Director: Peter Sasdy
Cast: Ingrid Pitt, Nigel Green, Sandor Eles
Length: 93 min
Disks: 2 (1 BD, 1 DVD)
Label: Synapse Films
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
- Audio commentary with actress Ingrid Pitt, director Peter Sasdy, screenwriter Jeremy Paul and author Jonathan Sothcott
- Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life of Ingrid Pitt – Featurette
- Archival Audio Interview with Ingrid Pitt
- Still Gallery
- Theatrical Trailer
- Reversible Cover Artwork
August 21, 2014 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Elizabeth Báthory, one of history’s most notorious, 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 the charges, the myth of the Blood Countess haunts us still. So, it is perhaps serendipitous that this year the infamous lady makes her Blu-Ray debut, courtesy of Synapse Films, in Hammer’s fictionalized account of Báthory’s bloody killing spree, Countess Dracula (1971).
After the death of her husband, the aging Countess Elisabeth Nodosheen is left in sole possession of a 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.
Synapse’s HD presentation of Countess Dracula stands firmly in line with their previous Hammer releases, (Vampire Circus, Twins of Evil, and Hands of the Ripper). The image looks wholly natural, with no evidence of excessive DNR, or edge sharpening. It is a very filmic presentation, with organic-looking colors, which perhaps could have been just a touch more vibrant, but no big deal. There are occasional white specs around reel changes, but they do not distract. Detail and image depth are impressive, and overall this is a major upgrade over previous DVD versions.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track sounds 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.
Synapse gives us a nice selection of extra features here, if not nearly as extensive as on their superb Twins of Evil release. First and foremost, the excellent audio commentary with Ingrid Pitt, director Peter Sasdy, screenwriter Jeremy Paul, and author Jonathan Sothcott that has been ported over from the previous MGM DVD. The other extras are newly produced, including Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life of Ingrid Pitt, a 10-minute Ballyhoo Motion Pictures featurette, with Ted Newsom, Richard Klemensen, and Robert Cotter. The short celebrates the life and times of the great lady. Also included is an 8-minute archival audio Interview with Ingrid Pitt, an image gallery, and an original theatrical trailer, though in SD only.
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 worthwhile 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 most. Synapse’s superlative new HD presentation makes these elements all the easier to appreciate.