• Countess Dracula (Blu-ray/DVD Combo)



    Released by: Synapse Films
    Released on: May 6th, 2013.
    Director: Peter Sasdy
    Cast: Ingrid Pitt, Nigel Green, Lesley-Anne Down, Sandor Eles
    Year: 1971
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    The Movie:

    Directed by Peter Sasdy in 1971, Countess Dracula cast Ingrid Pitt (in what would be her final appearance in a Hammer Films production) hot on the heels of her turn in The Vampire Lovers a year before as Countess Elisabeth, a recently widowed older woman returning to the castle owned by her husband for the reading of his will. Accompanying her is her companion, Captain Dobi (Nigel Green), a man who has long yearned for her love and who hopes, now that her husband has passed on, that she’ll finally be his.

    One night when lashing out at a handmaiden for making her bathwater too warm, Elisabeth winds up cutting the poor woman and getting her blood on her face. When this happens, the skin touched by the blood almost instantly regresses in age and we realize then and there that she’s found, in a sense at least, eternal youth. There’s a few problems with this, however – the first being that if anyone realizes she’s covering herself in the blood of young women, she’ll get arrested. To get around this issue she locks ‘Elisabeth’ away in her bedroom and when she appears as her younger self, tells everyone that she’s Ilona, Elisabeth’s daughter. The real Ilona (the lovely Lesley Anne-Down) has been locked away in a remote cabin in the woods. The other problem is that to keep up her newfound youthful appearance, she needs a constant supply of blood, which means the bodies start piling up. When she and one of her husband’s former soldiers, Imre Toth (Sandor Eles) fall for one another and pronounce their marriage, the castle sage, Fabio (Maurice Denham), starts to wonder what’s really going on while the eternally loyal Dobi begins to become increasingly jealous…

    Though there isn’t really of the vampirism on display here that the title implies, Countess Dracula is a reasonably brisk film in terms of pacing and it features some nice photography and a few memorable set pieces. Front and center in all of this, of course, is Ingrid Pitt. While the makeup applied to her in order to make her character look increasingly older as the story progresses isn’t particularly convincing, she makes the most of the role offered her here and does a fine job playing the Countess as a complete bitch! She’s quite fetching when playing the ‘younger’ version of the character and uses her fairly intense screen presence to basically own the movie.

    The supporting cast members are pretty solid as well. Sandor Eles plays the ‘nice guy’ rather well. He’s charming and he seems quite taken with Elisabeth as Ilona. Nigel Green plays the stuffy Doby perfectly. He’s a weasel of a man not in the least bit afraid to play dirty to get what he wants and he really brings a sense of cynicism to the character. Maurice Denham steals most of the scenes that he’s in as the wily old sage while a sorely underused Lesley Anne-Down is both truly sympathetic and beautiful in her supporting role.

    Solid direction from Sasdy works well alongside moderate doses of blood and nudity to make this one a fun watch. If it isn’t the film most would regard as Hammer’s best - the story is too predictable and occasionally silly for that - it is quite enjoyable nevertheless.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Countess Dracula looks pretty nice on Blu-ray, framed at 1.66.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. The image is consistently film-like, showing nice levels of grain and only minor print damage in the form of small white specks throughout the movie. Colors are pretty much perfect and skin tones look lifelike and realistic from start to finish. Black levels are strong while shadow detail remains solid, and there are no issues with compression artifacts or edge enhancement to note. Detail is quite a bit improved over past DVD releases, especially in close ups (though in these same close ups it’s now easier than ever to tell that Ms. Pitt is wearing makeup in those scenes in which she plays the older character). Costumes look good, you can note the fibers and threads in different outfits worn by the cast, while the image remains free of crush or any haloing problems. A very nice effort, all in all. The movie looks very nice here.

    The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, which comes with optional English closed captioning, is also very strong. While it’s obviously limited in range due to the original elements, older mono mixes don’t really come any cleaner or more succinct sounding than this one. Dialogue is as clear as a bell and the score in particular sounds great. There are even some impressive moments of depth to note, the most obvious example being when Elisabeth is intruded open while bathing in blood and the opening scene in which the carriage runs over the peasant. There are no problems with hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced throughout. A very solid mix overall.

    The extras kick off with an audio commentary featuring Ingrid Pitt, director Peter Sasdy, screenwriter Jeremy Paul and author Jonathan Sothcott that was originally included on the old MGM DVD release from 2003. The leading lady doesn’t have as much to offer here as the writer and director do but she chimes in with some thoughts on her character and shares some recollections about working on the picture. Sasdy and Paul offer up quite a bit more info both in terms of what it was like shooting on the studio sets, some of the challenges that they ran into during the shoot, what they tried to do different with this picture compared to other Hammer films made around the same time and quite a bit more. Sothcott, basically acting as moderator here, keeps the pacing strong and the discussion quite lively.

    The disc also includes an eleven minute featurette entitled Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life Of Ingrid Pitt, which is a piece that explores how Pitt immigrated from her native Poland after the Second World War, how she got into film and what made her more than just another pretty blonde actress. The work she did for Hammer here is the main focus but we also learn about some of the other films she had a hand in. The disc also includes an eight minute and a half minute audio interview with Ingrid Pitt

    Rounding out the extras is a still gallery of behind the scenes and promotional images, the movie’s original theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter stops. As this is a combo pack release, a DVD version of the movie is also included. The nifty cover art is also reversible, featuring an alternate one sheet design on the flipside.

    The Final Word:

    Countess Dracula isn’t the best film that Hammer ever made but it offers up a solid lead from Pitt, some fun supporting characters, pretty solid atmosphere and some mild exploitative thrills to top it all off. The Blu-ray release from Synapse provides fans with a pretty serious upgrade in not only the audio and video departments but with some additional supplemental items as well. A great package for Hammer fans.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!