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Fifty years ago, Dracula AD 1972 saw the Count wreak havoc in swinging 1970s London – and was roundly derided by critics. But it changed the template for the iconic bloodsucker, writes David Barnett.


Dracula AD 1972’s tagline pretty much says it all: “The count is back, with an eye for London’s hot pants… and a taste for everything!” Normally found haunting the shadowy castles and alleys of 19th-Century Europe, the iconic bloodsucker in this British horror cult classic instead wreaks havoc in London in the latter half of the 20th Century – the first time, really, that Dracula had been taken out of his

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The film was released in cinemas 50 years ago, at the tail end of UK film company Hammer Productions’ famed horror output, which began in 1955 with The Quatermass Experiment and lasted until the late 1960s.


Hammer assembled a stable of classic horror monsters to bring to celluloid life, much like its earlier US counterpart Universal Studios – the mummy, Frankenstein’s monster, werewolves – but with a British sensibility and more gore and sex. Beginning with 1958’s Dracula, a more-or-less straight adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Christopher Lee’s red-eyed Count Dracula became the archetypal big-screen incarnation for many moviegoers. However, by the time of Dracula AD 1972, With their ongoing chronicles of the Transylvanian villain, Hammer had gone – in this case, extremely – off-piste.

Dracula AD 1972 seemed destined for success, even with Lee – in his penultimate outing as Dracula, his last being the loose follow-up The Satanic Rites of Dracula – reportedly being less than enthusiastic about the film. While expressing admiration for the character of the Count in his 2004 autobiography Lord of Misrule, Lee wrote: “It was aesthetically depressing to see the films step by step deteriorate… with The Satanic Rites of Dracula I reached my irrevocable full stop.” 


The film begins in typical Dracula-movie fashion, with a frantic chase as Cushing’s vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing pursues Lee’s Transylvanian Count in 1872, eventually impaling him on a broken carriage wheel and dying in the process. One of popular culture’s most famous hero-villain dynamic has come to an end. But, as one of Dracula’s followers buries his ashen remains near Van Helsing’s grave in London’s St Bartolph’s Church, he looks up… and a passenger jet flies overhead, seamlessly transitioning the story to a hundred years later. In 1972, we have a brooding Christopher Neame as Johnny Alucard (a cunning nom-de-plume that absolutely none of his friends thinks to say backwards), a hippie disciple of the undead count whose mission it is to resurrect Dracula and wreak havoc on Swinging London

I’ve always loved this movie, mostly because it’s so wrong. It’s got a great naffness to it – Mark Gatiss


Even Stephanie Beacham, who plays both an acquaintance of Alucard and a descendant of Dracula’s nemesis Van Helsing, has no idea what’s going on with him – even when, after a lengthy party scene soundtracked by the 1970s blues-rock band Stoneground (apparently Rod Stewart and the Faces were at one point in the frame to be the live band on screen), Alucard takes her and their bored hippie crew off to St Bartolph Which, of course, restores Dracula to good health and, as the tagline suggests, with an eye for hot pants… not to wear them himself, but to chomp into their owners.

“This isn’t a great reason for another horror film, but given Miss Beacham’s ability to heave and her bosom to heave with, it’ll have to do,” wrote famed and feared film critic Roger Ebert upon the film’s release in 1972. He also praised it with a faint condemnation, lamenting the fact that Hammer “now seems willing to follow the artistic leads of late-comers like Kubrick. Alas.” Meanwhile, the Monthly Film Bulletin called it “an abortive and completely unimaginative attempt to update the Bram Stoker legend to contemporary Chelsea.” These were typical of the reviews at the time, which followed in the footsteps of Hammer’s previous Dracula film, Scars of Dracula. By the time AD 1972 was released, it appeared that Hammer’s custodianship of Bram Stoker’s creation had become anaemic, at least in the minds of critics.

A case for the defence


“Hammer’s Dracula films weren’t generally well-received anyway – and fans tended to be stuffy about innovations back then,” says novelist, writer, and film critic Kim Newman. “It was the first Hammer Dracula I saw in a cinema and I loved it – I saw it again on television later in the 1970s and thought it was hopelessly dated, but I’ve since warmed up to it again… AD 1972 has its kitsch/camp elements, but the action scenes are terrific, the characters are vivid and engaging, and I like the score.”

Another big fan of the film is writer, actor, and Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss, who collaborated with Sherlock collaborator Steven Moffat on a 2020 BBC TV miniseries about the Count. It set Dracula (played with menacing charm by Claes Bang) in his original context before turning everything on its head halfway through the story by having him appear in the present day. Gatiss couldn’t be happier with Dracula AD 1972, flaws and all. “It’s such a happy thing, and I’m glad it exists,” he says. “I’ve always loved this film, primarily because it’s so wrong; it has a wonderful naffness to it, which I believe stems from the fact that it was originally planned to be made in 1969.” “However, by the time they released it in 1972, the hippy thing had become so dated.”

He adds that its seemingly outlandish premise was true to the spirit of Bram Stoker’s novel, which itself updated the vampire story from its traditional home in centuries-old legends. “People frequently overlook how radical the original novel is,” he says. “Dracula comes to England for new horizons, new blood, because his land is old and dead, and what became the standard setting for Dracula adaptations, Victorian England, was new and contemporary at the time.” Nonetheless, Gatiss, like Newman, believes the sequel, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, which keeps Dracula in the modern era, this time going up against secret service agents, is a better film, “gritty and very creepy.” and perhaps a better way to end Lee’s career as the titular bloodsucker. “I don’t think Christopher Lee was particularly pleased with Dracula AD 1972,” Gatiss adds. “If you look at the film’s publicity photos, he looks so miserable!”

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