BR: Countess Dracula (1971)

August 16, 2014 | By


CountessDracula_BRFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label: Synapse Films

Region: A (BR) / 1 (DVD)

Released:  May 6, 2014

Genre:  Horror / Hammer Horror

Synopsis: Evil Countess Bathory must repeatedly bathe in the blood of young girls to remain young, and entice a young and wealthy soldier into marriage to reclaim her husband’s estate.

Special Features:  2003 Audio Commentary by Actress Ingrid Pitt, director Peter Sasdy, screenwriter Jeremy Paul, and Hammer Historian Jonathan Sothcott / 2013 featurette: “Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life of Ingrid Pitt” (10:45) / Archival Audio Interview with Ingrid Pitt (8:29) / Still Gallery / Theatrical Trailer / Reversible Cover Art / DVD edition.




After sharing the screen with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood in the WWII film Where Eagles Dare (1968), luscious, voluptuous actress Ingrid Pitt appeared in a pair of classic, iconoclastic vampire films for Hammer, but instead of enjoying a steady career in other genres (if not horror), Pitt’s career was downscaled to smaller roles in TV and the odd film – mostly the result of the British film industry going into freefall when Hollywood pulled out their production monies, and indigenous producers were unable to get financing to sustain domestic product on theatre screens.

Pitt’s move to television was no different than her contemporaries, but what makes her career bittersweet are the missed opportunities to further her genuine skills as an actress who could play sultry, scheming, witty, vain, and compelling women – and each of those qualities are evident in Countess Dracula, her second film for Hammer after The Vampire Lovers (1970).

Playing a version of Elizabeth Bathory, Countess is a career highpoint and a film that has aged much better than some of Hammer’s prior vampire and monster franchises. Elizabeth isn’t a vampire, but a vain creature who regains her youth when she freakishly discovers the blood of young women regenerates her skin, rendering her as young and supple as daughter Ilona (Lesley-Anne Down).

In a preposterous scheme, Elizabeth and jilted lover / castle steward Dobi (ever-reliable Nogel Green) snatch Ilona during a planned visit home, lock her in a cabin with a mute pervert, and lure / abduct victims for the countess’ special blood baths (or rather, sponge baths). Elizabeth also falls for much younger Lt. Imre Toth (over-actor Sandor Eles), the largest benefactor to her late husband’s estate, and it’s only when she plots to wed Imre as ‘Ilona’ that her vain desires go into overdrive, and the bodies start to pile up in the castle basement.

The inevitable twist ending is foreshadowed early in the film – Elizabeth’s degeneration to an increasingly older state is almost immediate once the blood baths’ effects have worn off – and it naturally happens at the worst possible moment.

What keeps the film strong and taut are the well-rounded characters and focus on the jealousies between the two men – long-suffering admirer Dobi, and young snot Imre – and Elizabeth’s jealousy of her daughter’s hopeful future, being young and able to live decades more with any man of her choosing.

There’s also the superb production design featuring some sets leftover from Universal’s Anne of a Thousand Days (1969), Harry Robinson’s strong thematic score (sadly not available in an isolated score), and Sasdy’s solid direction which includes a few delicious shock cuts (Imre shown Elizabeth patting her naked self sown with a bloodied sponge is a highlight) and trippy montages. There’s also the film’s overt bawdiness, spanning bosomy servants and hookers, and the unsubtle confinement of daughter Ilona who’s clearly been forcibly ravished by her captor.

Countess Dracula was originally released with Vampire Lovers in an Ingrid Pitt double-bill under MGM’s Midnite Movies banner back in 2003, and featured a clean transfer plus a commentary track with the late Pitt, director Sasdy, and journalist Jonathan Sothcott

New to the Blu-ray is an appreciative featurette on Pitt and her fascinating backstory (possibly born in Poland, lost her family in a Nazi concenttation camp, and studied acting in Berlin before making her debut in the Spanish shocker Sound of Horror in 1966), and a rare audio interview with the actress in which she’s very frank about Britain’s flattened film industry, and the government and industry’s unwillingness to fund indie producers hungry to work in earnest.

Even though Pitt’s voice is dubbed (rather well), Countess ranks as one of her best roles, playing a character with wit, sadness, hunger, and fueled by power – dimensions rarely found in tandem in prior or subsequent roles.

Synapse’s other HD revisitaions of Hammer’s seventies shockers include Countess Dracula (1971), Hands of the Ripper (1971), Twins of Evil (1971), Vampire Circus (1972), and the TV series Hammer House of Horror (1980).



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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