Countess Dracula (1971) – Peter Sasdy

The history (and legend) of Elizabeth Bathory gets the Hammer Films treatment in Countess Dracula the next vampire film for review in DK Canada’s highly enjoyable Monsters in the Movies book by director John Landis.

Countess Elisabeth (Ingrid Pitt) ‘mourning’ the recent loss of her husband, rules her part of Europe with cruelty and the aide of her lover, Dobi (Nigel Green). When she discovers by accident that the blood of young women de-ages her to the bloom of youth, she begins to bathe in it, becoming younger and younger, until she can pose as her young teen daughter, Ilona (Lesley-Anne Down) . Who has been seized by raiders… but what happens should she escape?

When Elisabeth begins taking younger lovers Dobi becomes incensed, and when she learns that only virgin’s blood can restore her youth, the bodies begin to pile up.

For a Hammer Film it didn’t have as much blood, or thrills as some of the films I’ve come across in my exploration of Landis’ book and over the years. The fact that they danced on the edge of myth and history was kind of cool, though they created and adapted a story for their own needs.

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The production of Hammer Films though always tends to be very good, and this one is no exception, the sets, locations, and costumes are all top notch, and the casting is solid and attractive. I think it just needed a little more omph in the story, and gore department.

Pitt seems to delight in the roles she is given, and seems truly horrified by her aging (and the makeup work is fairly nice on her for that). It’s a fun movie, but not the best, because, trying to base it in loose historical fact removes any actual vampires. Elisabeth isn’t a vampire per se, she simply bathes in the blood of virgins to keep her youthful appearance. She doesn’t feed on them, she doesn’t turn them, and she has no real mystical powers, so one could argue this isn’t really a vampire movie.

Still, it makes for a fun exploration of the horror genre, specifically the evolution of Hammer Films (their use of color in their films is always something to behold).

And that is the beauty of DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies, I’ve already come across countless films I hadn’t heard of or seen, and have enjoyed every moment of them, whether the film is good or bad, because it is showing me the evolution of film, in this case specifically horror movies, and it’s a joy.

So pick one up and find something creepy to watch tonight!

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