So I ask you, what’s better than one fight to the death between Christopher Lee’s iconic Dracula and Peter Cushing’s heroic Van Helsing? Dare I say two? That’s exactly what we get as the film starts and ends with the deadly duo tangling with each other.
Starting off in 1872 riding atop a coach Lee and Cushing give us a thrilling battle resulting in the death of both characters. Thus Cushing defeats the forces of evil and gives his own life in the pursuit of all that is good. Riding up to witness the body of Lee turn to dust is a disciple who gathers a vial of dust and the Dracula crested ring. Fast forward to modern day London of 1972.
This is where the film from director Alan Gibson goes campy with a rowdy gang of youngsters experiencing drugs, sex and the music of a group I don’t think I will be seeking out any old albums of called Stoneground. The apparent leader of the hippie fun seekers is Christopher Neame starring as Johnny Alucard. Obviously Hammer screenwriter Don Houghton must have been watching Universal’s Son Of Dracula prior to penning this one. For the uninitiated, Lon Chaney Jr. played Count Alucard in that one. Try spelling Alucard backwards.
A couple of gorgeous “Hammer Glamour” girls are in the gang. Notably Caroline Munro and as the granddaughter of Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing descendant, Stephanie Beacham.
Looking for kicks and any reason to smoke some grass or fool around, the gang submits to Neame’s idea of a black mass. While Munro is all for it, Beacham is wary as she knows granddaddy Cushing wouldn’t approve. Neame isn’t looking for kicks at all. He fully intends to utilize the group to bring his master back to life on the 100th anniversary of his death at the film’s start.
Things quickly get out of hand in an old abandoned church where out in the decaying graveyard lies the remains of Lee’s Count. Chalk the eerie music, black robes, fog and an overflowing goblet. Overflowing with a thick crimson bloody red concoction all over poor Caroline Munro’s upper torso and neck. Panicking the gang flees and in a great shot comes Lee out of the fog commanding the screen as he sizes up poor Caroline.
Neame begins pimping girls to the vampire Count and local police call in their house occult expert, Peter Cushing to hunt down what he suspects is a real live vampire walking the streets of London. It’s all going to culminate in a rousing battle between these two icons of horror cinema.
Critically it’s easy to pick on this time capsule but the whole point is to focus on the star power of the two leads. Though Lee doesn’t get much screen time ( a common complaint from Lee concerning his Dracula films) he is absolutely in command of the viewing audience when he is on. He’s authoritative and his eyes are blood shot scary. As was his custom Lee even sneaks some original Bram Stoker dialogue into the final bout against his good pal off screen Peter. Kudos to director Gibson for giving Lee his full attention when called for.
Where Peter is concerned he is always a delight to watch. He comes alive and you can see the twinkle in his eyes when the thought of Dracula risen and wreaking a vampire plague on London may be a reality. When police inspector Michael Coles is in doubt, Props Peter takes control commanding his scenes with a vitality that blends so well against Lee’s dominance. Why Props Peter? Just watch Cushing in any film and admire his use of little odds and ends. A cigarette, a magnifying glass or a crucifix. He’s always pulling something from his coat pockets.
Give this one a go for the opening and concluding bouts of good vs. evil. If you love the actors or vampire films in general this somewhat psychedelic take on modernizing the Count plays far better than the majority of the so called vampire flicks we’re exposed to today. We can thank Peter and Chris for that as they never let us in on the fact that the whole thing is make believe. They play it straight and with conviction.
A special thank you as well goes to director Gibson for what I like to call the “boob angle camera shot.” When Lee goes to remove a crucifix from Beacham’s bosom the director uses that same bosom in the foreground. Can’t help but chuckle at the obvious use of Miss Beacham’s healthy attributes.
One more shot at self promotion. Here is a candid photo of yours truly and Miss Munro after she signed my original Dracula A.D. 1972 film poster.
Dracula A.D. is part of the Why Horror? Why Not? celebration and finally available in a beautiful transfer on blu ray from Warner Archives with the trailer as an added bonus.