Countess Dracula (1971) 

Ingrid Pitt and Nigel Green star in the unimpressive Hammer Horror adaptation of the legend of Countess Bathory. Network UK R2 DVD

The Film

In 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.

Although 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.

In Brief

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.
Any sex? 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.


Visuals 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).
Audio English mono audio - sounds fine throughout.
Subtitles None
Extras 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)
  • Two British 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)
  • A booklet 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 Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? 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.
Cuts? This print is believed to be fully uncut. English language print.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 7th September 2007. Part of Horror September 2.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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