Look, man: this is a Hammer flick – can you dig it? Eschewing the default period piece setting for its classic horror monster pictures, Hammer decided to pull Dracula and his most famous nemesis (well, his nemesis’ ancestor, anyway) into hip, bacchanal, grooving 70s London. While this film is commonly considered a lesser Hammer film, I thought it was a real trippy blast. Yes, it’s silly and the attempts to relate to the youth are comically obvious, but it’s these qualities that make it so much trashy fun. This is high order kitsch. Just chill and go with it, man. Don’t be such a square.
Well, okay: this is a lesser Hammer film, but it’s just so darn much fun. Hammer’s brand was heavily waning in the 70s. Gothic horror was out, and there was a new breed of drive-in and horror films bringing in the bucks. In an attempt to get the kids in aisles, Hammer set their next Dracula film in swinging contemporary London and filled it with cool young people dancing, partying, getting high, visibly at odds from the stuffy older establishment. Ironically, the film brings to mind stuffy older establishment executives at Hammer stuck in a stuffy room blatantly attempting to fit in with the young folks. I was reminded of Steve Buscemi’s 30 Rock guest appearance as an undercover high-school cop. This square attempt at writing hip youths, as it happens, is part of the silly, campy charm of this film. It’s hopelessly, desperately solicitous of youth viewership, and that can be funny and fun – it certainly is here. Of course, while most of the kids mean well, their excessive, frivolous ways can get them into trouble, and it’s up to the gerontocracy to save them from themselves. And Dracula, of course.
It helps that the film looks really nice. Lots of bright technicolor, the vibe of 70s London, it’s all so much better put together than it has any right to be, which is one of Hammer’s great strengths – professionalism and talent in the service of what many studios would treat as pure trash. Lee, of course, is a consummate performer, as is the wonderful-as-always Cushing. The rest of the cast is largely fine, but suffer for the lackluster writing.
Perhaps I’m just the right kind of viewer for this film – an appreciation of kitsch, drive-in exploitation, well-shot, colorful psychedelia, and a straight from Sunday school story of Satanism and corruption (oh God, not sex and drugs and rock n roll!). One person’s trash is another’s treasure, as the cliche goes. If you can jive with it, this is a fun time with a groovin’ soundtrack.