Following on my recent viewing of Daughters of Darkness (1971), here’s another movie about Hungary’s legendary Countess Elizabeth Bathory. This Hammer film directed by Peter Sasdy stars Ingrid Pitt as the Countess. As this film begins, the Count has just died, which pleases the Countess’ handsome steward Captain Dobi (Nigel Green), because he’s been waiting years for this chance to be with Elizabeth. After cruelly abusing one of her servant girls, the nasty old Countess discovers that any contact with virgin blood restores her youthful beauty. Unfortunately, the effects of the blood treatments are temporary, and each time they wear off the Countess gets older and uglier, a dilemma like Coleen Gray’s in The Leech Woman (1960), with very similar delightfully droopy melted-wax makeup effects.
To explain her youthful state, the Countess pretends to be her own daughter, and in so doing she attracts the dashing young officer, Lt. Toth (Sandor Elès) who has inherited the Count’s valuable stable. Their passionate affair rejuvenates her spirit, but when real Ilona (Lesley-Anne Down) returns, her mother orders her kept prisoner in a nearby cabin so she can continue the lie long enough to marry Toth.
Suspense comes from the Countess’ desperate race against time to get more blood before her secret is discovered, to divert the townspeople’s growing suspicion, hide the bodies of all those poor girls she’s drained, and keep her daughter away. It’s assumed (by me anyway) that if Ilona gets too close, she’ll eventually fall victim to her own mother’s bloodlust, so as much as you want Ilona escape captivity to assume her rightful place and save Toth, who was always meant to marry her, you know that the closer she gets to the castle, the greater the danger.
Two loyal and long-serving companions to the Countess try to do the right thing and end up paying with their lives: nurse Julie (Patience Collier) and castle historian Fabio (Maurice Dunham). Nigel Green does a really nice job as the devoted Dobi. He loves how attractive the Countess is when she’s young, but hates that she passes him by to target the younger man and only returns when she needs another young lady. Dobi points out that she’s alienating him by destroying her real, mature self with this sorcery; he would happily have spent his twilight years with her as she was, but loses interest in the hag she becomes.
Elès, or better to say his character Toth, is the weakest spot because he’s undeveloped, just hopelessly smitten and necessarily slow to realize he’s really fallen in love with a monster. He gets a shocking eyeful of her blood-bathing, but even then she’s still young and captivating enough to assuage some of his horror (but after that she keeps him confined to the castle for good measure). He doesn’t get a look at her rotting old Dorian Gray portrait face until that fantastic climactic reveal at their wedding.
It’s yet another fascinating story in which a woman tries to recapture the value and importance she lost along with her youth and beauty. A good deal of sympathy is built into that kind of character, so when she gains the ability to reverse aging and enjoy long-lost pleasures and power, her deception and crimes are as tragic as they are terrible, and the enabling by her accomplices is understandable. Very nicely done thriller with not too much blood, considering how key it is to the plot, but some cinematic shocks and forbidden sights in the 70’s Hammer style.