Tuesday, November 23, 2010

THE VAMPIRE LOVED: INGRID PITT 1937 - 2010


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.

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6 comments:

Eerie Erik said...

Very nice write up.

Greg said...

A great tribute Dennis, and may I just say here what I neglected to say at my place, perhaps because I was afraid of belittling her (but you have shown me how foolish that thinking is) - She was S-E-X-Y! I mean, after Where Eagles Dare, I was sold! And when I finally saw The Vampire Lovers? Holy Ka-Moly! Ingrid Pitt had talent that a lot of other horror queens never did which is what made it all the more special, and convincing. She was a fine actress and a beauty. It's very sad that she's gone so soon.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Greg, I didn't see Where Eagles Dare until about two years ago, and I have to say I was thrilled to see her in a part like that. Even without fangs she was still (say it with me) sexy. There are a lot of beautiful women in movies these days, and not all of them are of the cookie cutter variety-- and even among the cookie cutters there are those, like Blake Lively in The Town, who can really shine when they get the chance. But outside of someone like Violante Placido of late, I can't think of anyone who captures that specifically exotic European allure in quite the way Ingrid Pitt did.

There's been a lot of death and misfortune and fear buffeting the lives of ones that I love in the past week, and maybe that's why I'm feeling more sensitive to it today. The news of Ingrid Pitt's death is one that should have some measure of distance to it, one that I can take more measure of in a more "sensible" way, but I'm having a hell of a time doing it. I'm finding it awfully sad, perhaps overly so. Maybe I'm just projecting, but it really saddens me to think she's gone.

THE FUTURIST! said...

DEnnis:

As a child, THE FUTURIST!'s father introduced him to WHERE EAGLES DARE. So, Ms. Pitt's introduction to his hormones was through a fantastically thrilling WW II adventure and not Hammer Horror. Later on, that happened ... but THE FUTURIST! recalls his father sighing when she appeared on screen. He said he would have loved to have a beer at that tavern where she twirled about with tankards of Uber Beer.

Karl Morton IV said...

She was a fantastic writer! Earlier this year I acquired her autobiography, "Life's a Scream", and a novel she wrote called "Katarina" based partly on her mother's experiences in the concentration camp. The latter is, naturally, more than a little grim but the former displays a delightfully dark wit that I'm told captivated everyone she met. The first fifty-odd pages of "Life's a Scream" detail the three years she was in the camp and as much as anyone thinks they know about those places, reading it from the point of view of a five year old girl is nothing if not an eye opener. Her life rattling around Europe and South America as an actress and whatnot make for very entertaining reading indeed. The lady had a lot more going on than most of her fans probably realize. Check 'em out, guys. :)

james1511 said...

Slightly late in coming to this, but:

"...the mysterious island off the Welsh coast"

I think you might find Summerisle was, in fact, off the *Scottish* coast? I know that, historically, the territory of what would later be called Wales occupied a good part of what is now Scotland, but they're still separate entities.

Cheers,
James R.