Director Peter Sasdy, man known to many Hammer Studio aficionados, and others recognize the name from his other Hammer Films such as Taste the Blood of Dracula and Hands of the Ripper, returns with Countess Dracula, a classic gothic horror tale based a bit in history too. The tale of Elizabeth Bathory, an aging countess used the blood of virgins to help her regain the beauty she once had, these folk tales abound from history and become incredible breeding grounds for wonderful horror films. In fact, the urban legends and folklore of places and people with truth behind their awful deeds lends credence to the madness directors and writers create to scare and frighten the viewers, just recall all the movies that are based from Vlad the Impaler alone. Now, the modern and younger horror fans and audience might overlook this classic, because the violence and gore do not present themselves in the forefront, and that is a major mistake, because the makes up with great storytelling and equally placed moments of nudity.
It is very easy to see where the plot leads to, especially with the connection to Bathory, and less dealing the story or even the legend of Dracula, even so Sasdy’s expertise proves to provide a swift and steady pacing to the film and entertaining fans of then and now equally well. The story works early into the film, to show the atrocities of the countess, when her aristocracy moralistic creed places itself far above the common peasant, and she shows the contempt for anyone of them. For example, after returning from the reading of her husband will, her carriage runs over and kills a peasant, no emotion for the crime. So who portrays the villainous Countess Elisabeth Nadasdy, none other than horror icon Ingrid Pitt (who passed in 2010), who had the seductive prowess made famous by the Hammer Studios, and alluring in the gothic horror films, such as The Vampire Lovers (1970) and The Wicker Man (1973). The Countess, along with her lover, Captain Dobi (Nigel Green) attend the reading of the will along with a friend of the family, Imre Toth (Sandor Eles), each a little surprised with the bequeathing of items left to them. Toth, who the Countess admires greatly, earns a house and the Count’s entire stable, but more disenfranchised is Dobi earning uniforms and armor of all his years of honorable service. The Countess reassures him that he already earned the prize, her, as they were lovers before the Count’s death and he knew it. Soon enough the plot and film quicken in pace as with mere accident from the servant girl’s blood splashing on the Countess restoring her youth, and the girl disappears in the castle and youth restored. However, as with all tales, some blood works others don’t and the passage of time doesn’t get fooled often; the discovery coming from the castle’s historian Master Fabio (Maurice Denham) the blood must come from a virgin. There are a great many little subplots in the movie, and all make worthwhile to entice the viewership of true gothic horror fans, especially those wanting strong character driven storylines and intrigue to learn more about Pitt’s contributions the genre. The bloodlust of the Countess shows through very well, almost to an addict needing her next fix, and using others to indulge her, regardless of the consequences, and the dwindling of young women has the authorities concerned a mad killer hiding in the castle walls.
The movie also serves to tell another lesson of the endless battle with time, and learning to accept to age with grace and acceptance, and not spoiled on the vanity of youth. This flick created 45-years ago already was well ahead of its time, warning of the torturous lengths some women go through to battle aging process, such as plastic surgery (two words that mix horror stories) and liposuction, and substitute virgin’s bloodbaths the story still works, just like the horror-comedy Chastity Bites (2013).
Sasdy truly works to present great visuals and the direction to bring forth the right period costumes, giving almost a historical representation of the era for the setting of the film, similar to Coppola’s Dracula (1992); it is definitely something many gothic films nail down for the presentation. The production also provides the feeling of secret passages in the castle and while the bareness of flesh exposes often in the movie, it never develops into a lewd manner, and that makes the film excel even further. One sad downside, and it is discussed briefly in the special features, the dubbing of Pitt’s voice for Olive Gregg, because in the end Ingrid, comes from Hungry and had the natural infliction of the tone, for the Countess, a natural choice, why it was done remains a bit of a mystery.
Synapse Films delivers another stellar DVD for the fans of gothic films, and those that recall the divine Ingrid Pitt and all her adoring qualities to the horror genre and cinema in general, she brings the film to exquisite level of glorious dramatic storytelling. This movie doesn’t contain wall to wall gore, and the bloodlust to a lower level, it focuses on the plot and the characters to drive the movie as a human monster story, versus the batty fanged jugular favorite long existing in horror, made up monsters have nothing on the human race.