Halloween Endurance Test: Countess Dracula (1971)


After Universal’s initial, studio-saving, success with it, Britain’s Hammer Films was the next studio to find fame, and notoriety, with the Dracula character.  Legally, Hammer couldn’t recreate any likeness or aspect of Universal’s Lugosi portrayal; a condition that had kept the character virtually untouched since 1945’s House of Dracula.  (House of Dracula being the last attempt to make any money from Universal’s monstrous cash cow.)

Since Lugosi’s histrionic portrayal was officially off-limits, Hammer went the other route, hiring Christopher Lee, an actual English-speaking actor, to play the monster.  Thus starting one of the longest running debates in horror moviedom: Who made the better Dracula: Lugosi or Lee?

(Seriously, just try it out on some film buffs thenext time you’re stuck at a boring Halloween party and watch the sparks fly! Don’t worry, as film buffs, this will easily be the most exciting thing to happen to them all night.)

Unfortunately Lee’s success left him falling victim to the same Dracula curse: the desire to branch out.  Unlike Lugosi though, Lee would be successful in finding more illustrious work (e.g. not making horror movies; such projects as the Lord of the Rings trilogy).

Leaving Hammer to turn to female vampire tales.  Perfect vehicles for their (at the time) current leading lady, Ingrid Pitt.  Tonight she plays a character based off the ever-popular Elizabeth Bathory legend.

Bathory is infamous for killing hundreds of girls; with the kicker being she did so to bathe in their blood.  Doing so supposedly allowed her to retain her youthful appearance.  A perfect story for sexually-exploitative vampire movies, though one has to wonder why a G-rated version wasn’t used in Universal’s Dracula’s Daughter.

Bathory would become quite the popular legend in vampire films, with this one being one of the few female vampire films that doesn’t involve lesbianism.  Instead the Countess is locked in a love triangle; between an interested suitor (who doesn’t know her secret) and the old Captain (who loves the Countess as the Countess) who worked under her old husband.

As can be guessed from such a story, there’s a lot of scenes with the Countess avoiding her youthful suitor mid-transformation.  The old Captain gets more and more tired of being led around, all while the villagers wonder where their daughters are disappearing to.

This all this naturally builds to the climatic wedding scene.  Where the Captain,  villagers, and the Countess’ own daughter seek to stop the ceremony.

Allowing the film to flip cinematic conventions in an amusing fashion.  Normally the wedding scene is interrupted so that a protagonist can marry their true love, instead of an impostor.  Here, the film’s protagonist _is_ the impostor!  With all the other characters set to carry out their own forms of revenge.  All topped with a healthy dose of quasi-vampirism and filicide!


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