Vampires are all over the place in culture lately, but before they were defanged and reduced to romantic heroes in teen novels, they were something else.
That’s not a criticism. Every decade gets its own bloodsuckers, and mine were firmly planted in 1972. That year, a record four films were released pitting vamps against the new counter-culture. The films all shared a modern setting, with hip dialogue, slow-motion attack scenes, and various urban settings that firmly rooted the action in that time period.
These films all staked out their own territory in the genre and put a 1970s spin on the stories. They were also aimed at boys who turned 10 that summer and were cut to snag PG ratings. That said, these are gruesome flicks and more than one of them would probably get an “R” rating nowadays.
“Blacula” — This film also straddled the wave of African American genre flicks that flourished in the early 1970s. Here, your vampire was an African nobleman tricked into signing over his people to brutal slavers, who also cursed him as a vampire and sealed him in a coffin. He gets unearthed in the 1970s and is set loose on L.A., where he invades the club scene, struggles with the new urban slang , and falls in love with a descendant of his murdered bride. A very violent and hilarious film that is having some fun while telling a muscular vamp story. William Marshall (a Shakespearean actor with a commanding voice) makes the film work as the titular character.
“Dracula A.D. 1972” — Hammer films got in on the action by updating their Dracula series to the “Mod” London scene of 1972. They bring back Christopher Lee as the Count and pit him against a descendant of Van Helsing (once again played by Peter Cushing). This is the silliest of the Dracula flicks, with stilted dialogue and a ton of fashion disasters. Lee hated the script so much, he had the majority of his lines crossed out.
“Deathmaster” — This is what I am talking about. This film turns out to be quite timely, by having Dracula appear as a guru for a band of hippies. His love message involves turning on and dropping dead. He infects a gang of tie-dyed tree-huggers, but is thwarted by a Native American kid who rocks some awkward kung fu moves and an old soda shop guy played by the guy who voiced Piglet (John Fiedler) in the “Pooh” series. The film packed a lot of credibility for a nation that was reeling from the violence of the Helter Skelter murders perpetrated by the guru-like Charlie Manson.
“Grave of the Vampire” — We close out the year with this excellent horror/drama that predates “Blade” but tells a similar tale of a child born of a vampire and a human woman. Here, the boy grows up to be rugged 1970s star William Smith. He seeks out his dad, an occult specialist on the teaching circuit, and gets all “A Boy Named Sue” on him. Great stuff with high drama and graphic attack scenes. Written by David Chase who would go on craft even more violent family mayhem with “The Sopranos.”
These films are all super cheap on DVD and mostly withstand the test of time.
The best line comes from Mr. Chase’s script: “No tricks, no goober dust.”