It's common knowledge that Hammer struggled to stay abreast of mounting trends in the 70's. Gothic horror was old hat. They did what they could to placate a fickle fanbase. Moviegoers were growing more wanton and blood-hungry by the minute. Ultimately, Hammer was forced to close its doors anyway, but not before meting out a handful of racy b-movies. While the stately studio didn't produce many esteemed classics during the decade that spawned disco (way to go, America), we were left with a dusting of agreeable odds and ends. I was going to call them "scraps," but that wouldn't be very nice. After all, I quite like The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell and Vampire Circus.
Countess Dracula isn't too shabby either. Despite the title, this film has nothing to do with vampires. Chalk it up to boorish marketing. The plot is actually inspired by Elizabeth Bathory. That name should ring a bell, but if it doesn't, I'll just say that Liz was an insane occultist who believed that bathing in the blood of virgins restored her youth (Wikipedia is your friend). In Countess, Ingrid Pitt plays the Bathory role to perfection. Once she realizes that the spilled plasma of a chambermaid has taken twenty years off of her skin, she fleeces those below her (servants, peasants, etc.) by posing as her daughter. She has her real daughter kidnapped. Why, I never!
Granted, I haven't seen every film that Pitt has appeared in, but that won't stop me from proclaiming that this was the finest performance of her career. She carries the bulk of this bloodletter. It was an absolute joy staring at her through various stages of undress. Honorable mentions go out to Nigel Green and Sandor Eles who fare well as an invidious castle steward and a simple-minded soldier, respectively. It's probably not necessary for me to sing the praises of the art director. It's implied that every Hammer production boasts lush set designs. Aw, fuck it...the art direction is superb!
The pace does falter towards the tail end of Countess. I don't mean to sound like a teenybopper with A.D.D., but the second half needs a jolt of caffeine (a jump scare here, a stalk sequence there). Horror of Dracula seems fidgety and industrious by comparison. The title is the only other aspect of Countess Dracula that bothers me, and I've already been down that road. Now is a good time to stop typing, I suppose. The bottom line...Hammer had plenty to offer in the 70's. I have a feeling that I'm preaching to the choir. Oh well, I had to use this imaginary altar at some point.
Posted by Dom Coccaro at 10:12 PM