Horror, Horror Classic

Countess Dracula (1971)

0 Comments 11 July 2014

1693222h

Studio:  Hammer Film Productions

Distributed By:  Synapse Films

Blu-ray Release:  May 6, 2014

Director:  Peter Sasdy

Rating:  PG

Reviewed By James M. Dubs

I’ll watch anything…including Countess Dracula.

When pairing the legacy of Hammer Film Productions with a title like Countess Dracula, viewers familiar with Hammer will undoubtedly expect fangs, blood sucking, bats, and maybe even a demon dog or two. Alas, viewers expecting such typical gothic trappings are sure to be displeased when none of the aforementioned items materialize. But if Countess Dracula doesn’t represent some exploitative feminist version of Count Dracula, then what is the film about? Furthermore, if it doesn’t feature a vampire or any of the other monsters that gave Hammer Horror its reputation, will Countess Dracula appeal to modern audiences and does it ultimately help or hinder the Hammer Horror legacy?

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

Countess_2The legend of the real life “Blood Countess” Erzsébet Báthory,whom was convicted and imprisoned for torturing and killing hundreds of girls between 1585-1610, is the primary basis for the title character of Countess Dracula. Like any great legend, there is most likely a mixture of real life horror and a blend of fantastical embellishment. One of the more famous rumors centers around the Countess’s vampiric tendencies and her desire to bathe in the blood of her victims to prolong her youthful beauty. Did this happen? Most likely not, but it makes for great ghost stories.

The film begins in 17th-century Hungary and recently widowed Countess Elisabeth (Ingrid Pitt) accidentally discovers that the blood of young girls holds healing and rejuvenative powers to make her young again. Bear in mind, she doesn’t drink the stuff, but with the assistance of her castle steward and lover Captain Dobi (Nigel Green) and her nurse Julie (Patience Collier), the trio hatch a plan to kidnap countless young girls so the Countess may bathe in their blood and remain endlessly young and beautiful. Unfortunately the aging effects last only temporarily so the Countess is forced to enact her crimes over and over again. To avoid suspicion, the Countess takes on the identity of her soon-to-be-returning daughter Ilona (Lesley-Anne Down), and subsequently has her daughter captured and imprisoned in a villager’s cottage to prolong her plot.

Meanwhile, the handsome Lt. Imre Toth (Sandor Eles), hero of the Hungarian army, and son of a longtime family friend to the late Count, arrives at the castle to pay his respects. He is soon introduced to a beautiful young woman, whom he believes to be Ilona (but we know to be the Countess) and they immediately begin a love affair which is met with resistance and jealousy from Elisabeth’s previous and much older lover, Captain Dobi. With a rising number of girl’s disappearing, Dobi’s increasing jealousy, and Ilona’s continued attempts to escape her captors, it becomes increasingly difficult for the Countess to keep her secrets hidden. Despite these challenges, the Countess will stop at nothing to get what she desires.

Countess_5Simply put, this movie is all about the beautiful Ingrid Pitt and her ability to carry the film as the Countess. She is incredible as both the aged and witch-like Elisabeth, contrasted against the voluptuous, amorous younger version. The rest of the cast are also quite capable and good with Nigel Green providing a delightfully imposing presence as Captain Dobi, but none quite matching the screen presence of Pitt.

Sasdy’s direction is confident, stylish, and on-point, helping to carry the narrative through a weak and puttering third act in which most of the drama and tension has already come and gone. The script, by Jeremy Paul, plays with and hints at the obsessions and frantic chasing of ageless beauty, but ultimately doesn’t follow through on many seemingly obvious through lines. Without these additional plot points and details, today’s sophisticated audience may find the story basic and dull. If we really wanted to nit-pick we could ask questions we should not ask like, if the Countess is evil enough to kill countless young girls, and imprison her own daughter for her own selfish motivations, why not just kill her daughter to remove one major risk? It’s a flaw in the writing, but one that ultimately becomes irrelevant due to Sasdy’s control of the film’s pacing and endgame.

Despite some of its shortcomings, Countess Dracula is an enjoyable little gothic melodrama, with strong performances, and most of all the gorgeous Ingrid Pitt. It sits comfortably within the Hammer catalog, not as one of its best, but far removed from one of Hammer’s worst entries. Longtime and new fans of Hammer would be safe adding the Countess Dracula blu-ray to their home media shelf.

The film is rated PG, but this is 1971 PG standards. By today’s standards the MPAA would easily rate this an R for violence, blood, and nudity.

Video & Audio Rating: ★★★★☆

Countess_6Much to my delight, Synapse Films has retained Countess Dracula‘s intended presentation aspect ratio of 1.66:1 instead of feeling pressure or obligated to fill every pixel in our 16×9 television screens of choice. What this means is that the director’s intended frame is preserved duplicating the viewing experience as it was intended. Colors are amazing, detail incredible – especially when seeing Pitt in her full aged make-up – and there is a natural level of grain that does not compete with image clarity.

Audio is a basic 2.0 stereo mix. Again, grateful that Synapse didn’t feel obligated to produce some over-the-top 7.1 surround mix that many studios like to do as a marketing ploy for older titles. The auditory needs of Countess Dracula are basic, but dialogue, sound effects, and general noise have enough balance and separation to make it natural and intelligible.

Extras Rating: ★★★½☆

Countess_9Synapse Films does it again with a helping of extras that are more than what the film probably deserves. For starters is an archived audio commentary ported over from a long out-of-print DVD from the MGM vaults. It includes the participation of star Pitt, director Sasdy, screenwriter Paul, and author/moderator Jonathan Sothcott. They discuss a multitude of topics including budgets, film inspirations, and even Pitt’s nude scenes.

Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life of Ingrid Pitt is a near 11 minute featurette that gives a very brief overview of Pitt’s incredible life spanning key points including her survival of a Nazi concentration camp, to her escape, through her cinematic life. Less than 11 minutes is not nearly enough time to delve into Pitt’s story and sometimes plays a little more like an advertisement for some of the authors featured.

Archival Audio Interview with Ingrid Pitt: There is no date stamp to indicate when or where this interview took place, but the content helps supplement the overly brief featurette. Audio is a little rough and hard to hear in spots but Pitt discusses topics ranging from her career to how WWII affected her. Running about 8:30.

The remaining extras include a Still GalleryTheatrical Trailer, and Reversible Cover Art.

The release comes with a DVD copy as well, which seems like a throw away, but may be of use as a nice coaster.

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

Countess_10By today’s standards, modern audiences might find Countess Dracula a little dull. The story runs out of steam 2/3 of the way through, but with Sasdy behind camera, and Pitt in front, the duo help carry the picture to the end. Fans of Hammer Films, or Ingrid Pitt can feel secure in picking up Synapse Films blu-ray release, especially considering the above average supplemental features that accompany a striking feature presentation.

Author

- who has written 67 posts on UnRated Film Review Magazine | Movie Reviews, Interviews.

James Dubs is a father and husband who loves his family first and movies a close second. He believes every movie is worth watching once and, as a film fan and critic, believes that even the worst movies offer something in return. His mission is to watch anything and report without pretension. Follow James Dubs on Twitter and send him suggestions on movies you would like reviewed - popular, obscure, independent, etc. He'll watch anything for you.

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