By the late 1960s, Hammer Films
had parlayed the success of their period-steeped, blood-soaked
Universal monster remakes into something of a fright
film empire. But having relied so long on the formidable
Lee-Cushing teaming and their, by now, familiar coven
of buxom actresses, producers cast about for fresh blood,
so to speak. Carefully, the "studio that dripped
blood" molded a struggling B movie actress into
an exotic "queen of horror," playing up her
predatory gaze and earthy sensuality. Ingrid Pitt rode
the crest of that last great, gory wave of Hammer glory
in the early 1970s.
"Time and again, when I go to conventions,"
Pitt relates, having just returned from another successful
appearance at the latest Chiller convention horrorfest,
"I see thousands and thousands of people pulling
into the Meadowlands Hilton, every day for four days.
I think it's absolutely mind-blowing. Many of these
people I saw as children. They came with their fathers
in 1975. They now come with their children. They say
hello and tell me wonderful lies, like 'you haven't
changed a bit,' or 'you look better now than in 1975.'
I just love it. I'm very susceptible to flattery."
Though primarily identified with horror films, Pitt
regards her appearance in the 1969 actioner Where
Eagles Dare as the turning point in her career.
"I was a B picture actress before I made that incredible
film," she smiles. "I was invited to play
poker with John Wayne one night at Yakima Canutt's house.
[Canutt was the legendary and innovative Hollywood stuntman
who doubled for Wayne on many occasions. ed]. When I
left -- nearly bankrupt -- because I'm not very good
at poker -- Yak took me to the taxi. He said, 'What
are you doing next?' At the moment I was doing Ironside.
I said 'I don't have another job coming up.' He said,
'Why don't you go and see Brian Hutton at MGM? Give
him my name, because I'm going to be on the picture.
Tell him you want the part of Heidi.' I bypassed 399
women who went for that same part. I think it changed
my life completely. I left Spain. I came to work in
England. I later worked for Hammer. They recreated me
as sort of a Queen of Horror. And now, I'm ageless.
I will live forever."
Pitt experienced her share of real-life horrors while
still a child. She emerged from Nazi-occupied Europe,
settling in Spain following the war. "I grew up
in a concentration camp. That's all I want to say about
that," she says firmly. "There's nothing more
to say. I don't want to talk about it and I beg you
to accept that."
With relatively few starring vehicles known to American
audiences, how to explain Pitt's lasting popularity?
Her role in Where Eagles Dare was certainly well-received,
but which of her films ensured her lasting status as
a film icon? "I think The Vampire Lovers
and Countess Dracula," she offers without
hesitation. "But a lot of people love Where
Eagles Dare, obviously."
One cult item of which Pitt is especially proud is
1973's The Wicker Man. "One of the greatest
films I've ever appeared in, which has become an enormous
classic," she states flatly. In addition, her comic
talents were tested in a 1975 Hammer anthology. "People
loved The House That Dripped Blood -- but they
liked my episode the best. Which is good judgment because
my episode, The Cloak, which came at the end
of the film, was a comedy. I think it's always good
to finish off with a good laugh."
Are these few films the ones Ingrid Pitt would have
chosen to be remembered for? "I just am. I really
have nothing to do with it," she declares. "This
is just the people's choice. The people are in control.
Recently, we had a big screening of The Vampire Lovers
at a prestige cinema/art complex in London on the South
Bank. It was totally wonderful. We had loads and loads
and loads of fans come from all over the country. I
did a Q&A before the screening. People stayed afterwards
and we had wine and food. Everyone said such lovely
things. One of the things that really galvanizes me
into acting year after year, putting my [new] film together
-- is the fact that all these fans keep coming to me
and telling me wonderful things. They keep telling me,
'make a new film.' They keep asking me, 'when is Hammer
making a new film?' I thought at one point that Hammer
was finished. But I think Hammer actually is resurging
and things will happen again. Perhaps we'll let them
come in on my new film. It depends, of course, on what
kind of a deal one can get."
Pitt plans to make her long-awaited return to films
via a project she waxes enthusiastic about, while simultaneously
disclosing few details as financing is yet to be completely
secured. "The film is called Dracula Who?"
she smiles. "It's about Dracula turning into a
vegetarian -- he wants to get away from stakes. He's
been married to this bitch for 2,000 years. He's really
bored silly. He goes to a boarding house to live with
a better class of people. But things are not quite what
he thought they would be. I found a fantastic company
to work with and I found a fantastic star to play Dracula."
But Pitt maintains that casting must be kept under wraps,
at least for the time being. "I can't tell you
[who's in it.] I'm not going to divulge anything that
might endanger the completion of this deal."
The inspiration for Ingrid's pet project was kindled
some 25 years ago on the set of The Wicker Man.
"Basically it started with Christopher Lee. The
producer wanted us to come to work as Mr. and Mrs. Dracula.
He thought that it would make a great movie. I pondered
and pondered. Soon after, I moved into a house that
had a mausoleum at the end of the garden. The children
and I used to climb on the walls and look into it and
be horrified. Then my husband and I went to Argentina
with my daughter. In South America they have strange
cemeteries. They have little houses with cobblestone
streets in the middle. Doors and windows with lace curtains.
It's all very macabre. My imagination ran riot. I saw
these skeletons getting out of their coffins and running
around in the streets and dancing and doing funny things.
It just very slowly developed into one film and then
another film ... It's going to be a wonderful success.
I'm quite absolutely certain of that."
Certainly, Pitt's effusive optimism and unflagging
energy play no small role in her ongoing popularity
among genre fanatics. To this vampire queen, success
is as inevitable as the next full moon. As she has already
asserted, "I will live forever," and her conviction
makes that difficult to doubt.
WITH INGRID PITT