Apparently, Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008) cost 10 million Euros (about $15 million at the time) to make, which ranks it as the most expensive Slovak and Czech film ever. Please don’t make me watch the less-expensive films then. Because it’s unclear where all the money was spent on this one. Maybe the roller-skating monks? Yeah, really, that happens here. No, I can’t explain why that’s necessary in a story about a 16th-century Hungarian countess, nor do I consider it historically accurate (I’m putting it in our ‘playing fast and loose with history’ category until someone provides a scholarly article on the topic in the comments).
Most people know something of Erzsébet (aka Elizabeth) Bathory’s story — she was a countess who reputedly bathed in the blood of virgins to stay young forever. For a subtle, nuanced version of her life, look to our review of The Countess (2009), written, directed, and starring Julie Delpy. This 2008 Slovak-Czech production is no such thing. The director, Juraj Jakubisko, said he wanted a different take on Bathory, seeing her as “an intelligent woman too weak to face all the odds she had to face” and “unfortunate to have been born at the wrong time in history.” So, you know, she’s a victim eyeroll.
A few notes about the costumes of the period. Erzsébet Bathory lived from August 7,1560, to August 21, 1614, and no reliable portraits of her survive. Oh sure, we’ve all seen this one:
And it’s usually dated to the 1580s. But the provenance is weak, and some point out its resemblance to 1620s-1650s portraits of her descendants. I’ll add that the clothing style is very similar to 17th-century Hungarian extant clothing, such as this embroidered gown and cap in worn by Catherine of Brandenburg, Princess of Transylvania from 1626-1630.
Compare with some more contemporaneous portraits from around Bathory’s time and world…
Well, let’s dive in. I just hope you have a strong stomach for blood, historical inaccuracies, and nonsensical plotting…
The movie begins, the title card tells us, in upper Hungary in the 16th century, where young Erzsébet is betrothed to Ferenc in a simple standing-on-tables ceremony.
As a girl, Erzsébet rocks the bedhead look she’ll become famous for (in this movie, at least).
For the wedding night, Erzsébet sheds her youthful fancy of wearing futuristic gowns, and the couple get busy on a bed of (hopefully de-thorned) roses.
But there’s no time for a honeymoon because Ferenc has to go fight the Ottomans
Time passes, Erzsébet pops out some girl kiddos and is knocked up with another baby. Ferenc sends her a prisoner-of-war as a gift — an Italian painter called Caravaggio (c’mon, he can’t be THE Caravaggio, let’s get real).
Oh, and she has a dream sequence / flashback / I-don’t-know-what about good sex with Ferenc.
I think this is to offset the fact that the next time her husband comes home, he rapes her, kills a dog, and she loses the baby (their son) that she was pregnant with. He’s a little bummed by this later, but JFC.
The artist is supposed to paint Erzsébet’s portrait — that one we’ve all seen — and keeps asking to paint her nude. Then a snake bites him. Serves him right.
Erzsébet heals the wound, because women have to do everything.
One of the maids is getting uppity. It’s yet another tedious subplot, so let me focus on Erzsébet’s ruff.
Fine. Whatever. Now the movie thinks it’s very important that we know Ferenc is at the Battle of Esztergom 1594.
At the battle, naked Turkish women run around, begging to be raped by the enemy eyeroll.
Meanwhile, Erzsébet derails another portrait-painting session at home by asking Caravaggio to paint a portrait of her dead baby son, which she’s keeping on ice. Not at all creepy, right?
Road trip! Erzsébet takes her kids and her artist pal to a nearby Transylvanian principality, where she argues with a dude named György Thurzó who both has the hots for her and kind of hates her.
Ferenc is wounded and staying in Sárvár, western Hungary, so Erzsébet heads there. But he’s been moved by the time she arrives. And she finds Sárvár Castle’s housekeeping lacking so has the servants whipped. Which makes her sad at dinner that night.
“I am lonely. I miss tenderness. Kiss me. That’s an order.” Her bedroom talk, verbatim, immediately after ordering martial punishment and stripping her weave. SO.NOT.HOT. Now he gets to sketch her nude — while he tells her about his first sexual experience with a boy. There are some unusual kinks in this movie, that’s for sure.
Next, they cut up a dead body together. Awww!
And then, some gratuitous nudity.
Ferenc finally comes home, so they throw a party. That György guy tells Ferenc he should be jealous of Caravaggio banging his wife. So they try to poison the artist, but Erzsébet drinks the poison instead. Oospie.
10 years pass, and the war continues. A pair of monks show up in town to investigate weird happenings. They bring their roller skates.
Darvulia can make fires explode and people go nuts just by looking at them, and she makes Erzsébet drink some wacked-out cocktails all the time.
Roller-skating monks, for reals. Just to get down the road. Not sure that helps much.
Darvulia and Erzsébet do witchy, herbal-potion, magicky stuff that is insufficiently explained but looks spooky and cool.
Ferenc is mortally wounded in battle, and Darvulia’s magic can’t save him. György tries to come on to Erzsébet at the funeral, which gets him slapped down. But he has plans to takeover Erzsébet’s lands, just you wait.
More dead bodies show up in town. And Erzsébet has a shitton of flashbacks or dream sequences, presumably because of the drugs Darvulia is feeding her. It’s all mixed up sex and murder.
Because it’s winter, and because this movie has money to burn on weird tricks, the monks add gears and skis to their roller skates.
Erzsébet confronts the monks, telling them how silly they are (like, y’know, this whole movie).
She visits György Thurzó’s estate, makes nice with the wife and kids, gets a tour of the dungeon, and, oh, sees that they have Darvulia as a prisoner and have cut out her tongue.
Next on the Grand Tour of Randomness, Erzsébet visits Vienna — the title card tells us this is the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, thanks — where she finds Caravaggio again, and they shag in a confessional in St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
Still in Vienna, Erzsébet finds György at a masked ball held by the King (of the Holy Roman Empire I guess? that would have been Rudolf II, but who’s keeping track at this point).
György seals the deal in some kind of blackmail on Erzsébet, making it really super-duper look like she’s bathing in the blood of virgins, plus he kills Darvulia, so Erzsébet agrees to leave her lands to him or something. Anyway, it pisses off her sons-in-law.
But then György tries to assassinate her son, so she starts burning György’s villages. If this movie had a point, it really loses me here. György frames Erzsébet for some murders to get back at her (I swear, he also did this 15 minutes ago).
December 1610 — sad farewells (although I’m pretty tired of this flick by now so let’s wrap things up).
György comes to arrest Erzsébet at Christmas Eve dinner. She briefly puts up a struggle, but is ultimately taken. Of course.
She’s imprisoned, grows old, dies, the movie makes it look like suicide. György says he loved her. The end titles say rude things about him and nice-ish things about Erzsébet. Peace out.
That was THREE DAYS of screen-capping and writing I’ll never get back. Are you willing to dive into Bathory: Countess of Blood any time soon?