Director: Peter Sasdy
Cast: Ingrid Pitt, Nigel Green, Sandor Eles
Length: 93 min
Label: Anolis Entertainment
Release Date: December 17, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: German, English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Subtitles: German (optional)
- Audio Commentary with Dr. Rolf Giesen (in German)
- Audio commentary with Ingrid Pitt, Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
- Interview with Peter Sasdy (2013 – 21 min)
- Interview with Ingrid Pitt (1994 – 28 min)
- 2 Trailers
- German title sequence
- German Press Kit
- US Press Book
- Hammer Christmas Folder
- Rank folder
- Photo gallery
- 24-page booklet written by Dr. Rolf Giesen and Uwe Sommerlad (exclusively in Mediabook)
August 21, 2014 marked the 400th anniversary of the death of Elizabeth Báthory, one of history’s most notorious and enigmatic mass murderers. She was charged and convicted of witchcraft and of torturing, killing, and bathing in the blood of more than 600 servant girls to preserve her youth. Though it is quite likely conspirators, aiming to acquire the rich widow’s wealth, trumped up many of the charges, the myth of the Blood Countess haunts us still. So, it is appropriate that this year the infamous lady made her Blu-Ray debut, courtesy of Hammer’s fictionalized account of Báthory’s bloody killing spree, Countess Dracula (1971). Synapse Films was the first to release it in the USA earlier this year; followed by Network in the UK. Now, Anolis Entertainment releases it in Germany, in a mostly English-friendly version and, like most Anolis releases, this one gives the collector a little extra bang for the buck.
After the death of her husband, the aging Countess Elisabeth Nádasdy is left in sole possession of her great estate. No longer able to seduce young men, the old woman grows jealous and discontented; until she accidentally discovers that she can restore her youth and beauty by bathing in the blood of virgin girls. The effect is only temporary, however, and regular blood baths are required.
Hammer’s Countess Dracula takes the whole myth of the old Countess bathing in blood to regain her youth and beauty quite literally. This is a film made for horror fans who know what to expect from a Hammer film. Much like in Hammer’s Rasputin (1966), any concession to historical fact is purely incidental. That said, Hammer certainly knew how to put on a period drama, with ornate and exquisitely detailed costumes and settings; contributing to a rich-looking production that totally disguises the film’s low-budget.Hungarian-born Peter Sasdy directs the proceedings with efficiency, if without any special flair, or insight into the characters. Thankfully, the production is blessed with the charismatic beauty of Ingrid Pitt in the title role. This is very much her film and she has great fun playing both the aged Countess and the young and beautiful version of herself. The fact that her voice was dubbed was a sore point with her for many years, but it does aid the believability of her transformations. The other key player is the great British character actor Nigel Green, as the Countess’s confidante Captain Dobi, who procures virgin girls for his mistress’s blood baths. A very young Lesley-Anne Down, in one of her earliest film roles, makes an appearance as the Countess’s daughter. It’s an undemanding part and makes full use of her physical loveliness. Peter Jeffrey (The Abominable Dr. Phibes) makes a welcome appearance as the Chief Bailiff, and Nike Arrighi (The Devil Rides Out) has a bit part as a gypsy girl who falls victim to the Countess. The rest of the cast is filled out with some of the top British character actors of the day. Special mention should be made of composer Harry Robinson who wrote some of Hammer’s most memorable soundtracks during the 1970’s, including their Karnstein Trilogy and Countess Dracula. He was fond of lacing his orchestra with exotic instruments, such as harpsichords, to add color—in Countess Dracula he uses a cimbalom to give the music an authentically Hungarian tinge. He had never achieved quite the popularity of his colleague James Bernard, the composer who is said to have defined the “Hammer sound,” but the importance of Robinson’s contribution to Hammer’s oeuvre in the latter part of the company’s run should not be underestimated. His music can give magic to even the flattest scenes.
For this release, Anolis Entertainment has accessed the same HD master that both Synapse and Network used for their releases. That’s good news, because all three look quite excellent and have the same merits and flaws. The image looks wholly natural, with no evidence of DNR, or edge sharpening. It is a very filmic presentation, with organic-looking colors, and well-resolved film grain. There are occasional white specs and other debris around reel changes, but they do not distract. Detail and image depth are impressive, and overall this is a major upgrade over all previous DVD versions.
Both the German and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 tracks sound quite excellent in this restoration. Harry Robinson’s colorful music score is given plenty of body, while dialog remains clear and easy to understand. Age-related anomalies are not evident. The disk defaults to the German track, but it’s very easy to switch to the original English. Optional German subtitles are included.
Anolis Entertainment usually gives their fans something extra in the “Extra Features” department, and they do not disappoint with this release. First and foremost is the excellent and engaging audio commentary with Ingrid Pitt and film historians Stephen Jones and Kim Newman. It’s the same one that’s on the Network Release, but different from the one on the Synapse release. Next, is a second audio commentary with Dr. Rolf Giesen, which is in German only. Next, is an exclusive 21-minute video interview with Peter Sasdy, done in 2013. This is different than the interview included in Anolis’ recent Hands of the Ripper release—though it’s part of the same sessions—and Sasdy proves himself a fascinating interview subject. Collectors may want to purchase this disk for his revelations alone. Next, is a 1994, 28-minute video interview with Ingrid Pitt on stage, conducted by Stephen Laws, in which the actress discuses her life and acting career. Ingrid it incredibly engaging and fun to listen to (and watch), as she relates many candid anecdotes from the sets of her films, some of which will come as revelations to many fans. The other extras include two trailers; German and American press books, the original German title sequence, a Hammer Christmas Folder, a Rank folder, a Photo gallery, and a 24-page booklet written by Dr. Rolf Giesen and Uwe Sommerlad, exclusively for the Mediabook.
Hammer’s Countess Dracula may be a flawed experience, but for fans of the genre it is certainly worth seeking out and forming an opinion on. If for nothing else, the film is essential just to see Ingrid Pitt in one of the two career-defining roles she played for Hammer. But, it is perhaps the visual and aural richness of the production, and the unique atmosphere of a dark fairytale it conjures up, that stay in the memory the longest. Anolis Entertainment’s superlative BD presentation, and their exclusive extra features, makes these elements all the easier to appreciate.