Saturday, January 13, 2018

Hammer Time: Countess Dracula (1971)

A sister is doing it for herself.  Unfortunately, that thing is killing people to make herself look pretty.  Today's Film is Countess Dracula, the 1971 Hammer Film based on Elisabeth Bathory.  She's pretty infamous from History- even if it pretty certain now that she was innocent.  The working theory is that because a woman suddenly inherited all of this power and land that people got a bit jealous.  This wasn't the most free time for women, after all.  It is suggested that all sorts of baseless, crazy claims were made in order for her to be a criminal and thus lose all of her possessions.  Ouch.  Ignore all of that, however, as the Film goes on 'the historical record.'  She's just plain evil.  Ingrid Pitt was a staple of this Studio and her presence here is great, even if she got dubbed in post-production.  Emma Peele supposedly turned down the job, so there go all of the fantasies of you Avengers fans in the UK.  This Film exists in that famous, but not as famous as most other Hammer Films Category.  Is it truly the most under-appreciated Film in their library?  To find out, read on...
The death of a Lord leaves his aged wife in charge- at least until his Daughter returns.
Speaking of which, around the time suitors show up to inevitably marry said Daughter, she returns.  She falls for one foppish-looking guy and a Harlequin Romance Novel breaks out.
However, there's a big secret- this isn't the Daughter.  This is Mama.

How did she get so young?  By bathing in virgin blood, of course.
As for her Daughter, she had her kidnapped by a Turk.  The Film occasionally cuts back to see her try to escape.

We also get a power dynamic as Pitt's older suitor still wants her, but she only wants the young man.
There's also a catch- only virgin blood works. Why the Book separates that fact to a different page is anyone's guess but the Screenwriter's.
After helping her cover up her crimes for a while, he gets annoyed and just reveals her secret to her young lover.  Awkward.
She manages to convince him to marry her against his will, but he also knows about the real daughter now.

The blood wears off too soon and the guy is somehow killed in the process.
While all of this intrigue has been going on, there's been a search for all of the bodies.  They are found in the Castle.
And so our Villains are sentenced to die, now known as evil for all time.  There's a nice Roll Credits moment that...actually does lead them to Roll the Credits.  The End.
A dark Period tale of murder and intrigue.  Putting aside the History (true or untrue), the actual Film is actually quite interesting.  You get a whole lot of stuff involving the Countess, her Suitor, the new Suitor for 'the Princess,' the Royal Scribe and other people on the Staff.  They committed to making this as accurate as they could.  Getting back to the so-called-History, they handle it pretty well.  Accepting the idea that this all just happened, it feels pretty natural.  There is a bit of a disconnect between how she jumps right to blood as a source of youth and we never see the process work directly.  Obviously a modern version of this Film would show you the Actress de-age digitally- for better or for worse.  They also treat the idea that the mysterious new Princess isn't the Countess as a mystery for longer than I would have thought.  Was it less obvious to Audiences back then?  For a Film with Dracula in it, you should know by know that the Count doesn't show up.  It's just what they call her.  To be fair, it is less of a cheat than Brides of Dracula, which doesn't seem to feature him either!  The Film does feature plenty of blood, so you'll get your wish there.  This really is an underappreciated Hammer Film.  It's not a Dracula or Frankenstein Film, so it is already in a weird place.  If you like this stuff and haven't seen it, do so now.  Speaking of seeing, my big inspiration for watching this was to see Inspector Trout's descendant working a case that also involved a blood sacrifice and a madman obsessed with eternal youth...
Next time, I finally get to that Italian Horror Film.  Will the cheesy name be enough?  Stay tuned...

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