COUNTESS DRACULA (1970)
"The blood. The girls blood.... Bring her to me!"
|Director: Peter Sasdy
Starring: Ingrid Pitt, Nigel Green, Sandor Eles, Maurice Denham, Patience Collier, Lesley-Anne Down, Nike Arrighi
Screenplay: Jeremy Paul
Synopsis: Imre Toth (Sandor Eles), a young soldier, attends the funeral of his fathers old friend. There, he catches the eye of the widow, the Countess Elisabeth (Ingrid Pitt), who quickly becomes infatuated with him. Inheriting a house and the Counts entire stable, Imre decides to stay. The Counts major domo, Captain Dobi (Nigel Green), inherits only the Counts uniforms and armour. He is furious, but the Countess points out that he should not be surprised, given that the Count was well aware that she and Dobi had been lovers.
During an altercation with her mistress, one of the Countesss servants cuts herself. Her blood splashes onto the Countess, who is astonished and delighted to find that it rejuvenates her skin. The Countess insists that her maid, Julie (Patience Collier), take her to the girls room. Reluctantly, Julie does, and the girl is seen no more. The next day, Imre is introduced to the Countesss beautiful young daughter, Ilona. The two are quickly in love. Meanwhile, the real Ilona (Lesley-Anne Down) has been abducted by some of Dobis men, and held captive. The false Ilona and Imre are about to make love when Elisabeth reverts to her real age. Fleeing, she is horrified to discover that she looks older than before.
Julie is sent to obtain another girl, and brings back a gypsy (Nike Arrighi) who goes the way of the servant girl. Imre and Ilona announce their betrothal. Elisabeth convinces Dobi to bring her a new victim, promising to sleep with him as Ilona if he succeeds. Furious and jealous, Dobi gets Imre drunk and sets him up with a prostitute in order to convince Elisabeth that Imre doesnt care for her. Elisabeth sees through the trick and murders the prostitute, but her blood doesnt work. Master Fabio (Maurice Denham), who has discovered what is going on, tries to save his own life by explaining that only virgin blood will do. Meanwhile, the investigation into the missing girls is moving closer to the castle.
Comments: Countess Dracula has, of course, nothing whatsoever to do with Countess Dracula, but a great deal to do with the infamous Elisabeth Bathory, a sexual psychopath who tortured young girls for pleasure and bathed in their blood to restore her skin. Protected from possible repercussions by her powerful relatives, Bathory slaughtered literally hundreds of victims, moving from castle to castle every time the local supply of girls began to peter out.
Capturing the appalling social implications of this situation, with the aristocracy quite literally preying upon the peasant classes, is just one of the things that Peter Sasdys film does very well. The Countesss attitude is encapsulated in the opening sequence when, returning from her husbands funeral, her carriage runs over and kills a peasant. She doesnt even blink, let alone stop and check the damage. Convinced of the restorative qualities of her servants blood, she wastes no time at all in murdering the girl to obtain it.
Later, needing a new victim, she sends Captain Dobi out to find her a virgin. There proves to be no great difficulty about this: Dobi simply goes down to the local market and buys one. (No, excuse me, he doesnt. He buys a goat, and the virgin is thrown in free.) The other fascinating aspects of this film are its awareness of the kind of deadly tensions that can arise within the parent-child relationship - something Sasdy also examined in his debut feature, Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1969) - and its exploration of the lengths to which people will go in their efforts to look younger.
This latter theme has lost none of its relevance, to the extent that, despite the horrific nature of her deeds, it is impossible not to sympathise with the Countess. After all, substitute plastic surgery and liposuction for the bloodbaths, and we have the all too familiar sight of a woman going to torturous lengths for fear of losing her youth and looks and, as a consequence, her man. The tragedy of Countess Dracula (putting the fate of Elisabeths victims aside for the moment) is the utterly misguided behaviour of the Countess and her long-time lover, Captain Dobi. These two have infinitely more brains, personality and strength of character than their younger counterparts, but that isnt enough for either of them. Youth is the Holy Grail.
Elisabeth, in her pursuit of her new lover, slights the man who has loved her for many years and remained in the position of a servant in her husbands household in order to be near her. At no time is there the slightest suggestion that Imre could be interested in Elisabeth as she is. Recognising this, she turns willingly to murder, even to the extent of trying to kill the daughter whose identity she has usurped.
Similarly, Dobi starts out declaring he would rather have Elisabeth the way she is, but in time becomes so intent upon bedding her younger incarnation that he supplies her with victims in order to make it possible. The wrongness of all of this is underscored by the characters of Imre and Ilona. Theyre bimbos, both of them, with little beyond their youth and looks to recommend them. Sadly, then as now, thats about all they need. This point is further emphasised in the scene where the plain-ish virgin is given free to Dobi because "what man would want her?" Ingrid Pitt and Nigel Green are both excellent as Elisabeth and Dobi, maintaining audience sympathy despite their appalling behaviour. The two are well supported by Patience Collier as Julie, Elisabeths personal servant, who turns a blind eye to her mistresss doings until Ilona, her former charge, is targeted as the next victim, and by Maurice Denham as Master Fabio, who also knows whats going on, but is more interested in the library he has just inherited than the fate of the victims.
Lesley-Anne Down and Sandor Eles are suitably bland and boring as Ilona and Imre. Held in her mothers captivity for most of the time, Ilona takes the first opportunity she has to totally ignore the precautions taken to insure her safety, and ends up indirectly causing Imres death, and nearly her own. The character of Imre is particularly annoying, never more so than when, although aware of Elisabeths identity and what she has done, he weakly allows himself to be blackmailed into staying and marrying her. (The negative nature of the characterisation is helped enormously by the very silly hat that Sandor Eles wears for most of the film. Nigel Green wears a similar one, but hes got the height and personality to carry it off. Eles just looks like a twerp.) The supporting cast includes some familiar, and welcome, faces, including Peter Jeffrey, Leon Lissek and Nike Arrighi. Typical of its time, the film contains plenty of gratuitous nudity, although it is my painful duty to report that the much published full length shot of a totally naked Ingrid Pitt stepping out of her bloodbath doesnt actually appear in the film. Sorry.