Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Venus passing: Ingrid Pitt (1937-2010)

Agent Triple P lost one of his early cinematic crushes yesterday with the death of Hammer Films actress Ingrid Pitt, star of such films as Countess Dracula and The Vampire Lovers.

She was a famous  figure (in every sense!) in the British horror scene despite the fact that she made comparatively few films.  However, both Countess Dracula and The Vampire Lovers appeared at a time when Hammer was putting nudity in their films for the first time, after a relaxation in 1970 by the British Board of Film Censors as to what was allowable in an "X" certificate film.   Ingrid's memorably naked turns in these two films were enough to build a reputation that continues to this day, when other starlets from the same period are largely forgotten. 

She was a comparatively elderly 33 when she made The Vampire Lovers but the slightly exotic and statuesque actress was perfect for her role as a lesbian vampire who seduces younger women (notably a very young Madeleine Smith - above).  Despite having relaxed what could be shown on screen the censors were very concerned by the content of this film but the box office was tremendous.

The picture of her in the bath taken on the set of The Vampire Lovers is one of the most iconic from Hammer and, indeed, British films of the seventies.  Following that up as a blood drenched monster who was portrayed as bathing in virgins' blood sealed her reputation as Britain's Queen of Horror.  

Countess Dracula

Pitt had a very hard start in life.  She was born Ingoushka Petrov on 21st November 1937 in Poland to a Jewish mother and a German father who was trying to flee Nazi Germany.  Her mother, Ingrid, went into labour on a train, ending their attempt to leave the country.  Later the family was sent to a concentration camp when she was five after her father, a scientist, refused to work on the German rocket programme.  After three years in a concentration camp she and her mother were being marched, with other prisoners, back to Germany when an allied plane strafed the column and she and her mother escaped into the woods.  Eventually, weeks later, the Red Cross found them and explained that the war was over.  They took her to  East Berlin where she was reunited with her father.  It was her father, through taking her on regular visits to the cinema, who got her interested in acting. She briefly studied medicine and worked as a typist before joining Bertolt Brecht's Berliner Ensemble theatre company.  Her outspoken views on communism got her into trouble but in 1962 she escaped East Berlin by swimming across the River Spree, and was fished out by an American soldier, Roland Pitt, who she married.  She went to America and her first acting roles were on stage there. The marriage didn't last long and she returned to Europe getting bit parts in Spanish films after a Spanish film producer saw a picture of her taken at a bullfight.  In 1968 she got a larger part in Where Eagles Dare (1968) which was made at Borehamwood studios outside London; the first time she had been to the UK, where she would eventually settle.  The following year she met James Carreras, one of the founders of Hammer Films, at a post-premiere party for Alfred the Great and persuaded him that she wanted to appear in one of his films.   The next day he gave her the script of The Vampire Lovers (1970).

The film was a hit although she got into an argument with the film's producers Harry Fine and Michael Style which eventually resulted in them casting another actress, Yutte Stensgaard, for the follow-up Lust for a Vampire (1971).  She returned to Hammer for Countess Dracula (1971) which was very loosely based on the life of Countess Elizabeth Bathory (and had nothing to do with Dracula at all but obviously Hammer weren't too concerned about the difference between Romania and Hungary).  She was mortified to find out that her voice had been dubbed in the latter film  and next time she met director Peter Sasdy she pushed him into the sea.

She made a few more films in the seventies and eighties, notably The House That Dripped Blood (1971) for Hammer's rival Amicus, cult favourite The Wicker Man (1973) and SAS thriller Who Dares Wins (1982). She also returned to the US and made some TV appearances there as well as back in Britain, including Doctor Who. Later she turned to writing although she returned to the screen in 2008 for the Hammer homage, Sea of Dust (2008).

She certainly made an impression on Agent Triple P when he first saw her in The Vampire Lovers when it was first shown on late night TV in the mid-seventies.

She had been unwell for some time and died in a South London hospital yesterday at the age of seventy three.

No comments:

Post a Comment