Sunday, May 4, 2014

Countess Dracula, If I was this Smart when I was 20...

We have all wondered how smart (..or dangerous) we would have been in our college years if we knew then what we know now.  In 1970's "Countess Dracula," Ingrid Pitt (as Countess Nodosheen) finds out.  A Hammer Film based on the historical Elizabeth Bathory.  In the 1980s I had the pleasure of having Raymond McNally as a professor at Boston College.  He traveled to Romania and wrote a book about Bathory entitled "Dracula Was a Woman." . Bathory bathed in the blood of virgins in order, she believed, to keep young.  Sort of the Oil of Olay of the 17th century.  Perfect fodder for a Hammer film!
The plot:  As the film begins, a very elderly and cantankerous Countess Nodosheen arrives home after her husband's funeral.  A chambermaid accidentally cuts herself while helping the Countess take a bath.  The ever grouchy old hag slaps her and gets some of the maid's blood on her face.  Miraculously, that area of her face changes into that of a young woman's face.  Up until now, the Countess assumed she'd have to settle for the aged Captain Dobi.  Enlisting the aid of her nursemaid, the Countess lures beautiful virgins to the castle where she kills them and bathes in their blood.  After the baths, the old hag turns into Ingrid Pitt.  How to explain this to her servants?  She and Dobi assert that the Countess is actually Ilona (see picture below),  her daughter.  Ilona (Lesley-Anne Down), traveling home, is intercepted by Dobi's highwaymen and abducted.  Imprisoned by a drooling semi-mutant, the beautiful Ilona is terrorized and pawed by this fiend.
  No one in the town has seen Ilona for 12 years, as she was sent away to be protected from the invading Turks.  With Ilona in captivity, the Countess can assume her identity. With her new youth, she loses interest in Dobi and romances the young and studly Lieutenant Toth. Major problem!  The blood baths do not last and she must continue bathing in virgin blood.  Each time she obtains youth, the session is shorter and shorter, and when she ages again, she gets older and older.  After going through the beautiful virgins, she settles for the homely virgins.  With all the virgins gone, and a marriage on the horizon to Lt. Toth, where will she find her next victim?  You guessed it.....a new peril for our beautiful damsel, Ilona.
As Toth accidentally walks in on one of the Countess' bathing rituals (see picture above), he realizes that he is the object of a very diabolical plan involving the real Ilona.  Will Toth lose his interest in older women and save Ilona?  Will the Countess be hated because she is beautiful?  The conclusion of this film is exciting, and the Countess' wisdom of the ages is tested against her need for and ability to obtain virgin blood. Ingrid Pitt is fantastic here.  She died in 2010, on her way to an appearance at a horror convention in the UK.  Her fame as one of the greatest "scream-queens" won her millions of fans, whom she always respected.  "Countess Dracula" may be this Hammer-Glamour girl's best film.  Not a victim needing rescuing here, but a stunning, powerful and ominous 17th century femme-fatale.

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