872, when Cushing’s Lawrence Van Helsing (who we’ll soon learn was the present-day Cushing’s grandfather) is brawling with Lee’s Dracula atop a horse-driven coach. The fight scene is nicely shot (you can thank the film’s unfortunately named cinematographer Dick Bush for that) and it ends with Van Helsing driving a wooden stake through the Count’s heart. Lee grimaces like he’s just been reminded he’s playing Dracula for the sixth time, spits up some bright-red Hammer blood, and vaporizes into a pile of ashes. So far, so good.

Cut to 1972. It’s 100 years later and London is quite a different place. At a stuffy party, a group of crazy hipster kids dressed like extras in Almost Famous crash the scene and start drinking the fuddy-duddies’ booze, dancing in go-go boots on top of the piano, and shagging like rabbits under the Chippendale end tables. The old geezers stare on in disbelief, their monocles drop into their Rob Roys, and they call the cops.

Led by the charismatic bad boy Johnny Alucard (if that last name feels a bit labored, check it out in the mirror), this group of British teenage hipsters live to tweak the nose of the old guard and push the limits with their hijinks. Played by Christopher Neames, a Paul Bettany-lookalike with mutton chop sideburns, a naughty smile, and an ascot around his neck, Alucard is getting a bit bored with his gang’s run-of-the-mill shenanigans and suggests that they try something a little more dangerous. Like, for instance, holding a Black Mass in an abandoned church nearby. The kids seem into it — well, all except for one: Stephanie Beacham’s Jessica Van Helsing.

You see, Jessica is a good girl (as her grandfather played by Cushing will attest) and she’s starting to think that her pals’ antics are getting a little scary. Since she also grew up in the Van Helsing household, she knows first-hand that performing Satanic rituals — even for s–ts and giggles — can be dangerous business. But even Jessica can’t seem to refuse Alucard’s evil allure, so she goes along with it.

That night, at midnight, the kids meet up at the abandoned church, Johnny draws a pentagram on the floor, and then starts chanting some dark incantations about the beast and puts one of the girls, Laura, into a trance. He calls her up to the altar, lays her on her back, and pours a goblet of blood all over her impressive cleavage. The rest of the kids get spooked and run away. What the kids didn’t stick around long enough to see was Christopher Lee rising from the grave and biting into Laura’s neck like a pastrami sandwich.

When Laura is missing, Scotland Yard takes up the case and is soon at the Van Helsing house to ask Jessica a bunch of questions. She doesn’t want to rat out her friends so she stonewalls them. And they also ask her grampa, Cushing, if he’ll help with the case. But when he starts spouting his Dracula mumbo jumbo, the bobbies roll their eyes. Meanwhile, Alucard is back at his groovy Greg Brady bachelor pad, seducing, then draining the blood from, another young lovely with a shag haircut. You have to admire his moxie.

While all this is going on, Lee’s Dracula is getting a little impatient with Alucard. The girl whose neck he wants is Jessica Van Helsing. He wants his revenge on the Van Helsing clan for the centuries of headaches they’ve caused him and he sees his ticket to payback in lovely Jessica’s tender throat (and series of tighter and tighter sweaters). Lee actually throws a bit of a hissy fit when Alucard brings him a different girl. He sounds like a spoiled brat on Christmas morning who gets all huffy when he gets the wrong model-train set.

Anyway, the rest of the film is merely a prelude to the gloriously arthritic final confrontation between Cushing and Lee. Will sweet Jessica become one of Dracula’s minions? Will Cushing’s chain-smoking Van Helsing be able to stave off a heart attack long enough to make it to the end credits? And will Cushing and Lee survive with their dignity intact after plodding through this dated Austin Powers nonsense?

For answers to these questions and more, you’ll have to rent Dracula A.D. 1972 for yourself.

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