Ingrid Pitt and Nigel Green star in the unimpressive Hammer Horror adaptation of the legend of Countess Bathory. Network UK R2 DVD
Middle-Ages Hungary the local Count has passed away and is being
buired, several old friends, and the Count's daughter Ilona are called
to attend, but she is delayed by several days. At the reading of the
will it emerges that the Count has left his most prized possession
to Lt. Imre Toth (Sandor Elès)
the son of an old friend, rather than the castle steward Captain Dobi
(Nigel Green). Dobi however has his eyes on the Countess herself
(Ingrid Pitt) and reveals his long held desire for her. By accident,
the Countess discovers that spilling blood on her skin can rejuvenate
her and bathes in the blood of a young servant girl, passing herself
off as her own daughter to seduce the dashing young Imre Toth. Dobi
reluctantly goes ahead with this plan, and kidnapps the real Ilona when
she arrives, locking her up with a woodsman. However, the Countess
finds that the effects of the blood are only temporary, and she needs
more victims to keep her supplied...
Into the 1970s Hammer started to experiment with new types of film -
their gothic horrors had been very popular during the 1950s and 1960s,
forming a staple of their output, and being imitated (and sometimes
bettered) by European and American filmmakers. By the 1970s however,
regulations had laxed somewhat, and the sex and violence contents of
films was rapidly increasing, particularly in Italy where the giallo films often mixed the two in very vivid combinations. Beginning with The Vampire Lovers
(1970), Hammer embarked on a series of Vampiric productions with women
in the lead roles, permitting nudity and plenty of blood. Although not
technically a vampire film, Countess Dracula
was certainly marketed as such, and is a good example of the films from
this era. The Vampire Lovers had
managed to blend some genuine horror with surprisingly erotic nudity
and lesbian tones, unfortunately Hammer's later entires to the female
vampire genre, Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil (1972) contained purely gratuitous, fleeting nudity and were completely lacking in the horror elements, and Countess Dracula
suffers from the same fate, with most of its topless scenes being from
dead women and there are no attempts to be scary. Compared to most of the
European horror films from the time (the Jess Franco films being a good
example), Hammer were incredibly conservative, and even their low
budget British rivals Tigon had realised that a poorly plotted film
could get audiences if it was filled with dozens of topless women (most
notably, The Virgin Witch (1972)). It was a real sign of Hammer's outdatedness that would lead to their decline over the next few years.
Based (very loosely) on a real figure, who is believed to have tortured
and killed several hundred young women to bathe in their blood, the
Hammer version of the story is massively toned down, with only a couple
of murders, and is much more akin to a period romance than it is to a
horror film. As a romance it is interestingly written, with the
jealousy of Captain Dobi gauged against his desires to help the
Countess whom he loves, but lacks enough characterisation for this. The pacing is quite slow, but it builds to
a rather unexpected and solid climax. Fortunately the production is solid, using
the extensive sets from the Richard Burton film Anne of the Thousand Days
(1969) to make this one of the most opulent films that Hammer ever
produced - sets such as the library are absolutely superb, and it is a
pity that they were not used more. The ageing make-up use on Ingrid
Pitt is also impressive while the direction by Peter Sasdy is decent
if uninspired, and the soundtrack by late Hammer composer
Harry Robertson (The Vampire Lovers and Twins of Evil) is nothing special.
Ingrid Pitt had come to fame with Hammer's first female vampire movie The Vampire Lovers (1970), but after being poorly advised by her agent, she passed on the sequel (Lust for a Vampire) and instead shot The House that Dripped Blood
(1971) for Amicus before returning to Hammer for her only ever top
billed performance. Playing the dual role as mother and faux-daughter,
Pitt is very impressive and manages to convince in both roles -
unfortunately the film's producers chose to dub Pitt's distinctly
European accent with a more neutral voice and the result is that the
voice sounds several years too young for the character. British
character actor Nigel Green plays Captain Dobi well, while Hungarian
born Sandor Elès is less impressive as Imre Toth although he is let
down by the script that makes his character rather a dope. There are a
few familiar faces in the rest of the cast and the performances vary.
more than watchable and boasting some of the most impressive sets in
Hammer history, alongside solid lead performances from Nigel Green and
Ingrid Pitt, Countess Dracula
is simply an unimpressive film with a script that never manages to be
either horror or romance. Ingrid Pitt fans should enjoy this film,
and most Hammer fans should find it interesting, it is not recommended.
Anyone famous in it?
Ingrid Pitt - beautiful Polish born star who made her big break in Alistair MacLean's Where Eagles Dare (1968). Nigel Green - very versitial British character actor best known for his role in the epic Zulu (1964).
Directed by anyone interesting?
Peter Sasdy - a later Hammer director who also shot Hands of the Ripper(1971) and Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) as well as several episodes of Hammer House of Horror.
Any violence or gore?
Some bloody killings and several dead bodies.
A couple of brief topless scenes.
Who is it for?
Ingrid Pitt fans, and Hammer fans should enjoy this, although there are better films for both.
Original Aspect Ratio - 1.78:1 widescreen. Anamorphically enhanced. Colour.
The disc is strong visually, with decent colours (although some
slight orange tints on many character's faces, as per the original
cinema print). No print damage and only very mild grain. It is almost identical to the earlier R2 Granada release (marginally lighter).
English mono audio - sounds fine throughout.
The disc includes:
Audio commentary with Ingrid Pitt and British horror experts Kim Newman and Steven Jones. With plenty
of interesting stories and information. New to this DVD.
The episode Peter and Maria from the British television series Conceptions of Murder starring Nigel Green - very impressive and not available on DVD elsewhere. (25 minutes)
Thriller episode Where the Action Is (1974) - a 1970s British television show with occasional horror and mystery themes. This episode
co-stars Ingrid Pitt alongside American actor Edd Byrnes in a story
about a gambler kidnapped by a wealthy business man, to gamble for his
life. An amazing build up to one of the most tense conclusions in film
or television. Certainly worth watching. (1 hour) (note: the whole
series is available on DVD from Network UK)
television segments from 1999, a well researched interview with Pitt
about her life on and off the screen (6 minutes) and a brief piece from
a local news program about the Hammer 50th Anniversary celebrations at
Bray (2 min).
Original cinema trailer. (3 minutes)
with brief notes on the film from Steve Jones, and a more detailed
segment about the Countess herself from a book by Ingrid Pitt.
Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Previously available on DVD in the US as part of the Midnite Movies line from MGM, paired with The Vampire Lovers - a non-anamorphic print, including a different audio commentary. Now out-of-print.
This print is believed to be fully uncut. English language print.
Rather a wasted opportunity, with beautiful sets and good acting ruined by a poor script and generic direction. Not recommended.
good looking and sounding film print with a very interesting good audio
commentary track and interview segment - the episode of Thriller serves as a good introduction to this series while Peter and Maria
is a fantastic chance to see this otherwise unavailable display of
acting by Nigel Green. Certainly a definitive special edition release,
and possibly worth double-dipping for Peter and Maria alone.