Countess Dracula (Blu-ray Review)

Countess-DraculaSynapse Films has released another film in their Hammer Horror Collection.  This time its the Ingrid Pitt-led Countess Dracula, a movie from the later days of the Hammer films classic run.  Ingrid Pitt comes into it following her turn in The Vampire Lovers.  Hammer tells this tale of horror, basing it off of the actual “Blood Countess” Elizabeth Bathory.  The Hungarian Bathory was one of the most prolific serial killers in history, having murdered and mutilated over 100 young women.  Later, it was rumored that she bathed in the blood of virgins in order to maintain her youth.  That info has been considered sketchy and used to build lore by historians, but the fascinating detail of this macabre is the basis for Countess Dracula.

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Our story takes place in 17th century Hungary, in the home of Countess Elizabeth Nadasdy.  Her husband has just passed, and the reading of his will does not end up boding well in her favor.  Nadasdy is forced to have a split of the estate and properties with her daughter and Lt Imre Toth is given all the horses and stables.  Elizabeth then learns that by bathing in the blood of virgins she can regain her youth.  She has her daughter kidnapped and then begins posing as her, trying to get Lt. Imre Toth to marry her.  Her age does consistently return and she winds up having a spree of murdering countless girls to maintain the youth.

This feels like a star vehicle for cult favorite actress Ingrid Pitt, coming off the popular Hammer film, The Vampire Lovers.  The only problem, somebody went back and decided to dub over her voice with another actress.  And said actress even has a similar accent to her, making it all the more head scratching and a slap in the face to Pitt for the choice.  Even without her pipes, Pitt does exude quite a range and star quality to actually carry this film.  Pitt is a very sexy woman, and the wrong actress in this role could have been nothing but that, she rises above just being a great body with a dashing face running around in period costumes.  She really manages the cross between old and new very well.  You also get to see Elizabeth rise and fall and sort of become a person who’s gone through a full dramatic arc and change by the time the credits role.  You really can’t take your eyes off of her throughout this film.

Countess Dracula feels very much like a horror-drama or horror soap opera as it goes.  At least the tone sort of gave me that feeling.  And that’s not really a bad thing, I was pretty intrigued with it throughout.  Its an interesting little dynamic between the characters with plenty of twists, turns and double crosses that highlight many of the reasons people get so addicted to that storytelling.  I was definitely brought in by the sinister nature of luring the innocent women in to be murdered followed by a literal blood bath from Elizabeth as she lathered herself in red to transform back to her youthful self.  Then there was Captain Dobi, who you never quite wanted to trust, and never really knew what side he was on or if he was in it for himself.  Its a very interesting game being played throughout and while I was scared or disturbed by “the horror” I felt it was just sort of the backdrop and device for which to tell this story.

This film came toward the latter end of Hammer Horror’s run, and when horror was beginning to make a turn to more modern tales instead of the Gothic period pieces Hammer was known for.  People were becoming more interested in horror taking place in modern times than that of castles and horses with carriages.  That may be why this solid, decent film gets a little overlooked in the Hammer lexicon.  For me it worked more for its drama and just being a good movie than it did being a horror film.  And I think that’s a pretty fair and praising compliment for the film.  It’s a shame Ingrid Pitt’s voice was dubbed, but I think the actress manages to shine through that (and there’s only a few scenes where the sync makes it painfully obvious she’s dubbed).  Its a nifty little small tale in the realm of Gothic horror and definitely is worthy of a little appreciation.  No, its not a big monster-bash vampire movie, it strives to be a little more than that and uses a stealthier approach to its advantage.

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1:66.1

Clarity/Detail: First off, wow!  Somebody spent time making this thing look stunning.  This rich picture features a sharp image with plenty of detail.  Fabric textures and markings on surfaces are extremely visible.  I can’t imagine this film has ever looked this good and may never look this great again.  Fantastic work.

Depth: For a niche film from the 1970s, I was stunned at how great the foreground/background dimensional work was.  I want to point out every time characters were in the hallway and moved from one room to another an down the hall, I was blown away by the sense of distance and the uniqueness of both character and space.

Black Levels:  Black levels were really rich, with no real signs of big time crushing.  Much of it helped to keep a fine look to the picture as well as add to the sharpness.

Color Reproduction:  Colors were bold and striking.  That classic “Hammer Blood” was popping of the screen and quite marvelous to gander at.

Flesh Tones: Let’s talk about that flesh, shall we?  Skin tones were consistent and detail was very high.  Facial blemishes, wrinkles and cracks were all easily visible and fresh looking.

Noise/Artifacts: There were a few, very minimal specs and dirt on the print.  Also a healthy, welcome layer of grain.  Personally, I honestly think these things added to the enjoyment of the image onscreen.

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Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics:  With the exception of a few, really loud in the mix, effects, this was a strikingly great track.  The source has really been cleaned up and is extremely crisp and clean.  Its a really pronounced and rich track that doesn’t feel 43 years old at all.  The sounds, dialogue and score were all well balanced within this track’s recording.

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue was clean, clear and at an ideal volume.

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Countess Dracula comes with a DVD copy of the film as well as reversible cover artwork for the case.

Audio Commentary With Actress Ingrid Pitt, Director Peter Sasdy, Screenwriter Jeremy Paul and Author Jonathan Sothcott – This commentary is ported over from a DVD edition of the film, but luckily does feature the later great Ingrid Pitt, as well as other important players in bringing Countess Dracula to life discussing the film and its legacy.

Countess Dracula Still Gallery – 78 promotional images, behind the scenes photos, posters and lobby cards from the film.

Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life Of Ingrid Pitt (HD, 10:47) – Some talking heads (experts) discuss Ingrid Pitt’s life and career with a heavier focus on her two notable Hammer Films.

Archival Audio Interview With Ingrid Pitt (HD, 8:30) – An old, taped interview with the actress reflecting on her career and answering plenty of questions.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3:06)

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Synapse Films has put together quite the groovy release for Countess Dracula.  This Blu-ray features an astonishingly gorgeous image supported by an impressive lossless mono track.  Its got a neat amount of extras that are quite enjoyable and informative and aren’t going to eat up your entire evening watching them.  The film itself may definitely be one of Hammer’s most underrated.  Its a nice star vehicle for Ingrid Pitt, who is quite a balance of talent and beauty.  This is a good release, and recommended definitely for Hammer fans as well as those fans who may have seen a lot of Hammer Films but never got to this one.  Horror fans and fans of curiously checking out indie label Blu-ray distributors output should give this a look too.


Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

1 Response to “Countess Dracula (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Brian White

    Sounds like a winner I the Hanmer Films arena!
    Love the reversible artwork inclusion too. Neat!