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August 10, 2010

Countess Dracula

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Peter Sasdy - 1971
MGM Region 1 DVD

"CARA may make and/or retain a copy of any version of any motion picture submitted for rating as a reference to compare it to any other version submitted for rating and, after a rating has been certified, to verify that the version being exhibited or distributed is the rated version, or for any other reason related to the rating of that motion picture or the administration of the rating system."

Nowadays, it seems that the Motion Picture Association of America's idea of a PG film involves animatronic animals that say rude things, and have comically anti-social behavior. When the rating, first "M", than "GP" and finally "PG" was doled out, it was for films that may have been a bit more extreme than the kind of films that would have simply been approved under the old MPAA code. This meant that Charlton Heston running around in a loin cloth in Planet of the Apes or John Wayne killing Viet-Cong in The Green Berets would be considered G rated entertainment. A slightly more severe rating was imposed for Richard Harris baring all and getting hoisted up with hooks in his chest in A Man called Horse or George Sanders in drag in The Kremlin Letter. Countess Dracula has a copious amount of nudity, even in comparison to some of the films of its time. What is also striking is that the violence is mostly suggested, with splatters of blood here and there. That the film received a PG rating in its U.S. release in 1972 suggests that there was a time when parents were more concerned about children exposed to graphic violence than an exposed human body. It's a sad commentary that the reverse is true with the current ratings board.

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I'm not totally sure what it says about our time that even when there is onscreen nudity in an English language film, it more often involves male actors. For a contemporary movie involving female nudity, I have to add a Spanish film to me Netflix queue, usually starring Maribel Verdu or Paz Vega. While the ratings board has been shaken a bit by Kirby Dick's documentary, This Film is not Yet Rated, my wish is that more filmmakers would use Countess Dracula as a weapon against the MPAA when the board insists on editing onscreen nudity. As it is, in spite of some small efforts to seem more even-handed, the board still sees fit to give big budget Hollywood productions like Lord of the Rings a PG-13, while the less violent Red Cliff is rated R. I have to assume that the MPAA thinks its job is to protect children from subtitles.

Usually when it comes to films, even on DVD, my response is res ipsa loquitur, let the thing speak for itself. Countess Dracula has one of the few commentary tracks worth listening to while watching the film. Most of the commentary is from Peter Sasdy, telling about how he blended his own Hungarian heritage within the framework of a Hammer film, basing the story on Countess Elizabeth Bathory. One point of interest is that the film's sumptuous look comes from reusing the sets that were originally constructed for Anne of a Thousand Days. Sasdy also mentions that this was the first Hammer film produced in more than a decade without Hollywood money, making concerns about the budget even more stringent. Sasdy's discussion about the history of Transylvania helps put the cross cultural elements of his film into greater context with the German and Turkish elements on screen. The titular star, Ingrid Pitt, doesn't say as much, but apparently did some heavy research into the life of her real life counterpart, called Countess Elisabeth Nodosheen in the film.

There is no blood sucking, no fangs in the neck. Unlike Elizabeth Bathory, Ingrid Pitt's countess finds rejuvenation with sponge baths, albeit with the blood of virgins. The scenes that come closest to depicting vampirism are of men nuzzling the voluptuous breasts of some of the women, including Pitt. Some might consider the display of flesh exploitive or demeaning, but Ingrid Pitt expresses no such concerns. As she says, "I had a beautiful body".

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 10, 2010 07:44 AM


I'm always fascinated by the early vagaries of the ratings system. This is, however, one of the very few I've heard of with any kind of significant nudity to get to GP/PG. Considering the X for "Midnight Cowboy" it's kind of surprising they would given even nonsexual nudity that kind of a pass. And you would think if prostitution and homosexuality was a hot enough topic to get an X, bathing in the blood of virgins would at least get you an "R."

I understand that "Dracula Has Risen from the Grave" was actually G-rated. And people today complain about PG-13 horror...

Posted by: Bob Westal at August 11, 2010 02:03 AM

Just wanted to say that Ingrid Pitt's assessment of her body is spot on...

I loved her in this, but even more so in The Vampire Lovers and her bit in The House That Dripped Blood (my intro to her).

Posted by: Bob Turnbull at August 12, 2010 02:09 AM

Vampire classics are more realistic than modern vampire films, I saw this movie and it is very well done. Ingrid Pitt is gorgeous in this film.

Posted by: Trag Lee at August 24, 2010 02:14 AM