Come in from the cold, stranger, and prepare yourself for the best and bloodiest work from Hammer horror's archetypal vampire countess. Let me take your scarf ...
Pulling teeth ... Ingrid Pitt in crowd-drawing form for The House That Dripped Blood. Photograph: Everett Collection / Rex Features
Following Ingrid Pitt's death at 73, apparently from heart failure, her daughter Steffanie told the BBC the actor should be remembered as the vampire countess with the "wonderful teeth and the wonderful bosom". There seems little doubt Pitt will remain associated with the particular blend of gore and sex appeal that typified the Hammer movies of the early 1970s, and which remain her trademark.
Ingoushka Petrov was born in Poland in 1937 to a German father and Jewish mother. Confined to a concentration camp for much of the war, she later moved to Berlin where, in the 1950s, she married an American soldier. They moved to California but the marriage failed and she returned to Europe. In the 1960s, Pitt worked with the Berliner Ensemble theatre company under Helene Weigel, widow of Brecht, and secured a few small film roles in pictures including Doctor Zhivago and Where Eagles Dare. Here she is as Heidi, the "pretty Alpine rose" and Allied spy with whom Richard Burton arranges a liaison in the latter.
It was in the 70s that Pitt achieved prominence through her work with Hammer. The Vampire Lovers (1970), based on the Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu novel Carmilla, was one of the studio's most unabashed attempts to meld horror with sex – notably girl-on-vampire-girl action. In the lead role, Pitt seduced and drained a number of women, bumping off those who might stand in her way, before being dispatched by Peter Cushing. Here she is getting stuck into Kate O'Mara.
The following year, Pitt appeared in the portmanteau film The House
That Dripped Blood (opposite Jon Pertwee in a vampire-themed segment called The Cloak) and also played the title role in Countess Dracula, a film about a noblewoman fond of bathing in virgin blood. As the trailer shows, Pitt got to alternate between luminous beauty and rather credible prosthetic grotesquerie.
In 1973 she took a role as the island librarian in The Wicker Man, Robin Hardy's venerable pagan shocker. At the start of this climactic scene, she helps Britt Ekland anoint the islanders' intended sacrifice, Edward Woodward.
Along with TV appearances in the late 70s and 80s, Pitt became established as a cult horror figure, much in demand at conventions. She also wrote a number of books and scripts, including some for Doctor Who. She appeared in the episodes The Time Monster and Warriors of the Deep. There were roles in the TV series Smiley's People and war dramas such as Who Dares Wins and Wild Geese II, generally as a baddie. Pitt also founded a touring theatre company. In more recent times, she continued to appear in low-budget supernatural-themed films such as The Asylum and Green Fingers, which was shot in Bocking, Essex. In this on-set report from Anglia News, Pitt can be seen having a swing at a nurse with a hatchet.
It seems apt that Pitt's final credit, Sea of Dust – a tongue-in-cheek homage to Hammer and the Mario Bava films in which she starred alongside Tom Savini – was a tribute to the horror genre with which she was so closely associated.
Pitt also wrote an autobiography, Life's a Scream, and several books of horror trivia, and remained active on the fan circuit. This clip from the New
Jersey Monster Mania convention in 2004 shows that, long after she drank from their veins, Pitt had them eating out of her hand.
• Still thirsty for more on Ingrid Pitt? Try our gallery.
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