From Greg Ferrara comes word this morning of the death of beloved Hammer horror actress Ingrid Pitt. Born Ingoushka Petrov in Poland in 1937, Pitt became a cult star in Hammer productions such as The Vampire Lovers and Countess Dracula. She also appeared in cult classics like The House That Dripped Blood, The Wicker Man and in what was perhaps her most mainstream effort, Where Eagles Dare (1969) alongside Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. Pitt was preceded in death by Roy Ward Baker, the director of one of her most popular films, The Vampire Lovers, only just a few weeks ago. The actress suffered a recent collapse and was told that she was suffering from heart failure. Despite this development, according to her daughter Stephanie Blake the loss of her mother came as “a huge surprise.”
I initially became familiar with Ingrid Pitt not through her films, exactly, but by the fact that stills from those films kept reliably popping up in all the monster mags of the early to mid ‘70s of which I was a faithful reader. She always seemed to be in some various state of undress, or at least baring her heaving bosom while bent over another attractive young lady for whom she had the bloodlust, ready to put fangs to virgin neck. Of course I loved her! But when I finally saw in the movies themselves, in motion, my love for her was sealed with a bloodstained kiss. My first exposure came with her appearance popping out of a coffin, in full vampire mode, at the climax of The House That Dripped Blood (1971), a terrific Amicus anthology picture, one in which the filmmakers truly did save the best for last. Not long after that I was lucky enough to see her best performance, as the mad countess (based on the real-life Elizabeth Bathory) who discovers that bathing in the rich blood of young virgins allows her to reverse the aging process, in Hammer’s Countess Dracula (1971). In addition to being Pitt’s best role and best work as an actress, the movie also benefited, particularly from my 12-year-old boy’s point of view, from the then-relatively permissive guidelines of the MPAA, which gave this movie a “GP” rating (the nonsensical equivalent of today’s “PG”), despite the fact that Pitt is seen fully, frontally nude is several scenes. It wasn’t until I was much older that I saw her supremely erotic performance in The Vampire Lovers (1970), which is clearly the best of her Hammer vampire pictures, soaked as it is in gory excess and the exploration of the boundaries of a storyline in which Pitt’s is not the only heaving bosom of interest. Those bosoms are frequently pitted (no pun intended) against each other in one of the earliest and best lesbian-oriented horror tales, taking full advantage of the early days of the rating system’s tolerance for risqué behavior on screen.
Of course Pitt also appeared in The Wicker Man (1973), fitting in beautifully amongst the sexual abandon of the mysterious island off the Welsh coast so arrogantly disturbed by Edward Woodward’s Christian authority. She worked frequently in lesser roles in later years, though she did make many memorable TV appearances, including stints on Doctor Who and Smiley’s People. But the relatively brief period she appeared in horror films—those three films in two years— was enough to secure her a spot in the personal horror hall of fame of most every fan my age. In my growing up it was a great pleasure to find out that she was as solid an actress, and as well-known for being a genuinely kind and approachable person, as she was a seductive icon of eroticized horror. By many accounts a fine writer as well, Pitt was well known, as Hammer historian Marcus Hearn observed, for being “gloriously uninhibited” and very proud of becoming Hammer’s first female horror star. Pitt’s own daughter hopes she is remembered as the star with the "wonderful teeth and the wonderful bosom.” All that and more, Ingrid Pitt has certainly achieved a place in cinematic immortality even as she must now leave us with our memories and, of course, the terrific movies she made.