Elizabeth Bathory (or, more properly, Erzsébet Báthory) is one of those historical figures just made for horror film. A Hungarian aristocrat, she, if the stories are to be believed, had some 650 young women killed, and would, it has been said, roar from her seat as she watched the torture. And did I mention she believed bathing in blood would keep her eternally young? Eventually, the authorities had at her, and though she was not executed, all the windows and doors of her castle were bricked up, imprisoning her in da…kness until the end of her life. I say, “if the stories are to be believed,” because there are, as one would imagine with this notorious a figure, many disputes (check out the Wikipedia entry and you’ll see what I mean). It has also been argued that she, and not Vlad Tepes, is the real inspiration for Stoker’s Dracula.
At any rate, this kind of tale is too gruesomely juicy to ignore, combining as it does slaughter and sex on an almost apocalyptic scale, and the fact that a woman is the perpetrator is, for good or ill, an added inducement to certain filmmakers and audiences. Bathory sprang to mind because there have been a couple of recent releases that use this figure, and so herewith, a very rough survey of a few of the Bathory films out there.
The two recent releases are Stay Alive, wherein her evil spirit possesses a video game (after she somehow moved to the States and lived in a plantation – neat trick for someone who died in 1614), and Eternal where she is alive and well in the present, busily seducing women before doing the whole bloodbath thing. Neither film is anything to write home about, though they aren’t unwatchable either. They both, as has often been the case, run with the idea that Bathory was correct – that bathing in blood DID keep her young. Stay Alive has a couple of striking visual moments where the spirit of the Countess is setting to work, but for the most part, the evil force here could have been just about anything – the Bathory element is more of a name-check than a crucial part of the story.
Jump back a couple of decades, and there a couple of rather better Bathory films: Countess Dracula (1970) and Ceremonia Sangrienta (1972, AKA The Legend of Blood Castle, AKA The Female Butcher). The latter remains unreleased on DVD, though used copies of the VHS (under the Blood Castle title) from a number of years back are available through Amazon. This is a pretty solid pied of Spanish gothic, from the director of the classic zombie picture Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. What is curious about Jorge Grau’s film is that the couple that commit the crimes (and the emphasis is rather more on the male killer here) are re-creating Bathory’s acts. Why this at-one-remove narrative move is used isn’t entirely clear, but the film is worth tracking down all the same.
Countess Dracula is a Hammer film, and one of the best from their late period. It is also easily the best Bathory film to date. Ingrid Pitt plays the demented countess, regaining her youth and romancing a young man in a film that plays out, as I have said before, like a lurid fairy tale. It looks great, too. It may not have much grounding in historical reality, but it is a damn fine horror film, and was one of MGM’s Midnite Movies releases, paired up no the DVD with the equally superb The Vampire Lovers. If you’re looking for a good Bathory film, this is the place to go.