Dracula A.D. 1972
Is it a guilty pleasure to like Dracula A.D. 1972? There’s a few reasons to feel guilty, that’s for bloody sure. It’s mostly the dialogue, let’s face it, and the terrible attempts of the screenwriter to write the way ‘the kids’ are really talking. Cushing’s grand-daughter Jessica is especially cringeworthy and it feels like the writer successfully completed an exercise where he made himself force at least one piece of groovy slang into every line she has. Sometimes he even manages to get the slang wrong, having one character refer to another as a ‘schlepp’ when I’m pretty sure they meant ‘schmuck’; unless she meant to call someone a tedious journey, which now I think about it is not actually a bad insult. Nevertheless, pretty sure that’s not what he meant.
But on the other hand, watching this movie nowadays, 1972 is no longer the modern age and it’s as much a period drama as the 1872 Draculas. So what if in this period they say ‘cool it, man’ instead of ‘look here, good sir’? All these kooky cars and crazy clothes are just as much fun as creepy carriages and flowing robes, and this seventies London is as much a foreign land now as Transylvania ever was. So having the battle between Dracula and Van Helsing span the centuries seems now less of a transparent attempt to appeal to modern audiences and more of a continuation of the ageless war between good and evil. I don’t roll my eyes when people refer to satanic rituals as ‘that jazz’ or justify summoning up the devil because it will be ‘a giggle’, because it’s just as much fun as a monocle falling out of an aghast Duke’s eye or the needlessly ridiculous hats of local law enforcement. It’s a fun place to set a Dracula story, and I’m more than happy seeing Dracula’s servant driving a fast car and living in a swanky flat instead of sporting a hunch and one eye bigger than the other.
Which brings me to a big decider as to whether A.D. 1972 is a guilty pleasure or not - your opinion of naming Dracula’s acolyte Johnny Alucard. Because the thing is, and for all I know I may be entirely alone on Planet Earth in thinking this, I think Johnny Alucard is a cool name. I know it's just Dracula spelled backwards but if I could go back and rename the band I was in when I was fourteen, I really would like to name it Johnny Alucard.. What this says about me is not entirely clear. But so much of what I like about Hammer is what I think is cool about it. Cushing is cool, Lee is cool, and I think having Dracula’s servant in 1972 have the name Johnny Alucard is cool. So there.
Alright, the plot is hardly ground-breaking, there isn’t nearly enough Lee, and the boyfriend’s lines might as well be reduced to ‘Come on, Jess, you have to do what I’m saying or else the film won’t work’. Do we really give a monkey’s when it starts with Cushing and Lee in a fight to the death on a runaway carriage, and it ends with a fight to the death between Cushing and Lee in an abandoned church’s graveyard? Any film that starts and ends like that is much more than a guilty pleasure.
And finally, Dracula’s ending at the hands of Van Helsing is surprisingly brutal and undignified. There’s a pleasing sort ‘put your back into it’ kind of feel to it which illustrates a nice little through line to Cushing’s character which lifts it, if you ask me, out of the realms of the guilty. You see, it turns out that Van Helsing has to prove himself worthy of the name, he has to prove he is capable of taking out Dracula as well as his ancestors. And this time he’s not just doing it because it’s what he does; in 1972 he’s doing it because he must, because if he doesn’t then his granddaughter will die and he will not only will have the last of his family’s line die out, but he’ll have rendered their life’s work - killing Dracula - meaningless at the very last. These are pretty hefty stakes, so to speak, for an old man who’s only ever dealt with books and theories and an implied inferiority complex when it comes to his famous ancestor. The film is, in effect, not just a battle between Van Helsing and Dracula but also Van Helsing and his own destiny. The fact that he is also played by Cushing who had been so aged by grief over the death of his wife that his part was rewritten from Jessica’s father to her grandfather, only lends real poignancy to this man trying to find out if he has what it takes to live up to the Van Helsings of the past.
So, no, when all’s said and done, I do not feel guilty for liking Dracula A.D. 1972. Life is too bloody short to do anything except enjoy the things that give you pleasure. Speaking of which…