Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Synapse Films' latest Hammer Blu-ray release is 1971's COUNTESS DRACULA, directed by Peter Sasdy and starring Ingrid Pitt.

Despite the title (and the film's original ad campaign), COUNTESS DRACULA has nothing to do with Dracula, or vampires whatsoever. The movie's story is based on a real-life Hungarian Countess who lived during the Middle Ages--Elizabeth Bathory, who according to legend murdered hundreds of young girls and bathed in their blood.

Ingrid Pitt plays the aged Countess (in this story named Elisabeth Nadasdy) who soon after the death of her husband discovers she can regain her youthful beauty through a young girl's blood. The Countess also discovers that her beauty is not permanent, and she must have more and more blood to stay youthful.

The Countess eventually has her own daughter kidnapped by the devoted Captain Dobi (Nigel Green) and begins to pose as her, attracting the attention of a young lieutenant (Sandor Eles). But all the various murders and deceptions come back to haunt the Countess.

COUNTESS DRACULA was meant to be a follow-up to Ingrid Pitt's huge success as Carmilla in Hammer's THE VAMPIRE LOVERS. The role of the Countess was certainly a great showcase for her....unfortunately her voice was dubbed in the final film. Pitt gives an excellent performance but one can only wonder how much better it could have been with her own voice on the soundtrack. (Why Hammer would dub the voice of an actress they were trying to build up as a new star makes no sense, especially considering that Pitt was an actual native of Eastern Europe.)

The vastly under appreciated Nigel Green steals the film (just like he did in ZULU and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS). His role as Captain Dobi is a complex one, as the character is in love with the Countess before she regains her beauty and totally loyal to her--despite the fact that he is repulsed by her actions. Green has enough screen presence to make Dobi believable despite his conflicting persona.

COUNTESS DRACULA is really more of a historical melodrama than a straight horror film (we see more gypsy dancing than we do severe bloodletting). The movie is more along the lines of Hammer's earlier RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK. I'm sure there were plenty of viewers back in 1971 who were disappointed that this was not a full-fledged vampire thriller. There's really very little gore (this movie was actually rated PG!), and by the end of the tale it seems to play out like a costumed soap opera. Peter Sasdy gives the movie plenty of style and ambiance (just like he would for two other Hammers he directed, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA and HANDS OF THE RIPPER), and COUNTESS DRACULA looks way better than most Hammer product released during this period. It's not a bad movie...but when you have the combination of Hammer and the legend of Elisabeth Bathory, one expects a lot more.

COUNTESS DRACULA had been previously released on DVD under MGM's "Midnite Movies" line. Synapse's Blu-ray is a major improvement, showing off the lush costumes and sets and making Ingrid Pitt look more gorgeous than ever (that is, when she's not being a horrific old woman). The sound (in DTS 2.0 mono) is very vibrant for a film of this type. There's also some impressive extras, courtesy of Ballyhoo Productions. These include a seven-minute stills gallery, a ten-minute featurette on Ingrid Pitt's film career (one wishes this had been way longer), and a eight-minute archival interview with Pitt (unfortunately the disc cover provides no information on when and where this interview was recorded). Also included is the audio commentary which accompanied the original COUNTESS DRACULA DVD. This features Ingrid Pitt, Peter Sasdy, and screenwriter Jeremy Paul. This package also includes a DVD of the film.

COUNTESS DRACULA isn't the best Hammer movie ever made, but Synapse has done a fine job in making this feature look and sound fantastic.

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