Countess Dracula (1971) [31 Days of Hammer Horror Review]

Jules picks up where he left off in October by running through some of the choice horror offerings from the fantastic Hammer back catalogue.

You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of Hammer” by CLICKING HERE.

Released: 1971
Starring: Ingrid Pitt, Nigel Green, Sandor Elès
Director: Peter Sasdy

In 1970’s The Vampire Lovers, Hammer had discovered a real star in Ingrid Pitt, so it was no real surprise they wasted no time in casting her in a lead role once again.

The Polish actress irresistible mix of charisma, sex appeal and intensity made her a commanding presence on screen and it is in Countess Dracula that she gives one of her most memorable performances.

In 17th-century Hungary, Countess Elisabeth Nádasdy accidentally discovers the secret of eternal youth- bathing in the blood of young women. With her lover Captain Dobi (Nigel Green) and servant Julie (Patience Collier) acting as willing accomplices, the trio take to abducting women to feed the Countess’ growing need for blood, as the effects are proving to be only temporary.

While having an affair with the younger officer Imre Toth (Sandor Elès), Elisabeth begins to impersonate her own daughter, the Countess Ilona (Lesley Anne Down) returned from abroad, whom she has had Dobi abduct and hold captive in the woods.

It’s not long before the bodies start piling up though, as only virgin blood will do and the Countess, who gets uglier every time she gets old, must remain young and beautiful at all costs…

Coming over more a historical drama than a horror film at times, Countess Dracula actually tones down the true story of Elisabet Bathory by some margin, much to the chagrin of Pitt herself who felt it needed more cruelty and a lot more blood.

She was right of course, but she manages to carry what could have been a fairly pedestrian historical horror almost by herself. There’s an energy there that she brings to every scene, more than mere looks alone, that means it’s hard to take your eyes off her.

It’s a beautifully shot film too, with lush design bringing to vibrant life everywhere from the opulent castle to the ramshackle cabin in the woods, while all manner of camera flourishes add a real sense of dynamism to the proceedings.

Neat filters, slow motion scenes and strange angled shots all keep the action flowing, but best of all is the wonderfully sudden dissolve to red as Elisabeth murders the gypsy fortune-teller (Nike Arrighi). Filling the screen as the unfortunate girl is stabbed in the neck, it fades again to the glorious colour of a newly-rejuvenated Countess riding out into a beautiful sunny afternoon. Delightful.

Sure, it’s horrific subject matter could do with some more horror, but as a supernaturally-charged historical, Countess Dracula works well enough. It’s basically a showcase for the talents of Ingrid Pitt, and we can only wonder just how much better it would be if she had gotten her (bloodthirsty) way during production.

Rating: 3/5

JULESAVThe Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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