1971 – PG – Synapse
Starring Ingrid Pitt, Nigel Green – Directed by Peter Sasdy
When hearing the title Countess Dracula or upon a viewing of the box art, thoughts of traditional vampire imagery may flood your mind; fangs and drinking of blood, capes, widow’s peaks, sparkling… but none of that is actually in the movie. The film is more about the supposedly true story of Hungarian Countess Erzsebet Bathory who would be responsible for 600 deaths of virgin girls, through torture and mutilation, in her time, 1560 to 1614. This is, of course, all speculation, but possibly inspired the tales of Dracula and his thirst for blood to remain immortal. Wow, the more you know.
It’s Hungary in the late 17th century, so if it’s not the plague killing someone, it’s war, which has taken the life of Count Nádasdy. He was a well respected man, so of course his will reading is filled with bottom feeding friends and family dividing up his fortune and estate. Countess Elizabeth (played by the gorgeous and late Ingrid Pitt) is none too pleased about having to share her late husband’s estate with her daughter Ilona. Guess someone should have taught her that sharing means caring, but caring isn’t exactly Countess Elizabeth’s strongest feature, as we see when she talks with Captain Dobi, who has been in love with her for a very long time, she often uses him to gain what she wants.
If she wanted to stiff her daughter on her inheritance, you can deduce how she treats her chambermaid, constantly scolding and belittling her. All this poor woman needs to do is lay down so that Elizabeth may wipe her soles on her, but something tells me that the Countess is the type of woman who likes to grind her soles. If she were a smoker, I can guarantee she would call in her chambermaid to put her cigarettes out on her. But worse things can and will happen, as the chambermaid accidentally cuts herself, splattering her blood on the Countess’ face. But as cruel fate would have it, the blood from this young woman smooths Elizabeth’s face and removes wrinkles. If a little bit of blood can make her look ten years longer, how do you think every drop of blood in the chambermaid’s body would make Elizabeth look? After a morbid brainstorm with her with maid Julie, they seal the young chambermaid’s fate and use her blood to restore Elizabeth’s youth and she is ready to par-tay!
But how would you explain her sudden youthful look to the public? Not even Maybelline could cover that all up, even if she was born with it. Well, remember when I said she wasn’t the most kind or caring parent? Using Captain Dobi (thinking with his “head”), they carry out a plot to kidnap her very own daughter, so that the Countess may pose as her. Geez, Elizabeth makes Alec Baldwin look thoughtful and compassionate in comparison. With Ilona out of the way, Elizabeth is free to make googly eyes with the young studs.
Hey, even older people have a libido and need to bump and grind from time to time. Before medication like Viagra, people would have to bathe in the blood of virgins. It’s common knowledge. Having inherited the stables from the recently departed Count, Imre, whose father was a close friend and soldier of the Count, Elizabeth falls for his Errol Flynn like mustache and she manages to seduce him just as her age is returning. She manages to flee, but realizes she needs more blood to restore her youth again. Time to put out a Craigslist ad looking for young blood!
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work with hooker blood as our hooligans discover when Captain Dobi tries to frame Imre for sleeping with a common streetwalker, which Elizabeth murders her and drains her blood, realizing that she hasn’t reverted in age.
It doesn’t take long for the nosey librarian to discover what’s going on and Captain Dobi is ready to snuff him out of the equation until the Countess realizes his knowledge of spells could be useful. Fortunate for him, his vast knowledge and newly inherited library that contains books on youth incantations will keep him alive, but for how long? As Countess Elizabeth transforms into her slamming young self again, who should finally arrive (unbeknownst to her), but her daughter Ilona, who has finally escaped from her captors after like the thousandth try. Seriously, you could make a montage of all her escape attempts, sync it to the Benny Hill music and it would be pure comedy gold. After all, Ilona isn’t the most nimble creature on Earth. She is quickly introduced to Imre who learns that she is the Countess’ daughter, but if Ilona is the real daughter, then who is… wha… woah. Someone isn’t who they are claiming to be, but we already know who.
Everything boils down to a dark ending that you see coming, but it’s still pretty gripping, being a Hammer Film and all. What, you were expecting a happy ending? Once a dead body is found inside the castle, the police, or whatever you would call them back then, evacuate all the help, but leave the residence, believing that no harm will come to them as they hunt for the killer in town. Our cast, however, know better and realize they are trapped inside this castle like a prison and must come up with a plan to reveal the Countess and escape.
This Hammer Horror release is sometimes forgotten or overlooked, as it’s a departure from the regular tales of Frankenstein and Dracula that the company is widely known for, but it still captures the same sleazy, gothic atmosphere (if not more so), which is captured phenomenally on Synapse’s Blu-ray release, which is a newly high definition transfer. If you’re a screen junkie or just happen to notice bad transfers, you may recall the previous DVD release from Carlton Visual Entertainment had a noticeable muddy colors and was obviously stretched to make it appear widescreen. Needless to say, it was an eyesore, but not here. Colors feel right, meaning that thing appear how they should and I should mention that Ingrid Pitt’s aged makeup looks pretty well done and this new transfer doesn’t show any weaknesses in it. I did find the audio to be loud at time, mostly with music stings, and quiet during others, but like with most cases, it will in no way ruin the experience for you. Dialogue isn’t muted or muffled, it’s nice and sharp, but seem to dip in levels from time to time. Overall, Countess Dracula has never looked more youthful.
There is plenty of deception, murder and betrayal to go around for every sinister feeling fanatic. The countess goes as far as to have her own daughter kidnapped for an indefinite amount of time and who knows, after some time, what her fate would be. It’s a dark plot is that will leave you satisfied, even if you were in it for the usual Hammer violence that isn’t as intense here as their previous films (did I mention there is plenty of sleaze?). And ladies, don’t try this at home (believe me, I tried)!
The Lost Highway uses vegan friendly virgin blood.