Review for Countess Dracula
I guess I was probably about 30 when I picked up my first copy of ‘Countess Dracula’ on VHS. It was one of those ‘Cinema Club’ releases I think, cropped to 4:3 and very grainy indeed. Then in 2002, aged about 40-ish, I finally replaced it with a widescreen DVD release from Carlton, part of a three in one box-set that included ‘Twins of Evil’ and ‘Vampire Circus’.
Now, aged 53, I’ve upgraded to a Blu-Ray edition – and guess what? Quite apart from the fact that this is a far superior release, with a brand new HD transfer and loads of fabulous extras, I now fully understand the frustrations of growing older and the horrible temptation to do what it takes to get young again. The difference between me and the Countess is that, quite simply, I’m not prepared to kill young virgins in order to bathe in their blood. Well, not yet anyway. So now we’ve got that out the way, on with the review.
‘Countess Dracula’ was, without doubt, Ingrid Pitt’s finest Hammer performance. More than just sharp teeth and breasts, she turns in a genuinely chilling performance as Countess Elisabeth Nadasdy, an ageing widow who discovers by accident (following the mistreatment of a servant girl who ends up getting cut after a fracas involving the temperature of a bath) that virgin's blood causes her skin to become young and wrinkle-free.
The film starts at the funeral of her husband and we can see immediately that the Countess is bored by proceedings. Just so we fully get the nature of the old bird, her carriage runs over a beggar on the way back to her castle – though this barely raises an eyebrow.
When a young soldier stays at her castle, she becomes more determined than ever to retain her youthful looks in order to win his heart. But that means slaughtering young virgins for their blood. But it gets even more complex than that.
For a start, how come she’s so young? Her own daughter is on her way back to the castle following the reading of the will, where she is due for half of everything, much to the Countess’s displeasure. She arranges to have her kidnapped and put into the home of a brutish mute in the middle of the forest. She is then free to pretend to be her own daughter and woo the young soldier.
The youthful appearance does not last and on one occasion, locked in an embrace with the young soldier she notices in a mirror that she has reverted back to an old woman, but in an even more decrepit state than ever. So she needs more blood and she needs a steady supply.
An old lover becomes complicit in the scheme as he is in love with the Countess and it is he who is tasked with bringing young virgin’s to the castle. Her faithful old maid, a somewhat simple, well-meaning woman also helps with the practicalities.
But a wise old academic, who looks after the castle’s library, begins to get suspicious. Why doesn’t the daughter look like the Father anymore? Why do you never see the daughter and the Mother at the same time? Before long the scheme starts to become unravelled and you just know you’re in for a classic, moralistic, Hammer ending.
Pitt does a great job in both roles – as a young lady full of life and as an embittered old woman. Although the film, in common with most Hammer’s, requires a healthy dose of ‘suspending disbelief’.it rattles along at a great place and remains a thoroughly entertaining 90 minutes. It’s also one of those rare films that has great re-watchability. I’ve seen in at least half a dozen times and always enjoy it.
The picture quality is good throughout – a nice, professional transfer of an old movie – though it won’t be amongst your top ten discs for demonstrating HD to non-believers. However, it’s a huge lift up from the Carlton DVD.
What I like most about this edition (hence an extra point – I would have given it a 7 otherwise) are the extra features. Some real effort has gone into making this a genuinely special edition with enough extras to justify the purchase price quite apart from the main feature. Here’s what you get.
Audio commentary with Ingrid Pitt and horror experts Kim Newman and Stephen Jones. This is great fun with Kim Newman pretty much taking the lead from the off. Ingrid Pitt sounds a little bit frail on this disc and it’s sometimes hard to hear what she is saying, especially as some of it is quite surreal. (e.g. Going to meet the producer wearing nothing but a fur coat and dropping it the floor so she could sit naked on his desk etc). Stuff that some might have preferred remained un-said! Some good perspective from both Newman and Jones though who clearly did their research.
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Archive interview with Ingrid Pitt – again, a little awkward as this was an upbeat ‘The One Show’ style interview from the 80’s (?) with Ingrid Pitt who had just released a warts and all biography. Again, her candour left the smiling interviewee a little unsure of how to react though some of the questions were a little naïve. It was moving to see the tears well into Pitt’s eyes at the discussion of her early years in a Nazi concentration camp as well as some slightly blunt questions about her treatment for breast cancer. When Pitt mentions that she had put on weight due to the effects of steroids there is an awkward Alan Partidge style ‘Oh you look great’ comment from the presenter. It’s only 5 minutes or so long, a bit awkward, but a nice inclusion.
- 50 Years of Hammer – a contemporary news feature from circa 2011 when Bray studios hosted a re-union and studio tour. Having worked frequently at Bray, and having spent time in Christopher Lee’s old office on-site, I can report that, apart from the old house and the hotel that there is very little to be gained by looking at the sound stages which look positively sad, under-utilised and industrial and which were not around at that time in any case.
- Extensive image galleries (High Definition)
- Thriller episode – a complete episode from Brian Clemen’s ‘Thriller’TV series which is available in full from Network and thoroughly recommended! 'Where The Action Is' was the last episode of Series 4, which aired in 1975. Eddie Vallance (Ed Byrnes) has been forcibly summoned to the house of Daddy Burns, a notorious gambler. Ingrid Pitt plays Daddy Burns glamourous side-kick. Fab stuff!
.- Conceptions of Murder episode – another complete archive TV episode and this one unfamiliar to me previously. Airing in 1970, this episode features a very serious Yootha Joyce (prior to her ‘Man About the House’ and ‘George and Mildred’ heyday) and Nigel Green (who played the faithful and obessed lover in Countess Dracula, Captain Dobi) in a two-hander. Green plays the part of a serial killer who, across 25 minutes, confesses to his lover that the police are closing in and that he is a serial killer. She seems less concerned that he is a murderer (it transpires that she has served time for killing someone too) but that by being unable to resist the urge he has let her down as she relies on his company and money. A very chilling and impressive 30 minutes.
-Commemorative booklet – I didn’t receive this with my check-disc so can’t comment.
All in all a fabulous edition of a great movie and well worth picking up.