Friday, May 30, 2014

COUNTESS DRACULA (1971) Blu-ray Review

Countess Dracula (1971) d. Peter Sasdy (UK)

Despite the slightly misleading title (no actual bloodsuckers ever show up), there is one very good reason to check out Synapse’s latest DVD/BR release of Countess Dracula and her name is Ingrid Pitt. Though the previous year’s The Vampire Lovers will likely remain her greatest onscreen triumph within the eyes of the horror faithful, the buxom and charismatic Polish-born actress sinks her unfanged teeth into the role of the notorious real-life Erzebet Bathory (or Elisabeth Nadasdy, as she’s called here) with equal gusto.

Following her husband’s death, the hard-hearted and merciless Countess discovers that the blood of virgins can restore her aging and wrinkled flesh; in fact, a particularly sanguinary spell of bathing transforms her so much so that she is mistaken for her absent daughter Ilona (Lesley-Anne Down). Elisabeth seizes the opportunity to regain her lost youth, but as the rejuvenating qualities are temporary, the bodies of young maidens are soon piling up higher and higher within the castle walls. (In keeping with the times, there’s considerably more flesh than blood on display.)

With the exception of veteran Nigel Green, playing her stalwart castle steward and would-be lover Captain Dobi, none of Pitt’s co-stars can match her vibrant presence; despite her vocal performance being regrettably (but quite capably) dubbed by another actress, Pitt owns the film from start to finish and clearly revels in the opportunity to play both the latex-swathed old crone and the vivacious and gorgeous lady fair.

Reliable character actor Maurice Denham (Curse of the Demon, Torture Garden) is amusing as the dotty old intellectual Fabio, but there are times he seems to be playing in a completely different movie. Down isn’t called upon to do much other than look pretty and frightened, since her character is kidnapped by Green’s henchman early on. (It wouldn’t very well do to have two princess Ilonas on hand, now would it?)

The audio commentary with Pitt, Sasdy (Taste the Blood of Dracula, Hands of the Ripper), and screenwriter Jeremy Paul has been ported over from MGM’s 2003 Midnight Movies release, where it was unsurprisingly paired with Vampire Lovers. All three creatives share the microphone equally with moderator Jonathan Sothcott, and the track remains a classic combination of behind-the-scenes intel and fond reminiscence. Pitt is effervescent as always, her enthusiasm and self-assuredness a joy to listen to, especially when commenting on her own nude scenes. (“I knew I was beautiful.”)

Unfortunately, eager Pitt fans might be a little disappointed by the brevity of Ballyhoo’s featurette, “Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life of Ingrid Pitt.” For such a larger-than-life and well-beloved figure, the 10-minute treatment is more of a tease than anything else, and one has to wonder how much footage hit the bricks considering the estimable team of talking heads assembled. Surely genre historian Ted Newson, author Robert Cotter (Ingrid Pitt: Queen of Horror), indie horror actor/director Mark Redfield, and Little Shoppe of Horrors publisher Richard Klemensen all had much, much more to say! While it serves the turn as a brief introduction for newcomers, the target audience of hi-def upgrading Hammer aficionados likely won’t learn anything they don’t already know.

There’s also an enjoyable, and similarly brief, radio interview with Pitt (which unimaginatively utilizes all of the images used in the preceding featurette along with shots of a reel-to-reel player), a still gallery, theatrical trailer, and some racy reversible cover artwork.

Countess Dracula is available now as a Blu-ray/DVD combo from Synapse Films and can be ordered HERE:

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine

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