Thursday, April 26, 2012

A review

From the unofficial site: In a medieval Europe, the recently widowed Coutess Elisabeth (Ingrid Pitt), rules over her subjects with cold disdain, alongside her lover, Captain Dobi (Nigel Green). In a rage one night she strikes out at a young servant, only to discover that the splashes of the servant's blood have rejuvenated her skin - and hence the Countess embarks on a savage rampage, bathing in the blood of young virgins in order to make herself young again... dvd review Its not the first time that Countess Dracula has been out on dvd in the UK, with a previous edition from Carlton a budget release with no supplemental material. A US edition from MGM on the other hand (double-billed with The Vampire Lovers included a commentary etc). With the MGM edition still available I was delighted to learn that with their acquisition of several Hammer titles Network were promising some substantially different packages. Countess Dracula is the first Hammer title on offer, and one I can wholeheartedly recommend to both Hammer and genre fans. The film itself is a mixed bag. Peter Sasdy is one of Hammer's most promising later talents as director and yet Countess Dracula has never excited me in the way that for example, Hands of the Ripper does. Production design does wonders with the post-Bray studio work, offering a genuinely arresting castle set. The cast is largely entertaining, with Nigel Green and Maurice Denham both providing plenty of light relief. Sandor Elwes makes for a fetching if slightly weak lead. Of course the real star of the picture is the delightful Ingrid Pitt in the second of her two Hammer performances. It says much for Ingrid that in those two short roles she captivated the attention of many and has ensured a lasting legacy as a Hammer horror scream queen. screen grab of title caption card to Countess Dracula from Network's special edition dvd As pointed out on the accompanying commentary, she deftly moves between the ravaged and aging Countess - increasingly mad, and the beautiful young woman that the Countess becomes on contact with virgin blood. Her presence is so strong in the film, its a wonder any of the other actors get a look in. Of course there's also the scenes of nakedness in Countess Dracula that show off Pitt's body - something which she remains rightly proud of. Similar moments in both The Vampire Lovers and The Wicker Man have placed an indelible association in her cinematic appearances between Miss Pitt and bathing for me. screen grab showing Nigel Green and the freshly rejuvenated Ingrid Pitt as Countess Dracula from Network's special edition dvd transfer The film is presented in a roughly 1.85:1 ratio, with anamorphic enhancement. Colours are fine, although like the Carlton and MGM discs, deal with flesh tones in a slightly odd way. The extras are all sourced from broadcast video tapes and look fine considering the source elements - and all in fullscreen. extras Not being a particular fan of Countess Dracula I looked towards the supplemental features to lift the experience for me, which they do admirably. They place a context on contemporaneous British television, and the genre work from Nigel Green and Ingrid Pitt. The package being rather diverse I'll comment on some of the main features: screen grab of Ingrid Pitt interviewed by Tonight in 1999 - an extra from Network's Countess Dracula Special Edition dvd Screen grab from Thriller: Where The Action Is - an extra from Network DVD's Countess Dracula Special Edition dvd Screen grab showing Nigel Green and Yootha Joyce from Conceptions of Murder: Peter and Maria, a 1970 tv play which appears as an extra on Network's Countess Dracula Special Edition dvd * The Audio Commentary is in fact a brand new one, recorded in the last few months with Ingrid Pitt herself and internationally acclaimed horror experts Kim Newman and Stephen Jones. Pitt herself is on fine form - rather eccentric and over the top, but charming and fascinating too. Newman and Jones do well to balance her memoirs and thoughts with a well-researched historical and critical commentary. Revealing to this reviewer at least is the level of contempt Pitt has for her director Peter Sasdy regarding him as simply terrible. She also passes several comments about her impending Hammer biography and her relationship with Jimmy Carreras (having loved him, she now hates that in writing the book she has to admit he wasn't a terribly nice man - the promise of scandal and intrigue in store perhaps?); and such charming ability to disarm as when asked what it was like kissing Sandor, she replies "He was a poof!". Indeed.... * Archive news clip from 1999 is a short segment from a news report from Meridian tv about the Hammer Bray event that year. A couple of minutes long there's a couple of familiar faces... * Archive interview from 1999 - an interview with Miss Pitt from Tonight, discussing her recently released autobiography Life Is A Scream! and her experiences both in the concentration camps and fighting cancer. * Thriller episode - Where the Action Is - This hour long instalment from the popular tv series sees Ingrid Pitt as the love interest to a big time gambler who likes to use people's lives as collateral. * Conceptions of Murder: Peter and Maria - a 1970 tv play about a serial killer starring Nigel Green and Yootha Joyce (of George and Mildred fame). A nice, taught two-hander, brilliantly executed. Twenty-five minutes of quality and worth picking up this set for by itself. Additional extras include original theatrical trailer for the main feature, and a booklet written by Stephen Jones (which was unavailable at the time of this review).

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