Countess Dracula (1971) | Ingrid Pitt loses her voice in Hammer’s historic take on the Elisabeth Báthory legend
History and horror collide in Hammer’s 1971 chiller, Countess Dracula, in which Ingrid Pitt – who proved a big hit in Hammer’s The Vampire Lovers (1970) – took on the role of the elderly widowed Countess Elisabeth Nadasdy, who discovers that bathing in virgin’s blood restores her youth.
In his second feature for Hammer following Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), director Peter Sasdy drew his story from the research of historian Gabriel Ronay and The Bloody Countess, Valentine Penrose’s 1962 biography of the real-life 17th-century Hungarian serial killer Erzsébet Báthory, who was convicted in 1611 of murdering 80 young women, but suspected of killing hundreds more.
Nigel Green plays the smittened Captain Dobi, who supplies his cruel mistress with victims, while a youthful Lesley-Anne Down is Elisabeth’s daughter Ilona, whose identity her mother steals so that she can win over Sandor Elès‘ hunky Hussar, Imre – much to the annoyance of poor Dobi. However, when Imre learns of the Countess’ blood lust, he is unable to tear himself away from her, and their wedding plans go ahead – with suitably tragic results.
Ingrid Pitt does her best to covey the mad Countess’ all-consuming desire for youth, even if it means the death of her own daughter – talk about taking vanity too far! However, that’s not Pitt’s voice you hear in the film, as she was overdubbed in post-production. It was a costly decision that deeply upset the Polish-born actress, who soon parted ways with the studio and refused to speak to the director ever again. But then, had she stayed, she may never have ended up in Robin Hardy’s 1973 cult classic, The Wicker Man…
Released in the UK in January 1971, audiences were also unimpressed with the results. Coming out just a couple of months after the surprisingly sadistic Scars of Dracula and at the same time as the bosom-heaving Lust for a Vampire, Countess Dracula just didn’t cut it in the horror and sex stakes.
It’s a shame because it looks impressive (the spacious sets and costumes were purloined from the Tudor epic Anne of a Thousand Days), has an intelligent script and a splendid cast. It’s just more of a historic set piece than your usual Hammer horror fare. A truly impressive take on the Báthory legend however came the following year, with Harry Kumel’s erotic 1971 Belgian masterpiece Daughters of Darkness. Sasdy’s next film for Hammer, however, was a much more grisly affair – the underrated Victorian psycho thriller Hands of the Ripper (check out my review here).
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Network Distributing Blu-ray release features the film in a High Definition transfer from the original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio. The special features, except a new gallery, also appeared on Network’s 2006 Special Edition DVD release, and are in standard definition.
• Audio commentary with Ingrid Pitt and horror experts Kim Newman and Stephen Jones. While this also appeared on Network’s 2006 DVD release, its worth including here as Ingrid Pitt has since left us, having passed away shortly after her 73rd birthday on 23 November 2010.
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Archive interview with Ingrid Pitt (Tonight, 1999, 6min)
• 50 Years of Hammer – news feature about the celebrations (Meridan TV, 1999, 2min)
• Thriller episode: Where The Action Is featuring Ingrid Pitt (60min). The whole series is also available through Network (click here for info).
• Conceptions of Murder episode: Peter And Maria: a 1970 play about mass murder with Nigel Green (25min)
• Extensive image galleries (New and in HD)
• Commemorative booklet
Posted on September 3, 2014, in Hammer-Amicus-Tigon, Horror, Might See, Might-See and tagged 1970s Hammer horror, Countess Dracula, Elizabeth Báthory, Erzsébet Báthory, Hammer Films, Hammer-Amicus-Tigon, Horror, Ingrid Pitt, Network Distributing, Peter Sasdy. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.