Thursday, 18 September 2014

Countess Dracula (1971)

So, you wait for ages for an adaptation of the blood-drenched tale of Countess Bathory to be released on Blu-ray in the UK, and then two come along at once. While Walerian Borowczyk's version was a short, disturbing, visually arresting segment in his IMMORAL TALES, Network are now bringing out Hammer's COUNTESS DRACULA, which is a different kind of movie altogether. 

Made during an incredibly busy year for Hammer Horror (even though the US financing had actually gone & James Carreras was calling in favours from Bernard Delfont & others to keep the company going), and with both its director and star coming off other successful Hammer gothics (TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA and THE VAMPIRE LOVERS) it's a pity COUNTESS DRACULA didn't turn out better than it did.

In her castle deep in Hammerland, the Countess Elisabeth Nadasdy discovers, when striking a servant girl one day, that the girl's blood rejuvenates the skin of her cheek. Reasoning, as Hammer Films themselves probably did on more than one occasion, that if a few drops can work wonders what might an entire gallon do for one's health, soon she's bathing in the stuff and turning into Ingrid Pitt without old age makeup. She arranges for her daughter to be kidnapped and impersonates her, although how she's meant to be mistaken for a teenaged Lesley-Anne Down remains a bit of a mystery. Her lover Captain Dobi (Nigel Green) helps her gets more victims while she gallivants around with hussar Imre Toth (Sandor Eles and his fake moustache). It all goes horribly wrong at the end, of course, with Ingrid ageing lots and lots and gaining the appellation that allows Hammer to give the film its title in the first place.

The main problem with COUNTESS DRACULA is that it's trying too hard to be a sumptuous historical epic (the sets and costumes are gorgeous) and not hard enough to be a horror film called COUNTESS DRACULA. Pitt is great, and the cast has a number of interesting character actors who try hard with the material, but there's just not enough to keep the viewer interested. Harry Robinson contributes a nice music score, and Maurice Denham is good as Fabio, but this is definitely one of Hammer's lesser efforts.

Network's Blu-ray transfer is okay - it looks as if they had a fairly grainy print to work with that's actually a bit grubby at the beginning. All the extras have been ported over from the previous Network Region 2 DVD release. There's a commentary track with Ingrid Pitt, Kim Newman and Stephen Jones, a TV news spot on '50 Years of Hammer' from 1999, an episode of Brian Clemens' THRILLER TV series, 'Where the Action Is' starring Ingrid Pitt, an episode of the TV series CONCEPTIONS OF MURDER, 'Peter and Maria' starring Nigel Green. There's also a series of still galleries and a trailer.The extras are all different to the US Blu-ray release from Synapse.

Network released Hammer's COUNTESS DRACULA on Blu-ray on 8th September 2014

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