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Actress Ingrid Pitt only appeared

in a handful of horror films, most famously

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The Vampire Lovers

and

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The House That Dripped Blood

(from 1970 and '71, respectively). But her seductive-often barely clad-curves, Eastern European accent, and bold personality gained her a cult following that remains fervent.

Pitt's early life was the stuff of true horror. Pitt, nee Ingoushka Petrov, was born in Poland in 1937, the daughter of a Polish-Jewish mother and German father. The family was rounded up by the Nazis in 1943, and Pitt and her mother ended up in the Stutthof concentration camp, where they spent the next three years. Pitt later said that during that time she saw her mother's best friend hanged and her own best friend, a little girl, raped and killed.

After the war and a series of refugee camps, Pitt settled in East Berlin and, in the early 1960s, embarked on a stage career. But, because of her outspoken criticism of the East German government, she was eventually forced to flee. She dove into the city's Spree River and, improbably, was rescued by Laud Pitt, a U.S. Army lieutenant whom she married. She later divorced Pitt, as well as her second husband, a film exec named George Pinches.

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During a sojourn in Spain, a press photographer reportedly took a picture of Pitt crying at a bullfight, and a film producer was so moved by the photo that he cast her-though she spoke no Spanish-launching her film career. She moved on to

Where Eagles Dare

(1968), a World War II spy film with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. Soon after, Pitt starred in a series of horror films for British low-budget production company Hammer Films, donning her fangs, baring her bosom, and entrancing a generation of young men. (One commenter on a

Telegraph

obituary for Pitt echoed the thoughts of many when he wrote: "You never watch telly with your trousers round your ankles in quite the same way after 17, do you? Farewell Ingrid.") Pitt went on to appear in a variety of films and TV shows, not all of them horrific; she appeared in

Doctor Who

, for instance, and played a nymphomaniac librarian in the cult classic

The Wicker Man

(1973).

Despite her tragic beginnings, Pitt had a wry sense of humor and tendency toward mischief. In her 1999 autobiography

Life's A Scream

, she wrote this about an early encounter with John Wayne: "I found myself relegated to the sideboard to pour drinks, while the Duke exacerbated my irritation by referring to me as 'little lady'. I wasn't anyone's 'little lady' and I was grumpy enough to want to prove it." Pitt proceeded to enter into a men-only poker game, eager to show Wayne up.

Pitt was much loved by her fans, and graciously returned the favor. She regularly attended horror conventions, wrote a slew of books-with titles such as

The Ingrid Pitt Bedside Companion for Vampire Lovers

-and even ran a dating web site or two: "Auntie Ingrid will pick the best date 4U straight from Transylvania."

Pitt died on Nov. 23 at age 73 of apparent heart failure, leaving behind her third husband, Anthony Rudlin, and a daughter, Steffanie Pitt. For her many loyal fans, she remains what Hammer Films marketed her as decades ago: "the most beautiful ghoul in the world."

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