Countess Dracula (1972)
Countess Dracula (1972)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.

Release Date: October 11th, 1972 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Peter Sasdy Actors: Ingrid Pitt, Nigel Green, Sandor Eles, Maurice Denham, Patience Collier, Peter Jeffrey, Lesley-Anne Down, Jessie Evans, Andrea Lawrence

 


 

“D

evil woman!” Shriveled Countess Elisabeth (Ingrid Pitt) rules her land with an iron fist, allowing the poor villagers to starve – and to fall under the wheel of her passing carriage with little concern. After the funeral of her husband, she gains control over even greater wealth and properties, though at the hearing of the will, she’s commanded to split the inheritance with her daughter, 19-year-old Ilona (Lesley-Anne Down), who is away in Vienna. This greatly upsets the wrinkled old crone, who doesn’t want to be bothered with sharing her vast fortunes.

The steward of the castle, Captain Dobi (Nigel Green), is amused by the count’s passing, as it allows him to continue his affair with the countess in peace. Elderly scholar Master Fabio (Maurice Denham) is bequeathed the magnificent library; head maid Julie (Patience Collier) is given a small sum of money and permission to stay in the castle; and neighbor Lieutenant Imre Toth (Sandor Eles) acquires the famous stable. That evening, Teri the chambermaid (Susan Brodrick) draws a bath for the countess, which is too hot. Then she attempts to carve up a peach, but accidentally cuts herself. When Teri’s blood splatters across Elisabeth, the withered face of the countess suddenly softens and tightens.

Elated, the scheming old woman realizes that she’s discovered a twisted version of the Fountain of Youth: the blood of virgin girls. With her newfound good looks, Elisabeth has her own daughter kidnapped and hidden away so that she can take her place. But the effects of the blood are temporary, persuading the wicked wench, aided by Dobi and Julie, to seek out additional victims to prolong her vigor.

It’s still a rather standard Hammer production, but the music by Harry Robinson is instantly mesmerizing. It’s alternately menacing and romantic, giving the opening title sequence far more gravity than it deserves. His theme music only crops up from time to time, but it’s recognizably influential when it does. In the vein of the other ’70s Hammer endeavors, “Countess Dracula” further features violence and nudity to give it an edginess to fit the path of its peers in the horror genre, which would continue to grow more exploitive, graphic, and less concerned with censorship.

Between passionate romps in the hay and the slaughtering of young women, the townsfolk whisper of superstitions, Fabio becomes suspicious, and Elisabeth loses and regains her ugliness. Due to the limited special effects, the bloodletting temptress transforms back and forth in an instant, rather than gradually, which makes the concept far less effective. Plus, the makeup, while morbid, occasionally fails to appear convincing – flaking away or revealing odd separations between the patches of real skin, or even taking on the wrong shade of beige. As the picture progresses, the countess’ face deteriorates right alongside the number of protagonists and the complexity of the story.

The premise might be a fascinating idea for a gothic horror film, but it remains all setup, with few exciting revelations or clever details (perhaps there is just one). As the end draws nearer, “Countess Dracula” turns into a mystery and something of a police (or bailiff) procedural, though the culprits are well known and the interrogations take place offscreen. Either way, the damage is done – the picture is entirely too uneventful and unstimulating.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10