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Countess Dracula (1970)

Sometimes, the blindness of the fanboy approach to reviewing films surprises me. I rarely see a bad review of Countess Dracula, and yet, every time I've watched it I can't quite believe just how bad it is.

It seems that just because it's a Hammer film with Ingrid Pitt in it, and it arrived during the company's late flowering golden age, everyone is allowed to gloss over the lack of a decent story, lack of any actual horror and even the lack of a decent actor amongst the assembled cast. Okay, so Pitt strips off. So what? Is that any reason to put Countess Dracula on a par with The Vampire Lovers?

I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that Countess Dracula is the worst film Hammer made. Yes, worse than Horror Of Frankenstein. Yes, worse even than The Witches. It is quite simply appalling. And not, I hasten to add, in a good way.

"The film starts as it means to go on, with a knob in a silly hat arriving at a funeral."

The film starts as it means to go on, with a knob in a silly hat (Sandor Eles) arriving at a funeral. Silly hats abound in this part of the world, everyone has a go with one. We're then treated to the first (but not the last, oh no) crash-zoom onto the merry widow (Pitt) and the titles blare out. We then get the usual scene that Hammer used to show someone was a "bad person" - the gay abandon with which her coach and horses return to her castle, running over peasants without a care in the world.

At the will reading it turns out that Pitt's late husband has had the last laugh - the knob on the horse with the silly hat has been left with the horses and the stables. Pitt gets the rest of the fortune, but must share it with her daughter. No-one is particularly happy with the will, except for said knob. His name is Tote, and as well as his predilection for bad hats, it appears he:

1. Has forgotten how to speak English, and spends the rest of the film dubbed (as does Pitt, and, it appears, most of the rest of the cast);

2. Has been cursed with a wonky moustache;

3. Hasn't had much luck with his hair, either;

4. Got dressed in the dark.

But I digress. Pitt, who up to this point has been coated with not-very-convincing old age make-up, accidentally splashes a virgin's blood on her face and realises that - bingo - she suddenly looks 20 years younger. The next morning her faithful guard and lover Dobie, greeted with a far more ravishing prospective shag than the previous night, wonders what Pitt's daughter is going to say when she arrives tomorrow to find her mother looks younger than her.

Cue daughter's kidnapping (complete with dubbed on voice track of ineffectual "Ah! Let me go"s and "Ooh, you beast"s) and the first of many foiled escape attempts by the feisty youngster.

Pitt has meanwhile fallen head of heels for young Tote. I'm not sure what it would have been that first attracted her, really - the wonky 'tache, the stupid boots, the hideous white spandex trousers or possibly his enormous balloon sleeves. Take your pick.

Dobie is understandably jealous, especially when he shows he's the perfect man by claiming that he prefers Pitt when she's old. But she reckons she will only appeal to Tote as a younger woman, so the dead, drained virgins keep piling up. One is a fortune teller, who obviously wasn't particularly good at her job as she failed to notice the hair pin destined to come into contact with her jugular. There's also the small issue - once again pointed out be the faithful and forthright Dobie - that every time her youth wears off, Pitt gets uglier. It also always happens when she's about to get a shag, which does make for the occasional comedy moment.

There is, I'm afraid, very little to recommend Countess Dracula to anyone other than a rabid Hammer completist. The horror is kept to a minimum, the nudity is almost coy, and the title is so misleading (considering the company's history) that you wonder how they got away with it without getting sued. I'm reliably informed that the actual story of Countess Bathory is actually a lot more exciting than this turgid 90 minutes. How do you explain that? Is it actually possible to suck the last remaining interest out of a historical tale when adapting it for something that's supposed to be classed as entertainment? Well, now we know the answer - yes. Well done, Hammer, another first.

Last updated: February 17, 2010

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