In honor of Women In Horror Month, I thought I would have a look at one of my favorite Hammer Films starring my all-time favorite woman in horror. Ingrid Pitt is a star you’ve heard me rave on and on about. Interestingly enough, her horror films are very few. We’ve discussed The Vampire Lovers before and now it’s time for her other great Hammer Horror; Countess Dracula.
Countess Elizabeth Bathory is a recurring theme in horror. If you female mass murder is a history and more than likely the most bizarre and blood thirsty. Her live a door is as the female Dracula, in fact, the first extensive book written about her was entitled Dracula was a woman by Raymond T McNally, Co-writer of the book that unearthed the connection between Vlad the Impailer and Dracula in the book “In search of Dracula”.
Hammer films Countess Dracula was one of the first based on her life. Ingrid Pitt was tapped to play her in the extravagant production that would mix reality with a touch of hammer horror. Though the results are not as exciting as we hope, is a film well worth seeing nonetheless.
The film begins with Bathory an old and bitter woman. Her husband is dead and her power limited because the kingdom was left only partially to her, (the other half belonging to her young beautiful daughter). While disciplining one of her chambermaids in a brutal fashion, some blood splashes on her, making her skin young and smooth once again. Almost immediately she begins to kill her young maids, using their blood to make her young once again. With her newfound youth and beauty rather he sets out to claim the entire kingdom and rule is the most powerful woman in Europe. Batteries start several relationships, even with her own daughter’s fiancé. Obsession leads to greed and disease to greed leads to mistakes.
Ingrid Pitt is spot on in the role. The thing about her that made her so engrossing to watch was that she had a presence and power that other women did not. She never presented herself as a young silly girl and I think that's part of the reason why she endures. She was always a classy woman, sultry and sexual, but never slutty or dumb.
Hammer did it like nobody else. They made lavish looking films on minimal budgets with the same creative team year after year. This was one of their greatest strength; the other was spotting marketable beauties. Countess Dracula marks the horror debut of 70’s icon Lesley Ann Down. She plays Ingrid’s daughter and romantic rival (after Ingrid has consumed virgin blood of course). So not only two you have these two hotties, but you have a lot more in the numerous peasants that Ingrid murders.
The production value is Hammer's usual high standard and every set piece has a classic style that screams of a budget much larger than they actually had. Where does the film go wrong? That depends on the individual. Is slow at times and the title itself is a bit of a misnomer for the era considering most people would expect a traditional vampire tale coming off of Christopher Lee's long-running Dracula films.
In any case, of the many films based on Elizabeth Bathory, this is definitely one of the highlights that is worth watching for anyone curious about her and her strange and wicked legend. Did I mention that Ingrid Pitt is in it?
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