Saturday 21 March 2020

Dark Eyes Retrovision #21 - Dracula A.D. 1972 (UK 1972: Dir Alan Gibson) plus (sort of) interview with Caroline Munro

You don't get to see films from the Hammer House of Horror on the big screen that often, so a one off showing of the first of the two 'modern' Dracula movies, directed for the company by Alan Gibson, together with a Q&A with the great Caroline Munro, was a no brainer.

As the years roll on I become more and more disposed to this Hammer 'oddity' and its follow up The Satanic Rites of Dracula. For the few of you who may not have seen this, D A.D. 1972 takes place, as the title suggests, in (then) modern day London. Following an 1872 prologue in which Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) and Dracula (Christopher Lee) slug it out in a fight to the death; firstly Dracula's death, courtesy of a carriage wheel spoke in the heart, and then Van Helsing's due to wounds sustained. But handily one of Drac's disciples is there to harvest the ring and the dust for safe keeping and eventual revival.

Forward one hundred years, and the great-grandson of the disciple, Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame, who was in both roles) encourages a group of trendy young things to take part in a black mass at the nearby church. Among their number are Van Helsing's great great (I think) granddaughter Jessica (Stephanie Beacham) and with-it Laura Bellows (Munro). At the mass Laura is sacrificed and Dracula returns, eventually to square off with Jessica's grandfather Lorrimer (Cushing again) and die at the vampire hunter's hands...again. That's a very rushed synopsis - if you've not seen it, you're better off pausing this read and coming back afterwards.

Caroline was interviewed by Robin Osmani - here's a transcript of excerpts from the interview:

RO: This was your first film for Hammer I think, and you were a model beforehand. How did you get the part in the film?

CM: We shot it in 1971 and I'd just started the Lamb's Navy Rum campaign, and Sir James Carreras used to travel by train between London and Brighton and saw all the posters up. Much to my father's dismay...he worked in the City as a solicitor and the first time he saw a 30 foot poster of his daughter in a very unzipped wetsuit it gave him quite a shock.

RO: So you were spotted through that poster?

CM: I'd done several things before and they'd seen some of my work, so then I went to meet Sir James and Michael Carreras - I think I was screen tested, and got the part, and had a contract with them for a year, which was unusual for the time. I was lucky to do two films for Hammer.

RO: This film is about a group of young people. Now you were a young person at the time, living the swinging London life...did you do much dancing on tabletops in silver hotpants?

CM: Not really. I didn't swing a lot. I was there, and worked with Twiggy etc. I didn't swing at all actually. The lady in the silver hotpants, (Maureen) Flanagan (uncredited in the movie) was a girlfriend of the Krays, or hung around with them, and Glenda Allen (another uncredited girl in the film) was my stand in for several other films after that. They looked splendid in hotpants.

RO: I believe this film was loosely based on a true story that had happened a few years before - the story of the Highgate Vampire?

CM: Do you know what, I didn't know that!

RO: I'm going to throw this open to the audience now.

Audience: The opening scene, where you crash the posh boy's party, looked like a lot of fun. Was it?

CM: It was a lot of fun. I was very nervous to work with all these amazing actors, it was quite overwhelming but they made me feel so welcome, all the young Britpack. That opening scene was down to Alan Gibson, an extraordinary director who left us far too young. He knew exactly what he wanted and he was wonderful to work with. He made that scene very loose and I think it has that feeling - they had the cameras roaming round and it was very much ad libbed. We danced to 'Stoneground' who were playing live and you can get the atmosphere of that. I feel having looked at it again that all that came across. It had a very vital feel to it.

RO: Were 'Stoneground' last minute replacements for 'The Faces'?

CM: When I arrived on set 'Stoneground' were already the band, but I heard quite a bit later that 'The Faces' were meant to do it. It would have been interesting to see 'The Faces' as they had a very different music. But I thought 'Stoneground' looked perfect for the time because that's the way they dressed - it had a rawness.

Caroline Munro (left) and Robin Osmani in conversation
Audience: My name's Sarah Gibson - Alan Gibson was my dad! I saw this event on Facebook at lunchtime today on 'Quirky Days Out,' my workshift was swapped by accident so I was free. I just thought this was amazing and we had to get here and see it (audience applauds). I think my dad worked this whole thing out so I could come  and see his movie!

RO: Didn't he do an amazing job?

SG: Well it's had mixed reviews, both this and SRoD, but Hammer paid my school fees! I've seen it before, but not for a long time and as a daughter you think 'oh it's a bit bad, really' but it was amazing to see it tonight. I was there (on set) at 10 years old, and my big story was that Dracula offered us chewing gum and I was the only one that took it.

Audience: I've got a question about Marsha Hunt (Gaynor in the movie, and ex of Mick Jagger) - did you ever meet Mick Jagger?

CM: Yes I did. I did a film before this called G.G. Passion in the 1960s, shot by David Bailey, his girlfriend at the time was Chrissie Shrimpton who was the lead in the film - I was an extra. He used to come to the set quite a bit with the others. I'm very shy by nature but they were charming. I love their music.

Audience: Could you tell us about what it was like working with Hammer as opposed to, say, Amicus?

CM: Working with Hammer was an extraordinary experience because you only had four weeks to shoot, so not a lot of preparation there, and the budgets were tiny, so you had to get everything on screen, maybe £200,000 for a 4 week shoot? It was not a lot of money, but it was like working with a family, because the director and producers tended to use the same crew, so they were very much in alignment as to how they worked together and got on. It worked like clockwork and they were so friendly. To me filmmaking has always been about teamwork - I'm a team player, and I love the feeling of being on set and your dad (Alan Gibson) was fantastic with that, he worked so hard with the crew. Amicus was different. Again it was small budgets and I worked with Peter (Cushing) in At the Earth's Core and I loved that. Again a small budget but everything was on the screen - you didn't get paid a huge amount - the money was not flowing like people imagine.

Audience: What was it like working with Christopher Lee?

CM: Quite extraordinary. I was very nervous and young and I hadn't done a lot, and at my request I didn't want to see Christopher - we'd been chatting and I was doing my knitting, which I used to do between takes - but I hadn't seen him in his full regalia and wanted that surprise, to give that reaction, because that's the way I like to work. I found him wonderful to work with and his stories were extraordinary. They were like chalk and cheese, Peter and Christopher, they were so different as men but it just blended, it really worked when they got together - there was a kind of electricity, a chemistry on screen that was indefinable.

RO: You've worked with Christopher Lee, Vincent Price etc. Of all the people in that genre, horror wise, who did you like working with the most?

CM: It's tricky because they were all so different. I worked with Peter twice but I was also lucky enough to work with Paul Naschy and also Jess Franco. Again they were all different and all masters of their craft. I loved working with Vincent although I would have liked to have actually spoken to him in the film rather than just lie beside him, which was actually very nice - he was just charming. It's very difficult to choose. I suppose I got to know Peter the best, because I spent five weeks with him on AtEC, so I got to know him really well and he was so sweet. If we got a ten minute break between takes we used to sit and have tea - he used to have a little table which he set out, with china cups, and I'd join him for tea - and he'd wear his little white gloves.

Audience: Lee made it no secret that he wasn't very happy about the modernisation of the Dracula character - did you get a sense that he was unhapppy when filming D A.D. 1972?

CM: I didn't get a sense at all and I didn't hear anything about it on the set, because he was a consummate professional. I don't think he would bring that to the set - whether he did to the producer and with the director I don't know, but he just got on with it. He was sweet with me; he told me "Caroline, I think yours are the nicest legs I've ever had to work with." I thought, what a compliment - he probably said that to all the ladies!

Audience: There's a certain amount of revisionism that goes on around Hammer films. Some people think that the youth slang used in the film was rather 'past it' by the time the film was in production. Was there a sense among the cast that that was felt or did you just go with it? (Good question, mainly because it was asked by me. Ed)

CM: Quite honestly we just went with it. I'd never said words in my life like "that'll be a giggle" - we just got on with it and did it the best we could. Obviously it's quite a kitsch film now when you look back on it but having said that it had a vital feel about it - it felt alive, and with Peter and Christopher they added a kind of gravitas, and then we came along (the younger cast) and the music came along and the dialogue was 'wacky.' The film has gained legs in its longevity - I look back on it now with such fondness.

(To Sarah Gibson in the audience) Did your dad ever talk about that?

SG: No not much about it.  I know some people (directors) like to 'forget' because you move on to something else, but I do know the two Dracula films were something he enjoyed. It was the Hammer family. He did Crescendo as well.

CM: Yes, you always looked forward to seeing them again - it was the same crew.

SG: Yes, my mum always said that she knew the (crew) names from the phone messages.

CM: It was of its time - there was such a lot of heart and joy in those films - but I so wish it was here today. Well it (Hammer) is here today but in a very different way.

Audience: Everyone tonight has been talking about the past. What is in the future for you?

CM: I've been quite busy actually. We showed The House of the Gorgon here last year, which also included my daughter (Georgina Dugdale) - that was a small budget film with a lot of heart made by a young director, and we're doing another one at the beginning of July. It's to be set in Whitby, again with Joshua (Kennedy) at the helm. I did another one called The Haunting of Margam Castle (directed by Andrew Jones) and that was shot in Wales with a good crew and Derren Nesbitt and Jane Merrow (and Judy Matheson). That'll be coming out later in the year (probably to a supermarket near you if Jones's past product is anything to go by. Ed). I love working with new young directors.

Audience: Was the scene at the church (in D A.D. 1972) shot in the studio or on location? And secondly did you enjoy the blood soaking scene?

CM: (re the blood soaking scene) Messy! I kind of didn't notice as I was so caught up with doing what I was doing, but I do remember it was Kensington Gore and I remember in the evening I was meant to be hosting a dinner, so I had a bit of a shower, but it's tricky stuff to get off. So I jumped in my Mini, headed out from Pinewood and then (Caroline makes the sound of a police siren) I was being flashed because I was speeding. They pulled me over and they looked at me and they said "What is wrong with you? You've got blood all over you!" I said "I've just been working with Dracula, I'm sorry I'm in a bit of a hurry and have to get home and cook the dinner." After a bit of umming and arring they let me go.

The church was a studio set, but what an amazing set - very spooky.

RO: Caroline, you've had quite a musical string to your bow. You've worked with Steve Howe, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and that's to name just a few. Didn't you used to speed down Pall Mall with Mr Baker?

CM: We only did it once. We'd been in the studio and we were rushing to get to a press conference. We were in his Jag. He said "I'll give you a lift Caroline" to wherever we were going and we didn't have seatbelts in those days - it was the 1960s. So I jumped in the car and we went at 90 miles per hour in his lovely silver blue Jag (Caroline is referring to a single she made in 1967 called 'Tar and Cement' and the backing band on the single comprised Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Steve Howe - you can hear it here). (The singing) was only by default: my dad used to travel up from Rottingdean to London with Sidney Beecher-Stevens, head of Decca. Sidney knew I could sing a bit in the church choir and asked "would Caroline like to come in? I've got a new producer caller Mark Wirtz and a song she might like to do." So I found myself in Abbey Road studio. The B side of the single is interesting. It's called 'This Sporting Life.' So I was a 16 year old girl from a convent and I was singing a raunchy, blues song, and the boys sound great on it.

RO: (back to D A.D. 1972) Did you get on with Stephanie Beacham and Marsha Hunt?

CM: we got on so well. I saw Stephanie fairly recently - just before Christmas. I used to pick Marsha up in my car and give her a lift to the studio.

RO: I believe that the same year the film was made Stephanie Beacham posed for Playboy magazine. For research purposes only I had a look! Were you ever approached by Playboy?

CM: I was actually. It was after Bond (1977 and The Spy Who Loved Me). I was asked if I'd like to do it and I thought about it. I think I met the photographer and they said it would be done very nicely and I told my granny, who would have been almost 90 at that point. I asked her what she thought and she said "Oh yes. How much money are they offering?" I told her that it was quite a lot of money and she said "Oh, definitely do it!" But I said no. I just didn't want to do it.

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