Sunday, May 13, 2012

Countess Dracula / The Vampire Lovers (1970): Vintage DVD Review

Movie rating: 7/10
DVD rating: 8/10
Release Date: August 26, 2003
Running Time: 3 hours 4 minutes
Rating: R
Distributor: MGM
List Price: $14.98
Disc Details
Special Features:
Widescreen anamorphic format: "The Vampire Lovers"
Widescreen letterbox format: "Countess Dracula"
Chapter selection
Original theatrical trailers
Commentary track by Countess Dracula director Peter Sasdy, star Ingrid Pitt and writer Jeremy Paul
Commentary track by The Vampire Lovers director Roy Ward Baker, star Ingrid Pitt and writer Tudor Gates
"Carmilla" excerpts read by Ingrid Pitt
Video Format:
The Vampire Lovers: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Countess Dracula: Letterbox Widescreen (1.66:1)
Languages: English (Dolby Digital 2.0) Mono
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French.
Captions: Yes
Casing: 1-Disc Keep Case



Peter Sasdy's "Countess Dracula" is one of the best Hammer Horror films of the studios last period. Based on the life of Elisabeth Batthory, "Countess Dracula" is not a real vampire film. Elisabeth Bathory was a Hungarian Countess who believed that bathing in the blood of virgins would preserve her beauty. She is reputed to have killed over 600 girls during her reign of terror. Sasdy's film cuts down on the body count, but does provide an interesting look into the world's most vain woman.

Countess Elisabeth (Ingrid Pitt) attends the reading of her late husband's will. Also present are Captain Dobi (Nigel Green, Zulu), Lt. Imre (Sandor Eles), Master Fabio (Maurice Denham) and the Countess's maid Julie (Patience Collier). Noticeably absent is the Countess's daughter Illona (Leslie-Anne Down). No one except Master Fabio gets what they wanted. The Countess wanted everything. She has to split everything with her daughter. Captain Dobi gets all of the armor in the castle. What he wants is the Countess. Lt. Imre gets the late Count's horses. Master Fabio gets the library.

In a fit of anger after the reading of the will, Elisabeth attacks a chambermaid. The maid is cut and her blood splashes on the Countess's face. Damn if it doesn't make her skin younger. Elisabeth kills the young woman and discovers that she can be young again. Temporarily. The Countess quickly involves her maid and the lovelorn Capt. Dobi into procuring girls for her. Dobi kidnaps Illona before she can reach the castle. Now Elisabeth can assume the identity of her own daughter. She also sets her lustful gaze on the young Lt. Imre.

Ingrid Pitt delivers the best performance of her career in this dark character study. Her Elisabeth is as vainglorious as any woman who has ever existed. There is no remorse in her soul. The look on Ms. Pitt's face when the will is read is priceless. Her 'old lady' makeup is excellent. After each blood bath, the countess returns to her elderly state, only worse. As the young pseudo Illona, Pitt is amazing. The film was made at the height of the actress's own physical apex. I challenge you to find a more voluptuous actress in horror films. Ms. Pitt doesn't just rely on her physical beauty in this great movie. She delivers a solid performance. The film is all the more chilling because it is based on fact. The production values are excellent. The filmmakers used the expensive sets built for the Richard Burton period piece "Anne of a Thousand Days." The sets work to lift this film above the typical Hammer period piece.


"The Vampire Lovers" was the first film in the Hammer Karnstein trilogy. It was followed by the sub-par "Lust for a Vampire" and the superior "Twins of Evil." This movie is a faithful adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu's lesbian vampire story "Carmilla."

Miracalla/Carmilla Karnstein (Ingrid Pitt) is a vampiress with revenge on her mind. She comes from a long line of vampires. Her bloodline was decimated by Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer). Carmilla's plan is to move in with the friend of Hartog and kill as many members of his family and friends as is inhumanly possible.

"The Vampire Lovers" is hampered by Roy Ward Baker's direction and a script that is afraid to embrace the sexuality inherent in the original story. Not until "Twins of Evil" did Hammer combine the horrific and sexual aspects of the story in an intelligent way. Ingrid Pitt is great as the sexy beast. She kills most of the cast, both male and female. Even though this film is notorious for its lesbian elements, Pitt's vampire attacks both sexes. After all, people are just food for her. She is more interested in revenge than in feeding. Hammer star Peter Cushing turns in a stoic performance as General von Spielsdorf, the vampire's nemesis.

The Disc

One great film and one good one. Great picture and OK sound. Excellent extras. It's hard to believe you get all this for just $14.98. A must have for Halloween.

Picture Quality: 8/10

Both transfers are excellent. There is a bit of shimmering. The pictures are also soft around the edges. Excellent flesh tones and no real delineation problems. The colors are very rich and well saturated.

Sound Quality: 7/10

The mono track is adequate. There is no loss of dialogue. The music isn't the best.

Easter Eggs:

No Easter Eggs found during review.

Extra Features: 10/10

Both films include great commentary tracks with the star, directors and writers. They relate the history of the film and their memories about this wonderful era of Hammer film history. This DVD is worth the price for the commentary tracks alone.

The DVD also includes both original trailers. The "Vampire Lovers" side also includes Ingrid Pitt reading excepts from Sheridan's book "Carmilla." The reading is accompanied by a montage of photos from the movie and publicity shots of the sexy Miss Pitt.

The Final Word:

On the DVD dance floor of life, Hammer horror film fans have been dancing with Anchor Bay almost exclusively. MGM is tapping those fans on the shoulder and asking for the next dance. This DVD is a must have for horror film fans, especially Hammer fans. One of the best DVDs MGM has released in its "Midnight Madness Double Feature" series.

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