As Hammer Films cruised into the 70’s, expanding upon the elevated sex and violence the changing times and audience demand required, there was sometimes a feeling that the studio was maybe over compensating with one or two of their titles. After all, their slate at that time was positively groaning with shockers populated with nubile and impossibly horny vampires that had nothing to do with Christopher Lee’s more subtly sensual Count and in order to build off the success of the last, the advertising tended to lean into telling porky pies in order to lure bums on seats.
Take Countess Dracula for example, yet another steamy, 17th Century set, cleavage-fest that tells the debauched (and true) tale of Elizabeth Bathory, a noble woman who decided that bathing in the blood of young women would be just the ticket when staving off the ravages of age. However, despite having the iconic Ingrid Pitt, fresh from the similarly hot and bothered The Vampire Lovers, in the lead role, the fact that the title plays up the whole vampire angle so much proves to be somewhat misleading.
Countess Bathory, an aged and coldly bitter old woman, rides with her late husband’s entourage to hear the reading of his will and while some of its recipients are fairly chuffed at what they get, the haggard Elizabeth is incensed that she doesn’t get the inheritance she feels she’s earned. However, in a petulant rage that ends with her face getting splattered with the blood of a young maid, Elizabeth finds that the crimson life juices of pretty maidens have rejuvenating properties and causes her wrinkles to flatten out like the sheets of a freshly made bed. Immediately securing the help from devoted maid, Julie and the cruel but besotted Captain Dobi who wants to carry on their affair, Elizabeth vanishes the maid and emerges looking as young and vital as a Playboy Playmate. But how to explain the unexplainable change in her appearance – simple, all Bathory has to do is double down on being a vicious b-word, arrange to have her own daughter kidnapped and held indefinitely and casually pass herself as her own child, which she does and soon catches the eye of a dashing young Lieutenant named Toth.
Of course, nothing’s free in life, especially not rejuvenating powers brought on by human blood and inevitably the Countess finds that this wonder cure for aging isn’t permanent and finds she has to keep on harvesting women to keep her silky smooth image from reverting to that of a rusty automobile.
As she takes more an more risks during this grizzly farce from hell, her wedding day to Toth approaches, but when her daughter escapes captivity, all of her schemes stand on the edge of deteriorating as violently as her skin care routine.
So, to address the blood soaked elephant in the room, despite the title and even some promotional material that saw Polish-English bombshell Ingrid Pitt sporting fangs and a cape, there is absolutely no vampire activity going on in this movie whatsoever except from one old crone hissing out the title out loud as a derogatory comment. Instead Countess Dracula is a fanciful telling of the Elizabeth Bathory legend with all the added boobies and violence a Hammer fan could reasonably expect from one of their 70’s offerings – although if they’d just named it Countess Of Blood or something it might have saved me a little from disappointment.
In lieu of any fanged shenanigans, what we have left is something a strange, debauched farce that confuses a slow burn with a snail’s pace as all the players bicker, plot and murder at an oddly casual pace.
Front and centre is Pitt’s Bathory, showing off her callous true colours right off the bat by hardly flinching as her carriage runs over the torso of a particularly pathetic peasant as his family watches. Although, I believe anyone would be hard pressed to even so much as raise an eyebrow while entombed under thick looking old age make up, but after a random spray of O Negative gives our lead an instant facelift, the actress is free to put her distractingly complicated plan into action. The thing is everything she does never truly seems particularly logical, even for a blood obsessed woman driven to inhuman, lusty acts and her devious plots carry more holes than the pile of blood drained bodies she leaves in her wake. Maybe I’m expecting too much from a spoilt, 17 century mad woman and the whole reasons her plans crumble so quickly is that she’s far too smug to cook up any kind of safety net whatsoever, but it does result in our main villain being somewhat flaky.
While her aforementioned plot of “oh fuck, I’m old again. I’d better kill another wench, then” seems like simplicity itself, matters are complicated by the difficult nature of her conspirators, with Captain Dobi (played by Nigel Green, the impressively out of shape Hercules from Jason And The Argonauts) being more of a horny hindrance than any kind of ally she should be trusting.
However, as the pace of the tale get slackened noticably down to a crawl thanks to numerous instances of Bathory having to hide her advanced aging from her Dan Stevens-esque husband and the continuous grumbling of the staff who suspect something is up, yet do fuck all about it.
It’s almost as if the script was written with all the scenes of titillation and copious nudity filled in first with the rest of the story was created to string them all together. And yet despite all the acres of nubile flesh on display, the movie doesn’t manage to deliver on the perverse imagery Hammer had become famous for up to this point and even fails to nail a single image memorable for any reasons other than some involuntary giggles. Surely a film such as this is positively screaming for a scene where Pitt bathes her impressive physique in a bath virtually overflowing with the red stuff, but instead we get chucklesome moment where someone knocks a screen over to reveal that a naked Elizabeth has been dabbing the blood on her body with a comically large loufer like Clive Barker crossed with a Carry On film which caused my brain to instantly scream SpongeBlood NoPants. Not really the effect the filmmakers were going for I suppose…
And yet for all of its rumblings and outright lies, it’s tough to write off Countess Dracula completely mostly due to its atmospheric nature and the dedication of its lead actress to deliver a memorable, clothes optional, performance. But despite the odd histrionic freakout and a bunch of tangled plotting, this is one Hammer entry that’s out for the Countess.