The Queen of British Horror
The term 'cult status' is an often over used term these days, particularly within the current and seemingly never ending 'sparkling' vampire genre. It seems that wherever I look on pages and forums there are a plethora of said 'sparkling' vamps being bestowed with the term iconic etc etc. Not that I have anything against Twilighty-esq vampires…… well actually I do, but that's another story for possible a different blog entry in the future.
Few female stars of the genre have achieved such a level of affection and obsession in the hearts of we horror fans as Ingrid Pitt. It is a fact made more interesting given that her movie output wasn't that large, in fact she only appeared in a very small handful of Hammer movies. So it's testament to her enduring appeal that her name is still synonymous with vampires, plunging necklines and a screen presence of genuine sensual menace.
So here is my own little personal tribute to the true queen of British horror.
Ingrid was born Ingoushka Petrov on the 21 November 1937 in Warsaw. Her mother was Jewish and her father was a leading scientist who was 'requested' by the Nazi's at the outbreak of war to help develop the rockets to attack London - he refused. As a consequence the five year old Pitt and her mother were sent to a concentration camp where they were haled captive for three years until they managed to escape one day after being led away to be shot. For the remaining years of the war they lived rough with the local partisans until finally settling in Berlin after the fighting in Europe finally ceased.
After catching the acting bug in her teens she became a member of Bertolt Brecht's prestigious Berliner Ensemble theatre company.
She eventually gained a number of minor roles in the movies until her first major appearance opposite Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton in Where Eagles Dare in 1968. She played the part of a German double agent posing as the cafe waitress with the plunging neckline in the classic second world war piece of nonsense. Interestingly, to get the part she had to tell the producers that she was German, which naturally wasn't something she enjoyed having to do.
Ingrid's 1st major role - 'Where Eagles dare'……. "Broadsword calling Danny boy"
A couple of years after providing a 'glimpse' of the future scream queen she landed the role of a character that would come to define her in Hammer Horror's 'The Vampire lovers', based on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's story Carmilla.
|Ingrid & Maddie Smith - perfect|
The movie features Ingrid as Mircalla Karnstein, a two century old lesbian vampire who persuades her young female victims to offer up their pretty necks and bosoms before consuming their blood. For you see, Mircalla from time to time comes back from her death sleep, to spread terror throughout the village . General Von Spielsdorf loses his nubile daughter to Mircalla, and promises revenge, with the help of the skilled vampire-killer Baron Hartog and their Doctor. Cue all manner of blood curdling episodes!
It all sounds like your standard cheesy Hammer flick with an assortment of ranges of acting, and to be honest, much of it is cheesy. However, Ingrid's presence adds a depth to the proceedings that otherwise may be lacking. Yes, she does spend much of the movie walking about in the flimsiest of gowns and nightwear ( not such a bad thing I tell you). However, her charisma and genuine erotic menace certainly transcends parts of the movie that would otherwise be rather high on the cheese element. This makes this movie far better than it's much maligned image would suggest. It's by no means a great film, but it's still a good film which benefits both from Pitt's fabulous performance, but also features the eminently dependable Peter Cushing.
Also, the fact that the film also features the delicious Madeline Smith has absolutely no bearing on my love for this film :-).
The Vampire Lovers trailer - just suck it and see….
This performance was quickly followed by her second and final appearance in a Hammer movie in the title role of Countess Dracula. The portrayal was inspired in part on the life of Countess Elizabeth Báthory, a serial killing Hungarian aristocrat no less, who was accused of murdering approximately 600 female victims! Though she did meet her own sticky end when she was eventually found out and punished by being sealed in her room to starve to death. So that's alright then.
Ingrid is the now- ageing Countess Elisabeth Nodosheen, who discovers (as you do) that virgins’ blood can restore her beautiful youthful looks — but only for a short period of time before her body returns to an ever increasing state of age and decay.
Would you like bubbles or virgin blood in your bath ma'am?
It doesn't take long in the movie before she’s bathing naked in blood, kidnapping her own daughter and ransacking the surrounding countryside for fresh nubile victims. I ask you, just what's not to like about a story like that?!
The film does suffer from the leisurely pace that it is filmed, at times it is distinctly pedestrian. The scenery and sets though are sumptuous and once again Pitt is truly excellent (as is Nigel Green, who plays her helper). Ingrid, part from the raw sexuality she brings to the role also portrays perfectly how the Countess struggles to reconcile the limitations imposed by her rapidly deteriorating face and her frustrations at the weakness shown by the various men around her.
The one exasperating element of the movie was the infamous dubbing of Ingrid's trademark ( no, not THOSE trademarks!) eastern European accent. An issue that didn't please her one little bit when she found out.
The trailer for Countess Dracula
Ingrid went onto make two more noticeable appearances shortly after, in the Amicus horror anthology film The House That Dripped Blood in 1971 - once again featuring her plunging neckline and flowing hair (I repeat, no bad thing). Ingrid co-stars with the then Doctor Who Jon Pertwee in an a not to be taken too serious story about a vain horror actor who discovers that his leading lady has particular intentions for his blood. The role was originally meant for another stalwart of horror, Vincent Price for which I can't help feel that this would have made a finer movie if it had happened.
This multi-part horror from Amicus (Hammer's main production rival at the time) also features two of the genre’s best loved actors, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.
However, it is the image of Pitt from the movie’s final segment that resonates in most peoples memories. Her screen presence was that effective.
Ingrid's title as the Queen of British horror was finally sealed by her appearance in the classic 'The Wicker Man. Though she had a limited role in the movie as the seemingly unremarkable librarian on the Scottish island of Summerisle, it is still memorable. I've previously written about this stunning movie in an earlier blog so if you're interested to know more about it ( which you should be!) then have a look for that.
|Just a few fun and games in 'The Wicker man'|
As I've said, Ingrid's part in the movie was small, although he director did find time to film a short scene of her lying naked in a bath….Again, no bad thing.
After The Wicker Man Ingrid continued to work on screen in the 1970s and 80s as she appeared in Who Dares Wins in1982, the classic espionage television series Smiley's People 1982, and three episodes of Doctor Who in 1984.
Ingrid wrote a number of books, including her autobiography, Life's a Scream in which she talked about her memories of imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp. She also wrote The Ingrid Pitt Book of Murder, Torture and Depravity in 2000, and often attended horror conventions and fan gatherings. In fact, it was while she was on her way to one of these fan gatherings on the 23rd November 2010 when she collapsed and died a few days later at the age of 73
For many of us though, Ingrid Pitt will forever be the Queen of British horror.