Countess Dracula (1971 United Kingdom)

Despite its misleading title, this is a rendition of the exploits of Elisabeth Bathory–a Hungarian noble woman who killed around 650 girls in the 16th century. She believed bathing in their blood would restore her youth. The film’s feel of Hungary circa that time is convincing throughout, perhaps because director Peter Sasdy, producer Alexander Paal and romantic lead Sandor Eles were all native Hungarians. In a role at one time earmarked for Diana Rigg, Ingrid Pitt is frostily sinister as the elderly Countess and fulsomely passionate as the younger one, despite Hammer Studios re-dubbing her dialogue by another actress. 

For exploitational value, though, the film offers up ample naked flesh to satisfy any red-blooded male; indeed just about all of the female cast are required to lose their clothes at various intervals (Countess Dracula was one of the films to usher in the “new wave” of Hammer horror, along with The Vampire Lovers: films which followed in their wake were made more appealing to the general public by the liberal inclusion of gore and nudity wherever possible). However, the main strength of this movie is its visual power; director Peter Sasdy gives it a unique style all of his own which effectively conveys moods of decay, regret and sadness. Physically, the film is very colourful in places (when involving the young lovers), grey and gloomy in others; the photography is sharp and really helps to bring out the atmosphere of the castle in which this film is set. Incidentally, the sets were left over from a bigger production which accounts for the whole expensive look to this film. Add to this the authentic-looking costumes and village scenes, and you have a great-looking production.

Leading the supporting cast is Nigel Green (The Face of Fu Manchu) who is very good indeed as the complex, lovelorn Captain Dobi, who worships Pitt but is snubbed by her every day. He is splendidly imposing and wears the biggest busby ever to grace the screen. Maurice Denham is also on hand as an amusing librarian and makes a very atypical and interesting character out of his role. Sadly, the younger performers are less convincing. Lesley-Anne Down is pretty but vapid as Pitt’s daughter, while Sandor Eles is nothing more than a male pin-up, all looks but no brain; his dumb attitude threatens to have the whole film crashing down in places, and it’s a good thing that the cunning Green is there to sort him out. But the story is flawed by the inclusion of some laughably cheesy love scenes between the wooden Eles and Pitt. At each of these moments, loud soapy music plays on the soundtrack. Its hard not to at least smirk during these. One other actor I have to mention is the guy playing the moustachioed gamekeeper; he’s one of the funniest bit-actors I’ve ever seen! Check the moment where he attempts to lick a woman’s shoe or the various amusing expressions on his face – hilarious!

When it comes to the steamy scenes the top body on display honour goes to Andrea Lawrence, who plays prostitute Ziza. And what a splendid prostitute she is…But it seems to me that sometimes this film works on a purely soap-opera level, what with all the love triangles, lust, and passion on display. But underneath all this are subtle undercurrents about the price people are willing to pay to stay young and the dangers of hiding your true self from those you care about. Jeremy Paul’s complex script makes an anti-hero of its central character, revelling in Pitt’s villainy whilst petitioning audience sympathy for the consequences of her sickening deceit. Countess Dracula also has a superb ending, a simple freeze-frame on the horrible face of a decayed Pitt, which is both chilling and fascinating in equal measure. This marks the end of what has been an intelligent and highly interesting movie; although it lacks the pacing and excitement of a routine Hammer film, it more than makes up for this in terms of visual brilliance and an offbeat tone. Worth tracking down. 🙂


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