COUNTESS DRACULA (1971)
Directed by Peter Sasdy
Available on Blu-Ray
In medieval Hungary, bitter and aging Countess Elisabeth Nadasdy is grieving after the death of her husband. After a scuffle with the chambermaid leaves the countess splattered with the young woman’s blood, she’s shocked to discover the youthful effect it has on her skin. Keen to return to her former good looks, she forces her chief maid Julie and lover Captain Dobi to ensnare victims for her to bathe in the blood of in the hopes to woo the charming young soldier that has bequeathed part of her late husband’s property.
Hammer Horror movie COUNTESS DRACULA is inspired by 16th century serial killer, Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who’s torturous practices in order to keep a youthful appearance earnt her the nickname The Blood Countess and Countess Dracula. In this cinematic re-telling, scream queen Ingrid Pitt stars as the bitter old hag who accidentally comes across the formula for youthful beauty but like all things that seem too good to be true, the effects are only temporary. So with her eye on a handsome young man in the form of Lieutenant Imre Toth, she begins her quest to become beautiful and youthful and passes herself off as her daughter Countess Ilona, a young woman who hasn’t been seen since having been shipped off abroad when she was six years old. Stuck in the middle of this love affair is Captain Dobi, the Countess’ lover. Having been by her side for 20 years, he now has the ability to be with the woman he loves but is forced into the role of procurer of young women for the Countess whilst she throws herself at another man. With the regular need to replenish her supply of blood to bathe in, it isn’t long before her murderous actions eventually catch up with her.
COUNTESS DRACULA is essentially a love triangle tale, where two men love the same woman but Dobi loves the older version of the Countess whilst Toth adores the younger one. With Countess Elisabeth, a vain creature who wants to remain beautiful, having sampled youth once again, the thought of being old and no longer pretty is not an option. Hats off to the make-up team for turning stunner Ingrid into a convincing wrinkly hag to play the older Countess, with Ingrid able to shed her applied facial makeup to portray the youthful Countess, eager to seduce the young Lieutenant Toth. She embodies the role well, coming across as one persona as Countess Elisabeth and another as ‘Ilona’, representing the two sides to the Countess. Dashing Sandor Elès stars as fresh-eyed Toth whilst Nigel Green intimidates as Captain Dobi, a man who’ll do anything to reclaim his woman.
COUNTESS OF DRACULA features boobs and bloodshed but compared to horrors of today, there’s nothing here that would make you squirm as such. Regardless of the lack of gratuitous torture scenes, the film is an effective horror tale in its own right with the Countess’ despicable doings enough to disturb the viewer. Like most good versus evil plots, the engaging story leaves the viewer keen to see the Countess brought to justice for her crimes.
Network Distributing have released COUNTESS DRACULA on Blu-Ray as part of their British Film Collection and the high definition transfer is fantastic. The Blu-Ray also comes with a selection of extras including audio commentary with Ingrid Pitt and horror experts Kim Newman and Stephen Jones, image galleries, the original theatrical trailer, a news featurette and two episodes (Thriller and Conceptions of Murder). There’s also an archive interview with Ingrid Pitt where she talks a little about being brought up in a concentration camp, something which she goes into more detail in her autobiography, Life’s A Scream.
There’s plenty to enjoy about COUNTESS DRACULA, from the period sets and costumes to the marvellous performances from the cast involved. Though the true story of Elizabeth Bathory may be more horrific than depicted here on screen, there’s just enough here to give you a fright… and the odd giggle too.