This month sees the anniversary of both the birth and death of Ingrid Pitt, who passed away in 2010. Like the recently deceased Christopher Lee, Ingrid was one of the most iconic horror actors in British cinema and today we remember her not only as one of the formidable group of women actors involved in Hammer and Amicus horror factories but also as staple of cult, sci-fi and horror culture. She was also that extremely rare thing - a female anti-heroic lead. In both 'The Vampire Lovers' and 'Countess Dracula' Pitt played the roles of powerful and sadistic predators, which was very unusual at the time (and since) and which marked her out as a rare and vivid screen presence. Add to that her role in 'The Wicker Man' and her work on 'DrWho' and Ingrid Pitt has her own corner of pop cultural history. So, what can we take from the Pitt legacy?
Well, first of all beneath the hammy British gothic exterior there are much darker realities. The horrors of myths and of legends were nothing compared to the horrors of real life, and Ingrid Pitt had a childhood which plenty of real horror in it. After several years when her family tried to evade the Nazis' attempts to enlist her father for the war effort they were eventually captured, the young Ingrid and her mother separated from her father and condemned to spend the three years until the end of the war in a concentration camp. The events of her time there – the murders, gas chambers, rats, beatings, rapes, child abduction, hangings and arbitrary cruelty – are detailed both in her autobiography and the recently released animated film 'Beyond the Forest'. Ultimately, Ingrid and her mother escaped with their lives by pretending to be dead as their captors marched the prisoners out into the forest and executed them. After a long search spanning Poland and Germany they were eventually reunited with her father.
Such a tale of unspeakable atrocities can only sharpen the contrast with the sweet, almost camp nature of most of her horror film output, and such a change in gear is illustrated by her sudden decision to stay in the UK in the late sixties as she fell in love with the cliches of the RAF and Big Ben that represented the Britain helped with her liberation from the camps.
So what we can from this is a simple line between real horror and Horror; Horror is fun, escapist, thrilling and entertaining, whereas real horror is none of these things. Whilst we may draw inspiration from real horror and place it within Horror we must always be careful that it is analysed and not celebrated. At the same time we have a responsibility to fight horrific realities. Abuse, war, torture and murder are not what we are actually relating to when enjoy Horror, and the demarcation between the Stutthof concentration camp and 'The House That Dripped Blood' is worth recognising and preserving. The latter is joyful and fun, and the other only representative of a chilling darkness.
And finally, what we should take from this is recognition. Ingrid and her family were refugees, survivors of war and potential victims of genocide, and we are currently amidst a refugee crisis that is unprecedented since World War 2. The experiences of her family should provide a source of context and compassion as we view this, and maybe inspiration too: inspiration to do something to help, and maybe even to wear a cravat or a corset whilst doing so, as a tribute to Countess Dracula herself.