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Countess Dracula


‘…an unusually sober chamber piece…some way from the usual Hammer product…’

Sigh. I searched in vain for an alternate title for Peter Sadsy’s 1970 Hammer horror, but alas, none were visible. That’s a shame, because Countess Dracula sounds like a spin-off from the studio’s Dracula cycle, but there’s no stakes, fang-bearing or other vampire elements here. Instead, we have an unusually sober chamber piece, a multiple-character historical-drama based on the story of Blood Countess Elizabeth Bathory, and it’s all some way from the usual Hammer product.

Ingrid Pitt gives a good physical interpretation of the woman who bathed in virgin blood to maintain her youthful appearance; she’s named as Elisabeth Nadasdy here and the setting is 17th century Hungary. Nadasdy enlists the help of her paramour Captain Dobie (the leonine Nigel Green in barnstorming form) to organise a raft of victims in the form of unwary village girls, and also imprisons her own daughter (Lesley-Anne Down) so that she can assume her identity when cavorting around her castle in her youthful form. This fools hotshot Imre Toth (Sandor Eles), who starts a relationship with the countess with little idea that her youthful mask is only seconds away from a transformation into a withered, deadly old crone.

Countess Dracula is one of the more sophisticated Hammer horrors; while the acting is ripe, there’s little of the cartoonish camp which beset Hammer’s 70’s output. Each of the central characters is surprisingly well developed, and there’s a patient build-up to the countess’ wedding, which, needless to say, does not go to plan. Pitt’s voice was redubbed, which is a shame because with some artful make-up, her transformation is actually pretty convincing, and even the of-the-time nudity is tastefully done.

Perhaps lacking is the jump-scares and nastiness that might be expected, Countess Dracula seems to have a growing reputation as a Hammer film that transcends expectations; the fear of getting old and the hypocrisy of the rich are well explored, but Sadsy is content to sit back and let the action flow. And Down is always an underrated presence; readers can draw their own conclusions, but she’s slated to play Margaret Thatcher in a US tv show about Ronald Reagan…


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  1. This was when Hammer for a certain generation began the female empowerment horror gig. Ingrid Pitt heroine of Where Eagles Dare suddenly takes no prisoners and dresses as if she was in a skit about the empress’s new clothes.

  2. Alt title: Meet Liz, Marquis de Sade’s Mentor? She was an interesting character about whom little survived, except perhaps herself…as a Kardashian or Joan Collins? Chuckle… glad to see your review.

    Countess Bathory (surname is a title=good hero) heralded from ancestor (Vitus) alleged to have slayed a dragon. Their coat of arms featured white teeth on a red background; family was related to Transylvanian princes. One of her Hungarian castles was called ‘Nadasdy,’ as she married into that family. There were rumors she had a baby at 13 by a fellow called Bende, and her husband had Bende ripped apart. The baby was whisked off to Transylvania.
    Liz was a feminist, kept her family surname, and had a keen mind; she was widely read and some speculate she performed dark magic. While Nadasdy was off fighting wars, Liz ran their estates. To a would be usurper she wrote, ‘you will find a man in me.’ She championed women beaten and raped, but reveled in punishing people via torture, burning and kicking severed heads, as did her husband.
    Cruelty was king at the castle; servants were fair game until a Bishop noticed; nothing was done. In 1610 she opened a school for noble women. When they began disappearing, people complained to King Matthias. Liz cohorts were punished, but not the men who who procured the girls. The tally of dead ranged from 50 to 650… but during her lifetime, she was NEVER accused of blood bathing or drinking! When she made out her will, she left all to her 3 children, but wanted to be buried in her wedding dress. Others were greedy to get her lands and riches, King Mathias owed her $. She was forced to forgive his debt in exchange for her retiring behind castle walls. No one knows where she’s buried. Blood bathing tales circulated 100 years after her death, told by a Jesuit scholar.
    Contemp German flick Daughter of Darkness does a slightly better job with the Countess, bringing her into 20thc as a bisexual, blood crazy narcissist. RE efficacy of blood as youth restorer…some truth and success using plasma to heal wounds and plump skin, and extracting proteins like Creb to create new neural connections. Your own blood is extracted, then injected or applied as salve, just ask a Kardashian. Apologies for lengthy reply!

    • Well, let’s leave MY own blood out of it, don’t want anyone bathing in it. Thanks for this great post, it seems that 1) I know a lot less than I thought about Bathory and 2) there’s enough material there to make a movie. I do wonder how much our mythical version of long ago figures are reconfigured according to what we want to hear. Ass-kicking aside, Bathory is anything but the vampiric figure we’d previously seen. Thanks for all this intel! Will investigate!

  3. Don’t think I ever saw this. I always get the feeling watching Hammer films that they start off wanting to go down a more serious road but then about halfway through they just give up and go back to doing their thing. A.k.a. “it’s Hammer time!”

  4. Ingrid Pitt imprinted my memory as the Vampire countess, inspired by the real Bathory you mentioned properly (I recommend a very good movie by Julie Delpy based on the real Bathory entitled “La Comtesse”). It’s new blood for Hammer which found in the Sheridan Le Fanu litterature another start for fanging dark tales. And, in my opinion, the mix of blood and erotic evanescence is doing the job very well.

    • I’ll check out the Delpy, I’m always keen on Bathory films, big fan of 1974’s Immoral Tales. These movies were never off the telly growing up, and like you, Pitt made a big impression on me in these kind of films…

  5. Virgins really get the short end of the stick, don’t they? There they are, trying to do the right thing and wham, some vampire comes along and either sucks out all their blood and turns them into a vampire, or they get killed in some horrific ritual. Never fails….

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