A time capsule of Hammer Horror comes to Blu-ray from Warner Archive
The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and factory-pressed Blu-rays. Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!
The Warner Archive Collection released Dracula A.D. 1972 on Blu-ray on October 16, with sequel The Satanic Rites of Dracula set to follow in November.
While Dracula A.D. 1972 is technically the seventh film of the series — most of which star Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in the roles of Dracula and Van Helsing — they mostly stand on their own and no prior knowledge of the other films is needed. In fact, 1972 is as good a starting point as any, as it marks a shift in the franchise, moving away from its Victorian roots into a modern day (1970s) setting. The film opens in the classic era, depicting one last battle between Van Helsing and the vampire as they destroy each other, before the camera pans up into the sky, smash-cutting to a jet.
We’re soon introduced to a gang of hip youths from Chelsea’s swinging set, who are always game for a thrill. Among them is Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham), a descendant of the famed vampire hunter. Their leader of sorts is one Johnny Alucard, who invites the group to a satanic ceremony, playing it off as a bit of fun — to which they stupidly agree.
Turns out Alucard is a disciple of Dracula who has targeted Jessica specifically as an offering for the Lord of Vampires; and with the help of his unwitting friends he succeeds in his goal of bringing Dracula back from the dead.
When Jessica’s female friends start turning up dead with telltale punctures in their necks, her grandfather (Cushing as “Lorrimer Van Helsing”) suspects the terrible truth and sets out to battle his family’s mortal enemy.
The most disappointing — or at least most surprising — aspect of the film is that Lee’s Dracula is more of a threat than an active presence. Perhaps being 14-years deep in a franchise is the reason for this (by which point the character is well established), but he gets little in the way of actual character work here. He’s just Dracula, the villain. That said, he’s certainly comfortable in the role and looks terrifying when the bloodlust hits, turning his eyes red.
Cushing’s Van Helsing is the biggest presence here, and he’s wonderful as the modern iteration of his classic character, even if the writing is sometimes unbelievably dopey. A scene in which he laboriously decrypts on paper that “Alucard” is “Dracula” backward is particularly worthy of derision — obviously a visual device offered for the benefit of the audience, but it makes the good professor look like an imbecile.
The film leans really hard into its Chelsea 1972 setting, a time capsule of sorts with wild style and hip modern attitudes, making for an oddly enchanting juxtaposition with the classic Victorian-era subject matter. It’s certainly cheesy and dated, but undeniably enjoyable.
The film is Christopher Lee’s penultimate Dracula performance within the Hammer franchise, succeeded by The Satanic Rites of Dracula, which is also coming soon to Blu-ray from the Warner Archive — look for it on November 13. The two films make a perfect pairing. (One final film, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, finished the series without Lee).
Special Features and Extras
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.