Dracula A.D. 1972: Charles Manson Meets Van Helsing

How do you solve a problem like Dracula? By 1972, with six Dracula flics behind it, Hammer Film Productions had hit rock bottom (of the crypt). People were tired of dusty Victorian bric-a-brac and galloping horses. So… what about placing the ghoul in a contemporary setting, say London, 1972? Could it work? Can we show the Count listening to a Beatles’ album? That could be scary.

Maybe not, but we could have him nibbling hippy chicks in a rundown, gothic-era church. That might do it.

And so it did.

Dracula A.D. 1972 (yes, released in 1972) shouldn’t work at all. But it does. It works because Dracula (Christopher Lee) hasn’t updated anything about himself, his looks, his habits, his bad attitude—nada, and this gives him that off-center, disorienting power of the strategic anachronism. His strength comes from a complete disregard for any notion of societal values. Imagine an Old Norse berserkr strolling the aisles at Tiffanys. Alarm mutates to terror. We are more willing to accept and somewhat dismiss Dracula and his behaviour if represented in a different age, a darker age. But when he kills young women and men who drive around in Austin Minis, well, it gets weird pretty quickly.

As for the Neck Nibbler himself, it’s doubtful that he realizes his remains have been reanimated in 1972, exactly 100 years since his last drink. Dracula has little interest in anything aside from his next meal.

Another background force at play is the Manson murders—the trials of which concluded less than two years before production began. There’s a veiled reference by vampire-hunter Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) to the cult, and sure enough, the fun-loving, thrill-seeking, drugged-out hippies that trot off to the dilapidated church to experience a ‘Black Mass’ could certainly pass for the Manson crowd.

Hippy Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham), granddaughter of Lorrimer, has a Sharon Tate vibe, and certainly Christopher Neame, as Dracula’s main enforcer, is Tex Watson all over. The result of all this is background noise, disquieting, mild but persistent. For what is Dracula but a cult leader of sorts?

Regardless, Dracula A.D. 1972 suggests evil doesn’t wear a watch. Gothic horror can transverse the years, an immutable, malevolent fog, undead as its celebrants.

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