If there was one thing that Hammer was good at, it was creating a horror movie that would feature bloody murders with beautiful women left and right. One of the most beautiful to ever appear in one of their films was Ingrid Pitt who would come fresh from starring in The Vampire Lovers and would once again don the cloak of a vampiress, though this time she would not be so much as ingesting the blood as she would be bathing in it. While the title of the movie is a slight misnomer, having nothing to do with Dracula at all, it is in the same realm as the fabled count and does indeed have to do with blood as it is based upon the legend of Countess Elizabeth Báthory. The woman, nicknamed the Blood Countess was a horrible person indeed and Jeremy Paul, the writer of this film, and Hammer who were known to lift inspiration from history and from literature, looked to that infamous Countess to tell a tale that might horrify their audience though in a good way of course.
Here Pitt plays an older woman, a Countess named Elisabeth Nádasdy whose husband has died and left her with half of what she expected. She wants more, more of what she does not know but she finds Lt. Imre Toth quite intriguing as he stirs something within her. While raging at home, the Countess cuts her maid accidentally and as the blood splashes upon her, she discovers that it rejuvenates her and thus begins her campaign for youth and beauty with the murders of several young women.
Pitt is exceptional in the role of the Countess, walking that line between obsession and madness, desire and want. The makeup by Tom Smith and the special effects by Bert Luxford was truly fantastic as we see Pitt go from old to young and back again, each time looking just a little more hideous when the effects of the blood would wear off. Whereas Pitt looked almost ethereal in The Vampire Lovers, more than likely due to her being a mythical creature, here she was more grounded and her look completely different. That is not to say that she was without talent for she had it in spades and Hammer was wise to cast her in the lead out of any other actresses that they might have been contemplating about. She knew how to create the terror that was needed with her character before and after the transformations that would take place and when it came down to it, the Countess, no matter how gorgeous, was not a woman you would want to be involved with.
There was a lot of blood in the film, almost a prerequisite for the subject, and Hammer would come to make one slight gaff if you could call it that. With the movie being an interpretation of the Elizabeth Báthory legend and one of those key points of the story being that Báthory had bathed in blood, it would have been nice to see Pitt in such a situation to truly bring across the horror of this woman’s nature. Yes, it was hinted at and a bathtub is shown a couple of times with Pitt covered in blood, but a tub full of that liquid with Pitt’s character relaxing in it would have been an image that would have stuck in people’s minds more than any other. As it is, there would be enough horror in the film for any fan; it simply seemed like a missed opportunity that the studio could have cashed in on.
Though you might think you will be seeing one of Hammer’s vaunted vampire movies, be forewarned that you will not, at least not in the classic sense. The Countess in this film is a vampire of sorts as she steals the blood, the life and the youth of the women in this picture, the main difference being that she does not ingest it. That fact alone might make the Countess all the more deadly and even more frightful than Dracula could ever be. Overall, one cannot go wrong with watching Countess Dracula as it is a truly fascinating picture, one that shocks the sensibilities when you really think about the horrific acts that are perpetrated within and by doing so, it is one that sticks with you.