Firestarter (2022): Rapid-Fire Reaction

Some immediate thoughts on the Firestarter remake (now playing in theaters and streaming on Peacock):

*In contrast to the frenetically paced 1984 original (which, like the Stephen King novel, begins in medias res, with Andy and Charlie already on the run), the remake operates at a slow burn. The film takes the time in its opening scenes to delve into the domestic life of all three McGees: Charlie, Andy, and Vicky (who are all living without cell phones or wifi, for fear of being traced and tracked down). The parents’ struggle to raise their special child–the debate over whether to suppress Charlie’s pyrokinesis or train her how to use her abilities–makes for compelling drama.

*From the outset, the upgrade in acting (vs. the original) is evident. Zac Efron brings emotional depth and range to the role of Andy McGee, whereas David Keith in the original was a one-note character who presented as little more than a washed-out oaf. Similarly, Ryan Kiera Armstrong as Charlie proves herself to be a much more skilled performer than Drew Barrymore (whose talent at that age basically consisted of being cute). Anyone who watched Armstrong’s killer turn in the most recent season of American Horror Story won’t be surprised to find that the young actress has the chops to play a gifted/cursed child such as Charlie.

*Because of the film’s tight focus on McGee family dynamics, the Shop does get a bit shortchanged here. The story of the shadowy agency and its questionable experiments is mostly confined to an opening-credits-scene montage. A strong sense of the Shop as a sinister U.S. government operation is lacking in the remake.

*The new Firestarter does correct one of the most dubious aspects of the original, by casting an actual Native American (Michael Greyeyes) to play John Rainbird. At the same time, the remake alters the character drastically. SPOILER ALERT: This version of Rainbird was also subjected to the Lot 6 drug experiment, and developed psionic powers of his own. An unnecessary and not very rewarding development of the character, one that threatened to push the plot towards an X-Men-type showdown. But the bigger issue is that the film doesn’t seem quite sure what to do with Rainbird, and muddles matters by attempting to turn him into a quasi-sympathetic figure. Rainbird’s devious manipulation of Charlie (so central to King’s novel and George C. Scott’s portrayal in the 1984 film) is completely lost here.

*Contra the original, the climax of the remake is not terribly pyrotechnic (although the images of Charlie projecting her rage like a blowtorch are effective throughout the film). All this is in keeping with the more restrained and intimate approach of the 2022 Firestarter, and thus does not seem like a letdown or failure to live up to the fiery spectacle of the 1984 version.

*The final scene–all I will note here is that it involves Charlie and Rainbird–is one likely to polarize viewers (perhaps like none other since Hannibal). I wasn’t very satisfied by it (it’s hard to supply my reasons why without getting into spoilers), but will reserve the right to change my mind should a sequel film ever follow from it.

*1984’s Firestarter drew closely from the Stephen King novel; it played all the requisite notes, yet ultimately failed to capture the “music” of King’s narrative. The more greatly deviating remake features a stronger script, more convincing acting, and better FX than the original. By no means can it be viewed as a classic adaptation of King’s work, but the 2022 Firestarter does make for an entertaining update of its cinematic predecessor.

 

Dracula Extrapolated: Blacula

Exploring various instances of the novel Dracula‘s undying afterlife, considering specific examples in literature and visual media of the rewriting (e.g. sequels, prequels, alternate histories, shifted narrative perspectives, supporting character foregroundings) and development (elaborations/variations on the vampiric-invasion “plot”) of Bram Stoker’s source text.

 

What if Dracula was given the blaxploitation treatment?

While Bram Stoker’s Dracula–which concerns the invasion of London by a horrid Eastern European other–probes British colonialist fears, it steers relatively clear of issues of race (regrettably, Stoker resorts to racial caricature in his objectionable portrait of the African manservant Oolanga in his later novel The Lair of the White Worm). Race is made much more overt, however, in a 1972 cinematic variation, the punningly titled Blacula.

Truth be told, the film deals loosely with the Stoker source text. Its closest intersection comes in an opening sequence set at Castle Dracula in the year 1780. The African prince Mamuwalde has traveled there with his bride Luva to enlist the Count’s support in eradicating the slave trade. Behaving less like a Transylvanian nobleman than a southern plantation owner, the lascivious Dracula instead offensively offers to purchase Mamuwalde’s “delicious wife.” Called an animal by the outraged Mamuwalde, the racist Dracula retorts: “Let us not forget, sir, it is you who comes from the jungle.” To no surprise, a scuffle ensues, and Mamuwalde ends up bitten by the Count, cursed with the name “Blacula,” and sealed inside a coffin.

And there he remains for nearly two centuries, until a pair of gay interior decorators on a buying trip in Transylvania purchase the coffin and have it shipped to the U.S. A basic redux of Dracula thus unfolds, with Stoker’s novel of vampiric predation recast with black actors and restaged in 1970’s Los Angeles (a distinctly American urban scene marked by nightclubs and taxicabs). The film, though, gets tangled up in a romantic plotline seemingly borrowed from Dark Shadows, as the resurrected Mamuwalde believes the character Tina is the reincarnation of his beloved 18th Century bride Luva. Other than an offhand remark that the L.A.P.D. doesn’t investigate some strange murders too diligently because the victims were minorities, Blacula (which was directed by an African-American, William Crain) makes little use of its updated milieu, and provides scant commentary on the matter of black lives during that time period.

By no means can this subgenre flick ever be mistaken as high art. Blacula features hammy acting (although William Marshall does give a regal performance as the title neckbiter) and lousy, low-budget makeup effects (vampire minions sport garish greenface). The film is also terribly dated; the N-word is prevalent, and homosexual slurs are casually employed. But in its transplanting of the classic vampire narrative onto American soil, Blacula stands as a notable transition piece (that both looks back to Dark Shadows and anticipates Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot). A reboot reportedly is in the works, and needless to say, it will be quite interesting to see what kind of statement such a vehicle might make in the present era of more socially conscious horror filmmaking.

 

More Than a Monster

I just watched the 2021 documentary Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster (currently streaming on Shudder). Any fan of the actor’s work should hasten to do the same.

The documentary doesn’t dwell on the biographical, presenting just enough detail to bring Karloff–born William Henry Pratt–to life (interestingly, he appears to have grown up in a household terrorized by a monster). Instead, the focus here is on Karloff’s professional life, an acting career that was both long and varied, featuring standout roles in film, theater, and television. The audience gets to glimpse behind the scenes of such classic productions as Frankenstein, learning, for instance, how director James Whale’s vindictiveness left a lasting mark on Karloff. More positively, viewers are shown how a Karloff TV appearance helped inspire the smash novelty song, “The Monster Mash.”

Copious clips of Karloff’s acting are included, interspersed with commentary by directors (Guillermo del Toro, Roger Corman, John Landis, Joe Dante, Peter Bogdanovich), fellow actors (Christopher Plummer, Stefanie powers, Ron Perlman, Dick Powell), and film scholars (David J. Skal, Christopher Frayling, Gregory Mank, Leonard Maltin). The documentary doesn’t just offer a career retrospective, but also an analysis of the skills and traits that led to Karloff’s acting success. For all his embodiment of monsters and menacing criminals, Karloff had an uncanny knack for eliciting sympathy and conveying elegance. Underneath all those famous makeups applied by the likes of Jack Pierce was a dedicated thespian; perhaps more than anything else, Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster sketches a portrait of the consummate professional.

An endearing man who gave fearful performances, Karloff has left an enduring legacy, one that this wonderful documentary perfectly captures and will only help to perpetuate.

Candy Scorn

I’m always in a dark-carnival-loving frame of mind, but especially so in recent weeks with the release of Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley remake and the debut of Aaron Mahnke’s new podcast Sideshow. So when I saw that the 2019 horror film Candy Corn was streaming on Amazon, I was primed to check it out.

The film’s plot is basic: after the annual Halloween-night hazing of gawky, developmentally-challenged local Jacob Atkins (who has hired on as a carny with the traveling show currently in town) goes homicidally awry, the carnival leader Dr. Death performs an occult revivification of the victim’s corpse. Grim carnival justice ensues, as Jacob (now masked in Michael Myers-esque fashion) stalks and mows down down his bullies. This standard revenge element leads to some brutal but well-orchestrated kill scenes, which include the creatively destructive use of the titular treat (a Jacob favorite prior to his death).

The mute (and one-note) Jacob doesn’t make for a terribly interesting character. He’s easily overshadowed by the diminutive but forceful showman Dr. Death, a role embodied by Rob Zombie regular Pancho Moler. Candy Corn in many ways feels like a no-budget version of a Zombie film, right down to the grungy aesthetic and questionable perspective. It seems unsure of the horror it wants to convey, and the viewer struggles to find a character to identify with and invest in emotionally. Jacob proves more monstrous than sympathetic, and the film’s obvious final girl falls short of that role. Most confusingly, Dr. Death vacillates between a staunch defender of his carnival workers and a sinister oppressor of them.

The cast includes some notable horror actors of yesteryear (Courtney Gains, P.J. Soles, and Tony Todd–who is sorely underutilized here); seeing how much they have aged since the days of their prime is apt to make the viewer feel old, too. But the bigger issue is that Candy Corn, with its methodical pacing, moody tone, and murky morality, just leaves the viewer feeling cold.

I’d recommend this one only to the most indiscriminating Halloween horror film aficionado. All others aren’t likely to find it to their taste.

 

…And Scream Again

The Scream reboot/sequel (“requel” sounds like something you’d mix into your morning coffee) hearkens back to the original film in more than just name. This fifth installment in the slasher franchise is quite self-conscious of the dark legacy left behind by Billy Loomis and Stu Macher. The film invokes the first one in its very plot, as the latest iteration of Ghostface appears to be targeting relatives of classic Woodsboro characters. This is all extremely apropos, because the new Scream also proves the best entry in the series since the 1996 original.

2022’s Scream is the darkest in tone to date. Ghostface’s kills here are the most savage ones screened in the franchise’s twenty-five-year history (the repeated, rapid-fire knife-strikes reminded me of the stabbings often dramatized on American Horror Story). At the same time, the film is the series’ least comedic entry. This is not to say that it is devoid of laughs, only that the humor is dialed down and naturally integrated. There are no over-the-top gags or obtrusive appearances (like Jay and Silent Bob stumbling onto the scene in Scream 3).

Scream transformed the genre in the late 20th Century with its knowing appropriation and skewering of horror film conventions, and the new release continues the “meta” tradition. There is a lot of discussion of so-called “elevated” horror, including some clever reference to The Babadook. The film seems more concerned, though, with bouncing off of the in-universe Stab franchise than actual horror cinema. At least in a first viewing, the new Scream offers few of the Easter eggs (e.g. the suggestively-sweatered janitor “Fred” in the original) that supply especial visual treat for genre fans.

Of course, the film brings back its three “legacy” characters (another prominent figure from the original makes more surprising return, but this appearance might have benefited from the de-aging technology employed in The Irishman). Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott is now married with children, and serves as a motherly mentor to Woodsboro’s current most obvious candidate for final girl status. Gale Weathers is still a popular media personality, but her brash character gets toned down considerably here (the smartass in me wants to say this was because the filmmakers were worried Courtney Cox wouldn’t be able to emote through such plasticized mask). And David Arquette’s Dewey Riley has shed the fresh-faced doofiness at last and now sports the look of a grizzled ex-sheriff (dubbed a “shitty Sam Elliott” in one of the film’s best throwaway lines). These older characters come across as genuinely world-weary, not merely unenthused by the prospect of being involved in yet another town stab-a-thon. Their past run-ins with Ghostface have left them both physically scarred and emotionally exhausted.

To the film’s credit, Sidney, Gale, and Dewey are drawn back into the mix in an organic way (i.e. not immediately–Sidney herself doesn’t show up onto the scene until midway through the movie). This gives directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin the time to establish the new characters, and the investment in the younger cast definitely pays off. Anyone who has seen the previous work of Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega won’t be surprised that the actresses shine here as estranged half-sisters Sam and Tara Carpenter. Jack Quaid also gives a strong performance as Sam’s boyfriend Richie, as does Jasmin Savoy Brown as Randy Meeks’s genre-savvy niece Mindy.

Via the characters’ discussion of the Stab franchise, the film rightfully points out the real secret of the successful Scream formula: not all the dash and slash but rather the time-honored whodunit element, the mystery of the killer’s identity hidden behind mask and robe. When it comes to possible suspects, the new Scream casts a wide net; the new cast members are also quick to point the finger at one another. Personally, my biggest disappointment  is that I pegged the killer (or killers–don’t want to spoil anything here!) early on. Perhaps I’ve watched too many of these films too many times, or maybe I was just clued in because the film utilizes a plot point that echoes a certain standout slasher novel from 2021. I also regret to write that the film suffers from the same Suddenly Psycho syndrome that plagues the entire franchise, where the killer(s?) finally drop the facade and turn to manic ranting about their motivations. Just once I wish the unmasked Ghostface would take the laconic approach and simply state, “I did it because I enjoy killing.”

The film’s extended climax brings the franchise full circle in an overt and spectacularly violent manner, making loud callback to the original. This makes for a very satisfying ending, in terms of the plot of this individual effort and the series overall, as the emotional arcs of the legacy characters are brought to a moving conclusion. Like ex-boxing champs, big box-office horror franchises tend to make a few too many comebacks, but here’s hoping this is it for this particular series. 2022’s Scream does a fine job of honoring the late Wes Craven’s vision while also furnishing fresh thrills, so I can think of no better moment to leave Woodsboro be and let Ghostface fade away into slasher lore.

 

Scream: A 25-Year Retrospective

Last week marked the 25th anniversary of a film that launched a franchise and revitalized the slasher subgenre. In honor of the occasion, I recently re-watched Scream (a film so impactful that I can still recall the experience of first seeing it in theaters back in 1996). Some thoughts from the perspective of late-2021:

While never allowing the pacing to lag, Scream is an incredibly patient film. That extended opening scene takes its time, toying with the audience the same way the killer toys with Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) on the phone. Suspense is built, but the added effect is that viewers are led to believe they are watching the film’s protagonist– only to have her killed off shockingly.

After the murders of Casey and Steve in the opening, the film then waits quite a while to kill off another character (Principal Himbry). Rather than stacking up bodies, Scream devotes time to introducing the characters and interweaving their backstories (Sidney’s ongoing trauma a year after her mother’s rape/murder). The first half of the film brings the town of Woodsboro to life, giving viewers a sense of the suburban Californian community and its constituents before narrowing down to a single setting (Stu Macher’s house) in the second half.

For a late-20th Century slasher directed by Wes Craven, Scream is, remarkably, not very gory. Yes, there’s an early shot of the eviscerated Steve, and there’s a lot of stabbing, but the knife strikes are never lingered on in graphic detail (Deputy Dewey’s wounding even happens offscreen). Akin to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and John Carpenter’s Halloween, Craven’s film implies more violence (thanks to judicious editing) than is actually depicted. Perhaps this is the result of being forced to tone down the bloodshed by the MPAA, but Scream does seem willing to allow viewers to fill in the space between the “cuts” with their imagination.

All this is not to say that the movie is devoid of the set-piece kills slasher fans have come to expect. One need only point to the demise of chesty besty Tatum (Rose McGowan), a scene that earns the award for Most Fiendish Use of a Pet Door/Garage Door. Something that did strike me upon this most recent viewing, though, was how silly it was for Tatum’s body to have been left there hanging afterward for anyone to see. For all of Billy (Skeet Ulrich) and Stu’s precise planning, their failure to keep the corpse out of plain sight was fairly careless, and appeared to serve little plot purpose other than have a horrified Sidney (Neve Campbell) stumble across her friend’s murder later.

I’ve seen this film umpteen times, but it wasn’t until this last screening that I noticed that the Halloween-store costume the killer dons is actually labeled “Father Death” on the package. It’s Tatum who puts the name to what would become a pop culture icon, when she teasingly (believing one of her friends is playing a prank on her) refers to the masked/shrouded knife-wielder as “Mr. Ghostface.” Interestingly, the name is not used in the closing credits; much like “Pinhead” (who is identified only as the “Lead Cenobite” at the end of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser), “Ghostface” becomes the unforgettable moniker for the horror villain following the success of the first film in the eventual series.

Scream is renowned (justly) for its postmodern self-awareness and its thrilling action sequences, but arguably its most engrossing element is the mystery of the killer’s (or as it turns out, killers’) identity. As the slasher-savvy Randy (Jamie Kennedy) proclaims, “Everybody’s a suspect,” and the film masterfully casts suspicion upon its various characters. Sometimes this is overt, as in the case of Billy (a seeming red herring), but Craven also makes crafted use of subtlety. When the killer contacts Sidney at the Riley home, Dewey doesn’t rush out of his bedroom until just after the call is disconnected–leaving open the possibility that he was the one calling. Likewise, in another scene the camera offers a quick shot of Sheriff Burke’s boots–eerily reminiscent of the killer’s footwear when glimpsed by Sidney beneath the door of the bathroom stall. As a well-done whodunit, Scream keeps audience members on the alert and primes them to take note of the smallest detail.

The film is replete with witty repartee and wonderful sight gags (after a quarter century, my favorite remains the janitor decked out like Freddy Krueger), but never lets the meta reduce to mere satire or settles for genre-hybrid status. This is first and foremost, a horror movie. That is why my biggest critique to this day is Matthew Lillard’s performance as Stu. The character is spectacularly manic and delivers a slew of memorable lines, but is too over the top for my liking. On the one hand, Stu’s antics are revealing (this clowning kid–unlike the truly sinister and manipulative Billy–doesn’t appear to realize the seriousness of his actions); on the other, they can be jarring, taking the viewer out of the film. A 20% tone-down here might have been perfect, because too much comic relief threatens to undermine the tension.

One ostensibly under-appreciated aspect of the film is the employment of its soundtrack. The musical choices are always spot on, most notably the blaring of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” after Principal Himbry cancels classes. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ ominous “Red Right Hand” heightens the mood of anxiety. There’s also a slow, understated (dare I say “ghostly”?) use of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” in a scene when Billy climbs into Sidney’s window–in retrospect, a verbal cue that clues us into Billy’s guilt.

Inevitably, certain cultural elements (e.g. the existence of video stores) in the film now feel dated, but otherwise Scream holds up very well twenty-five years after its release. Rather than prop up cardboard standees as photogenic slasher-fodder, the film first establishes characters that the audience cares about and then places them in mortal peril. That is the formula for success in 1996, 2021, or at any other point throughout horror genre history.

 

Ribboning 2021

Another year draws to a close, which means countless year-in-review pieces are popping up all over the Macabre Republic (for me, a recall of all the great work I’ve encountered this year, as well as a reminder that I still have a lot more seek out). Here are the links for some online listings of the horror genre’s best offerings in fiction, film, and television:

CrimeReads: “The Best Horror Fiction of 2021”

Library Journal: “Best Horror of 2021”

LitReactor: “The Ten Scariest Horror Books of 2021–Ranked!”

Goodreads: “Best Horror”

Screen Rant: “The Best Horror Movies of 2021”

Film School Rejects: “The 15 Best Horror Movies of 2021”

The Lineup: “The 13 Best Horror Films of 2021”

IGN: “The 13 Best Horror Movies of 2021”

SYFY Wire: “Here Are the 16 Best Genre Shows of 2021”

Bloody Disgusting: The 10 Best Horror Television Shows of 2021; The 10 Best Horror Movie and Television Monsters of 2021; “Top 10 Horror Movies of 2021”“The Top 10 Scariest Scenes in 2021 Horror Movies”; “The Top 10 Hidden Horror Gems You Might’ve Missed in 2021”; “The 15 Best Horror Movie Performances of 2021”; “The 10 Best Horror Books of 2021”

WatchMojo: “Top 10 Best Horror Movies of 2021”

 

Nightmare Alley (Film Review)

Nightmare Alley fully immerses the viewer in its late-1930’s/early-1940’s world. The film’s settings are realized via vivid detail, starting with the traveling carnival (there’s an early scene in which protagonist Stanton Carlisle [Bradley Cooper] pursues the troupe’s escaped geek through a funhouse attraction that you know director Guillermo del Toro just reveled in creating). These carnival scenes–with their rich reds and bright lights set against a bruised-sky backdrop–benefit the most from the remake’s filming in Technicolor. Conversely, the film noir aura gets diminished somewhat (but perhaps will be restored by the promised black-and-white cut of the film).

This version is fairly faithful to the 1947 original starring Tyrone Power, in terms of both plot and character arc (Stan’s journey from carny to conning medium to spook racketeer). But it also emulates the first film in its failure to make use of the “nightmare alley” dream-visions that are so central to William Lindsay Gresham’s source novel. Considering del Toro’s roots in horror, the exclusion of this haunting influence on Stan’s character is at once surprising and disappointing.

The Nightmare Alley of 2021 is a very cold film, and not just because of its icy femme fatale Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) and its wintry New York scenes where snow seems perpetually falling. There’s a slow burn to the proceedings, as del Toro opts for very deliberate (yet never boring) pacing. The action no doubt speeds up towards the film’s conclusion, as Stan’s grandest con game goes spectacularly awry, but even these climactic moments do not play out with as much urgency as they might have (comparing them to their counterparts in the novel). The noir sense of a man caught in an ever-tightening and inescapable grip of bad fortune arguably gets underdeveloped here. Still, this does not lessen the devastating impact of the closing scene, played with tragic magnificence by Cooper.

Make no mistake: Nightmare Alley is a gorgeously crafted film, filled with stunning visuals and strong performances. But as such a polished Hollywood effort, it lacks the grittiness of the 1947 original and definitely the seediness of the Gresham novel. Absorbing and entertaining, Nightmare Alley nevertheless falls short of the greatness that seemed in the cards given the project’s assemblage of talent, both in front of and behind the lens.

 

Del Toro!

The latest episode of The Kingcast has a very special guest: writer/director Guillermo del Toro. He offers his insights on Stephen King’s horror epic IT (and the miniseries and film adaptations), as well as several other King works. Genre greats such as H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson are invoked into the discussion, and del Toro also talks about his upcoming film Nightmare Alley (incidentally, the movie tie-in edition of the William Lindsay Gresham’s source novel was published today). Smart, funny, and utterly likable, del Toro always makes for a terrific interview subject. Residents of the Macabre Republic definitely will want to give this hour-long podcast episode a listen.

 

Dracula Extrapolated: Dracula A.D. 1972

Exploring various instances of the novel Dracula‘s undying afterlife, considering specific examples in literature and visual media of the rewriting (e.g. sequels, prequels, alternate histories, shifted narrative perspectives, supporting character foregroundings) and development (elaborations/variations on the vampiric-invasion “plot”) of Bram Stoker’s source text.

 

What if Hammer modernized its Gothicism and restaged Dracula in contemporary (i.e. early 1970s) London?

As signaled by its title, Dracula A.D. 1972 (the seventh installment in Hammer Film Productions’ Dracula series) presents an update of the studio’s typically Victorian-age vampire Gothics. The film opens in the year 1872 with a terrific action sequence, as Lawrence Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) battles Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) atop a runaway carriage and then successfully stakes the vampire with a spoke from a broken wagon wheel. From here, though, the plot fast forwards a full century, centering on the revels of a circle of modern London hipsters (which includes Lawrence’s great-grand-daughter Jessica). The group’s leader is an enigmatic figure named Johnny Alucard, who talks his “friends” into finding new kicks by taking part in a black mass conducted inside a condemned church. Alucard, though, has an ulterior motive: he is a disciple of Dracula (think Renfield by way of Alex in A Clockwork Orange) seeking to resurrect the Count from his nearby grave.

When Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published in 1898, it dramatized a host of then-current anxieties (such as the rise of the New Woman and the foreign invasion of the imperial homeland). Similarly, Dracula A.D. 1972 exhibits a concern with the contemporary youth culture in all its perceived lawlessness and licentiousness. The hipster characters here check all the negative boxes, indulging in alcohol and drugs, sex and Satanic ritual. Anticipating slasher morality, however, the film has the sinners pay for their transgressions. Johnny Alucard preys on the group, by delivering its most nubile members up to Dracula’s lusty thirst and (after being vamped as a reward for his service) also by directly tapping necks himself. Jessica represents the prize catch: she is to be brought to Dracula, who will then turn her into his undead bride as he carries out his vendetta against the Van Helsing family.

But aside from employing a generational-enmity storyline, the film takes scant advantage of its updated time period. Dracula (who remains on the grounds of the ruined church while Alucard roams around London) never interacts with the modern urban setting and thus exhibits zero culture shock after awakening in a new century. The Count is the consummate (deadly) stranger, but doesn’t struggle to adjust to a strange land; he appears right at home in the Gothic ruins he haunts. The opportunity to offer something more than another redux of the vampiric seduction plot is disappointingly wasted.

While featuring some strong scenes (particularly those in which Jessica’s occult-scholar grandfather Lorrimer Van Helsing [Cushing] squares off against Alucard and Dracula), the film forms one of the weaker Hammer swings at Stoker adaptation. It was not well received by critics, but did leave quite a mark on some notable creators. Tim Burton has professed his love of the film (he splices a clip of it into Frankenweenie; also, the rousing carriage-top battle that opens the Hammer film gets a scenic echo in Sleepy Hollow). And writer Kim Newman has numbered Dracula A.D. 1972 among his favorite vampire films. So it’s no surprise that “Johnny Alucard” plays a key role in Newman’s Anno Dracula series of novels–an exemplary effort of Dracula Extrapolation that I will certainly make the subject of a future post.