High Priestess of Horror

“I think it’s very amazing that I do horror films when I had this awful childhood. But maybe that’s why I’m good at it.”

Ingrid Pitt grew up in Nazi occupied Poland. She survived the concentration camps. A few years later she was a young mother who started a career in film at a time when working moms were certainly not the norm. Through her work in a series of films including The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Countess Dracula (1971) she injected much-needed sex appeal into the formerly staid Hammer horror line of films. She went on to write numerous books, including a meticulously researched and well-written ethnography on vampires, a topic clearly dear to her heart after having played several memorably sultry vampires.

The quote above belongs to Pitt, who died ten years ago this November at just 73 years old. Her words stand as a succinct and accurate summation of why some of us take so powerfully to horror. Pitt’s interest in horror stories might seem odd to people with an aversion to the genre, but it actually makes complete sense. In my experience, lovers of horror have often overcome trauma in their lives. We may have already been horror fans, but becoming survivors only intensifies our love for the much-maligned genre.

I’ve loved horror movies and books and all things spooky since I was a kid, before anything awful ever happened to me. Then I grew up and became a true survivor, of a malignant tumor and of having grown up in an extended family riddled with mental illness and alcoholism. I’m not in any way comparing what I’ve been through to Pitt surviving the concentration camps, but clearly people like us live with a certain level of recurring fear while still finding a near-spiritual connection to horror— because we’ve survived some horrors of our own.

The vampires Pitt memorably brought to undead life onscreen were glamorous, voluptuous, and hypnotically sexual beings—much like Pitt herself. Seeing her in those Hammer horror films when I was just a kid were some of the first times I felt intense attraction for a bloodsucking creature of the night. I was not alone; most of her fans recount the same youthful longings. But as I grow older and discover her published works, my appreciation only increases. She seemed to understand, both in her melodramatic performances and her insightful writing, that many of us do indeed want to be scared silly because, ultimately, nothing in a horror movie or book can hurt us when we’ve already survived much worse. There’s strength in that knowledge. The macabre becomes our religion, and Ingrid Pitt one of our favorite high priestesses of horror.

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