You ever wish you could be a cigar-chewing, bottom-lining, interfering executive producer? The sort of brash, no bullshit mover and shaker who’d have no problem asking a sensitive and artistic director ‘how the hell is this supposed to make us any money?’ I do. And not just for the Rolls-Royces, expensive coats and champagne for breakfast. But because I would like to have been on the set of films like Countess Dracula.
Because I’m telling you, this one had got a lot going for it, and all it needed was a quiet word in the right ear, and a boot up the right backside and it could have been a classic. And if I’d had the chance to roll up outside the set having watched the dailies, and waddled into the production office (in this fantasy, by the way, I’m fat with fine wine, good food, and not giving a shit) for a private emergency meeting with the director and producer, it would probably have gone something like this:
Listen lads, we’ve got a bit of a problem. Now, don’t panic because I love the movie. I do, I really do. I’m thrilled we’ve got you Hungarian lads telling Hungary’s most famous true horror story. I feel your need to tell this story right, to use our humble Hammer to tell a proper Hungarian tale. I love the authentic details you’ve brought to the project, especially the hats. Listen, did I ever once complain about the hats? Let me tell you, here at Hammer studios we are not short of funny hats for soldiers, maids and noblemen to wear. Warehouses full of the buggers we’ve got. But you wanted proper Hungarian hats, and that’s what I got you, didn’t I? You know why? And it’s not just because I care, although believe me, I do care. We’re trying to drag Hammer into the 70’s here. And I can’t face trying to blackmail Christopher Lee into being Dracula again. It’ll take me getting the Queen, the actual Queen, to beg him to do it if we want him. And I, for one, cannot be arsed. So, what do we want instead of scowling Chris? We want something different. Something authentic. And that’s what we’ve got here no question. I know you’re having to put up with a bunch of English blokes, some of them trying out dodgy Hungarian accents, and some of them not bothering at all. But still, the look of it, the feel of it is authentic. It’s Hungarian, and it’s your country’s story, and I want to be true to that, I do. That’s why I’m coming to you today. Not because I want less from you, but because I want more my lads, more!
I mean, it looks terrific! You will have to excuse me for using the word ‘terrific’ to describe what are pretty obviously painstakingly arranged shots with such indescribably beautiful composition so that nearly every single frame looks like a classic painting. Don’t look so surprised, I care about that stuff! You know why? Because it works, that’s why. It’s not pretentious, or showy, it just makes the whole thing look, well, terrific. And my job is to make sure that Arthur Q Average gets something in return from forking over his hard-earned money to us. And as far as how this baby looks, I think he’s getting plenty of bang for his buck.
And listen, Ingrid Pitt could be a huge star for us, and this is a great vehicle for her. Honestly, I had my doubts she could carry this whole film. Because even though the Countess is a total monster, we have to feel for her or there’s no bloody movie. And Ingrid is magnetic, magnificent, magisterial. She’s just as good as the desperate and conniving old crone as she is as the young, can’t believe her luck, second chance beauty. She is doing brilliant work, and that is pretty obviously down to you guys and your vision for this picture.
And the setting! Look, we’ve done movies set in castles before. Quite a lot of bloody movies actually, but they’ve never felt this claustrophobic. For the first time ever, I’m getting a sense of how imprisoned these nobles were in the same old cold stone corridors, the same old dusty rooms and libraries, the same old faces on the wall, and the creeping knowledge that all you would ever amount to, at best, is another picture on that wall. You’ve got me thinking lads, and I don’t care what people say, I think thinking in a movie is good, otherwise what are you doing? You’re getting bored is what you’re doing. You could set the whole movie in this castle!
In fact, that’s what I’m here to tell you lads. You SHOULD set the whole movie in the castle. You build up this really nice claustrophobia and tension, and set up how easy it is for morals to become so twisted and fluid when you live in a place where nothing ever moves, where even the candlesticks have probably stood in the same place for hundreds of years. And then people leave the castle and go to pubs, go wandering about to pick up more victims, and the whole movie runs out of steam in a heartbeat. I’m telling you this now as your friend as well as your producer, after being totally with it for the first half, as soon as people just start pottering about, it loses it. So, keep it in the castle OK? Even if that means moving the daughter from her imprisonment in the woodcutter’s cabin, because let’s be honest, it does not do her character any favours that she is unable to escape from a small wooden hut, even when she’s left alone for ages. Banging weakly on wooden doors and crying doesn’t cut it lads, she’s a pitiful excuse for flesh and blood. So sling her in a dungeon of the castle somewhere. After all, the countess is pretending to be her own daughter isn’t she? Wouldn’t it lend that charade a bit more bitterness, a bit more pathos, if the daughter was right underneath everyone’s feet, including the Countess? Your call, honestly, but I’m telling you, you have to keep it in the castle, so why not?
But there is one more thing I’m going to have to get you to do, even though you’re not going to like it. There is another reason why it runs out of steam. There’s no horror lads. And I mean, like none. None horror is the amount of horror we have in this Hammer horror movie. I tell a lie, there’s that bit where she jams the knife into someone’s neck, and that’s OK… but seriously, lads, where is the piggin’ blood?
Where’s the BLOOD!? This is the story of an old woman who gets to be young again by bathing in the blood of her many, many victims. So where in God’s bloody name is all the blood?! There’s a scene where she gets disturbed rubbing the blood all over her, and you’ve only got a few streaks on her! She should be covered! Dripping! Drowning in bloody blood! I want you to know that I am prepared to follow you around saying the word ‘blood’ over and over and over again into your ear for the rest of the picture, if you don’t start covering everything in blood.
You see, lads, a good horror movie needs tension, and in this one the tension has to come from the huge gulf between how good it feels for her to be young and beautiful, and the horrible and unforgivable things she does to be that way. You have to have the horror in there lads or the story just won’t work. There’s no feeling of approaching doom, of how this is all coming to a brutal end. It just ends up being a movie where people either scheme or get duped. But this not a film about scheming. This is a film about the utterly horrific lengths a noble-woman went to be young and beautiful again. This is a good story, a universal story, a story we can all relate to. But only if it horrifies us lads, only if it horrifies us. And you know what you need for that to work? In a story about, essentially, an evil witch who bathes in virgins’ blood to be young and beautiful forever? Blood!
So keep the goddamn movie in the goddamn castle, and start covering Ingrid in copious amounts of blood, or you’re both fired. Clear?
Yeah, that’s what I would have said back then if I’d had the chance. It’d be fun to be a big-shot producer, I would think. Everyone running around trying to keep you happy. Probably never even have to buy your own drinks. Speaking of which…