The 70's were a crazy time
Hammer Films is a film production company based in the United Kingdom. They are best known for their “Hammer horror” series of movies from the 60's and 70's that focused on classic stories such as Frankenstein, The Mummy, and Count Dracula. They've had a recent resurgence in new movies with the acquisition of the library by Cyrte Investments. Many horror fans are well versed in Hammer's films, but they are almost completely unknown to me. What better way to dive in than with a classic, Countess Dracula?
Countess Dracula is a 1971 horror film starring Ingrid Pitt (Where Eagles Dare, The House That Dripped Blood) as Countess Elisabeth Nadasdy. After the death of her husband, Elisabeth attends his will reading with Captain Dobi (Nigel Green, Zulu, Jason And The Argonauts), the castle steward, Master Fabio (Maurice Denham, Oliver Twist, Hysteria), the historian, and a strapping young soldier named Lt. Imre Thoth (Sandor Eles, The Evil of Frankenstein, The Saint). Lt. Thoth receives the Count's horses, much to the chagrin of Captain Dobit and the countess, who are secretly lovers. After an accident with a servant girl, Elisabeth discovers that the blood of the servant restored her youth and beauty. She enlists Captain Dobi to acquire girls to murder in order for her to bathe in their blood. To explain her rejuvenated state, Elisabeth assumes the identity of her daughter, Ilona, who has been stuck on the other side of the river due to floods. Elisabeth seduces Lt. Thoth and they fall in love. Fabio is suspicious and finds a book that talks about blood sacrifice. He informs Elisabeth that only the blood of virgins will work. Fabio tries to tell Thoth the truth, but Dobi kills him and makes it look like suicide. What will happen to Lt. Thoth if he marries Elisabeth and what if the real Ilona finally arrives?
It gets awfully drafty in these old castles
When you hear the title “Countess Dracula,” you immediately think of a female version of Dracula, neck-biting, turning into a bat, and lurking in the shadows with a cape. Sadly, we don't get that, but the title is actually quite accurate as this movie is essentially the story of Countess Erzsebet (Elisabeth) Bathory. It is believed that Countess Bathory killed hundreds of virgins and bathed in their blood to retain her youth and beauty. Since she is the basis for Dracula, the title is probably more apt than most horror movies. The movie brings to mind old versions of Robin Hood, with great looking costumes and sets. I don't know if they are particularly accurate, but they look good nonetheless. The story itself, though, is pretty much by-the-numbers. You have a pretty good idea of what is going to happen and to call this movie “horror” is a bit of a stretch. It's not scary so much as it is unnerving at points, like Elisabeth's addiction to virgin blood and the countess's maid Julie expressing not wanting to ever leave the castle.
What helps the movie most is Ingrid Pitt. She is absolutely beautiful, even more so when you see the transition between her old makeup and her actual face. She puts on a very good performance and I was shocked to find out that her voice had actually been dubbed. I have no idea why, but it didn't hinder her portrayal in the movie. Nigel Green is very good as Captain Dobi and Sandor Eles plays his part just as well. There are a few scenes of nudity, far more than there are scenes of violence. I can't really complain about that, so I won't!
I was expecting a vampire movie when I decided to watch Countess Dracula and was a bit disappointed when there was no blood sucking. Essentially a story about Countess Bathory, you pretty much know what is going to happen, so there is not a lot of mystery or excitement. What sets it apart is the very good acting all around and the fun costumes and sets. If you're like me and you're not well-versed in Hammer horror, Countess Dracula is a good starting point. It won't blow you away, but you'll still enjoy the movie for what it is.