Monday, May 12, 2014

Blu-ray Review: COUNTESS DRACULA (1971)

Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack
Label: Synapse Films
Region Code: A/1
Rating: PG
Duration: 93 Minutes
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.66:1)

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Peter Sasdy
Cast: Ingrid Pitt, Nigel Green, Sandor Eles, Maurice Denhem, Lesley-Anne Down, Patience Collier

COUNTESS DRACULA (1971) stars the voluptuous Ingrid Pitt (THE VAMPIRE LOVERS) as 17th century Hungarian Countess Elisabeth Nádasdy, based on the true story of Elizabeth Báthory. The Countess is a cruel and withered old woman who has just recently been widowed. While punishing her chambermaid for drawing too hot of a bath she discovers that the blood of the virgin girl temporarily rejuvenates her to her former gorgeous self - and Ingrid Pitt is most definitely a gorgeous woman - when she's not layered in warty old age make-up that is.

To continue to enjoy the age-defying benefits of virgin's blood the Countess conspires with her former lover Captain Dobi (Nigel Green, ZULU) and her nanny (Patience Collier) to procure young virgins. To conceal the truth of her youthful appearance she assumes the identity of her own daughter to carry on a love affair with the younger Lt. Imre Toth (Sandor Elès).

Only Grand Master Fabio (Maurice Denham) the resident scholar seems to take notice of the fact that the Countess and her daughter of never in the same place at the same time, it's only when the demand for more virgin blood gets a bit out of control that it draws the attention the local authorities and things start to crumble for the Countess and her conspirators with jealousy and torn loyalties.

We have many of the Hammer Horror tropes are on display here with the Gothic Pinewood Studios back lot locations and the plunging necklines and heaving bosoms you'd come to expect. The story itself is a bit on the slow side and the deliberate pace doesn't necessarily build up to the most exciting of finales but it does have a certain charm... Ingrid Pitt in all her voluptuous beauty in 1080p. Based on the legend of the blood thirsty Elizabeth Bathory we don't see any fang-baring here but we do get a fair amount of bosom-baring so sit back and enjoy this vintage slice of Hammer Horror on Blu-ray.

Blu-ray: This is the last of the announced Hammer horrors from Synapse Films and it's a winner - way to cap of the series. The remastered image looks quite nice with a fair amount of crispness and fine detail. Colors are robust and skin tones are natural in appearance. It's a bit on the grainy side but I do love a pure grain-present presentation over a smeared plasticine scrubbed image. Audio wise we get a very pure DTS-HD Master Audio comes through strong and the score from composer Harry Robertson (TWINS OF EVIL) sounds quite nice even if it's not the most memorable score.

Special features are a bit on the light side compared to the other Hammer entries from Synapse. We begin with an audio commentary with actress Ingrid Pitt, director Peter Sasdy, screenwriter Jeremy Paul and author Jonathan Sothcott. It's a bit dry and appears to have been recorded separately and stitched together so it feels somewhat disjointed. Director Peter Sasdy gets the bulk of the spotlight here with the others chiming in from time to time, there's not a lot of Ingrid Pitt throughout but her moments peppered throughout are quite nice. 

There's also a 11-minute featurette Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life of Ingrid Pitt with a brief overview of her early life and film career and legacy. We also get a vintage audio interview with Pitt, a theatrical trailer and a more risque reversible sleeve of artwork. It's a bit saddening that this is the last of the Hammer titles from Synapse, let's hope they announce a few more in the near future because they've done a fantastic job.

Special Features:
- Audio commentary with actress Ingrid Pitt, director Peter Sasdy, screenwriter Jeremy Paul and author Jonathan Sothcott
- Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life of Ingrid Pitt – Featurette (10:47)
- Archival Audio Interview with Ingrid Pitt (8:30)
- Still Gallery (7:10)
- Theatrical Trailer (3:06)
- Reversible Sleeve of Artwork

Verdict: This recent spate of Hammer Horror on Blu-ray has me excited and while COUNTESS DRACULA (1971) may be my least favored of the Synapse Hammer Blu-rays it is a top-notch transfer with some very decent extras and is a pleasing watch thanks in no small part to the unearthly charm of the voluptuous Ingrid Pitt. Not as visceral as Peter Sasdy's other film from the same year HANDS OF THE RIPPER (1971) or as delightfully weird as VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972) but this one deserves a space on your Hammer Horror shelf.  (3 Outta 5)