Witchy Wednesday: Bathory – Countess of Blood (2008)

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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:

Elizabeth Bathory portrait, via Wikimedia Commons.

Elizabeth Bathory portrait, via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

1630s gown worn by Catherine of Brandenburg, Princess of Transylvania, via the Hungarian National Museum.

1620s gown, Transylvania, via the Hungarian National Museum.

Compare with some more contemporaneous portraits from around Bathory’s time and world…

1560s, Orsolya Kanizsai, via Wikimedia Commons.

1560s, Orsolya Kanizsai, via Wikimedia Commons. OK, she’s a bit early, but this is Erzsébet’s mother-in-law, so her portrait is relevant.

1592, Maria Christina of Hapsburg, Princess of Transylvania, via Wikimedia Commons.

1592, Maria Christina of Hapsburg, Princess of Transylvania 1595-1598, via Wikimedia Commons. This is right when Erzsébet was most active, and the movie The Countess is a lot closer to this.

1635, Maria of Austria, Queen of Hungary, via Wikimedia Commons.

1635, Maria of Austria, Queen of Hungary, via Wikimedia Commons. This is so very Spanish. Yet we’re gonna see this hair and skirt on Erzsébet in the 1590s.

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.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

And here you go. Little Hungarian “infanta” gown. Whatevs.

As a girl, Erzsébet rocks the bedhead look she’ll become famous for (in this movie, at least).

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Foreshadowing with the mirror — yes, let’s reinforce the shitty cliche that women are vain! Thanks, fucking patriarchy!

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.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

I’m just going to say that is a *unique* construction method for a pannier. And the bell-sleeve crop-top would not be my choice for a smock either.

But there’s no time for a honeymoon because Ferenc has to go fight the Ottomans

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

First of many boring battle scenes, and no, I can’t tell any of these boys apart.

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).

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

This subplot exists only for the sex. Which, OK, sex, but 1) it takes for-fucking-ever to get to the sex, 2) it’s weird and unexciting sex, and 3) there are other, more politically interesting affairs she’s rumored to have had.

Oh, and she has a dream sequence / flashback / I-don’t-know-what about good sex with Ferenc.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Um, yay?

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.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

You had to know there would be blood. It’s in the movie name.

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.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

It’s a nice outfit — for the 17th century.

Erzsébet heals the wound, because women have to do everything.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

I rather enjoyed this scene.

One of the maids is getting uppity. It’s yet another tedious subplot, so let me focus on Erzsébet’s ruff.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

So it looks pretty for late 16th / early 17th century. Modern bridal lace when it would be either a more elaborate handmade lace or white linen edged with lace, but the shape is OK.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Now WTFock is that metal thing holding it up? Total overkill. The ruff is just lace, it will stay up with starch and is held by a thin wire structure called a whisk or a rebato (yes, I’ve made one, and I’ve seen beautiful, delicate ones that people have made for reenactments and theater). You don’t need what looks like a clunky piece of armor to hold it up. That’s just silly.

1610-20 – Rebato, probably made of iron, wrapped in silver-gilt wire. Image source: Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 4, page 35.

Close-up of extant 1610-20 rebato, probably made of iron, wrapped in silver-gilt wire. From Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 4, page 35. Bears zero resemblance to the metal thing Erzsébet is wearing to hold up the same kind of flat ruff.

Fine. Whatever. Now the movie thinks it’s very important that we know Ferenc is at the Battle of Esztergom 1594.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Coming to Snark Week 2018 – a rant about movie title cards stating a very specific date that has little or no correlation to the costume visuals represented on screen.

At the battle, naked Turkish women run around, begging to be raped by the enemy eyeroll.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

“They’re heathens, amirite?” says Christian Hungarians. History is written by the victors.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

“Her clothes totally fell off so we just had to rape her.” UGH MEN.

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?

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Is is weirder that mom keeps her dead baby on ice or that the baby’s older sister thinks this is all perfectly normal?

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.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

We’re still supposedly in the 1590s, but the art (including stuff laying on the floor, what’s up with that?) is all clearly 17th-century. I feel like this movie isn’t trying very hard.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Erzsébet’s costume is a Hungarian folky ye-olde-timey mishmash with crazy hair. György creeps on her in the dark.

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.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

I’d be kind of sad about wearing a Christmas-tree skirt as a bib too.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Hey girl, does your head hurt? Um, wait…

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

OH NO SHE DIDN’T!?! Since when in this movie is she wearing a wig?!? It’s always been her own hair, and later in the movie, it will again be shown as her own hair. WTF is this scene about?!?

“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!

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Ostensibly for artistic purposes, but c’mon.

And then, some gratuitous nudity.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

I really can’t figure out why this scene exists. Erzsébet and Caravaggio are having a lover’s spat before/after, but here she is, just chillin’ with some topless servants. No context AT ALL.

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.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Generic renaissance party actually looks OK, especially the men, who are wearing ruffs and tall hats. The women’s costumes are all over the map.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

This is the most historically accurate outfit Erzsébet wears! It’s similar in style to the portrait of Maria Christina of Hapsburg, Princess of Transylvania, c. 1592, above. The hair is redic, but hey, everything else is in the correct century!

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

This wine is not at all suspicious.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

I’m just really annoyed that the one appropriate outfit she wears is for such a short scene.

This is where the crazy hits the fan. Ferenc asks local witch Darvulia to heal his wife, but the two women become besties.Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

10 years pass, and the war continues. A pair of monks show up in town to investigate weird happenings. They bring their roller skates.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

WHY?!?

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.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

The movie said it’s now around 1600, but Erzsébet is wearing a gown from the 1550s. Can I get off this ride now? I’m tired of all the back and forth.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Maybe I should just drink my poison and let the head-necklace do the heavy lifting here.

Roller-skating monks, for reals. Just to get down the road. Not sure that helps much.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

FYI, Wikipedia says roller skates were invented in 1760. Go ahead and debate this in the comments. Enjoy.

Darvulia and Erzsébet do witchy, herbal-potion, magicky stuff that is insufficiently explained but looks spooky and cool.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

It’s just red herbs, really!

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Only a little cheezy putting a new head on Eleonora di Toledo’s portrait from the 1560s.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

When you do suspiciously witchy things, you might not want to write them all down so they can be used as evidence against you later. Just sayin’.

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.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

György has great timing, natch.

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.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Descending into hell, a bit too literally.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Where she finds Caravaggio, who hasn’t been around since the poisoning. Their dream-sequence sex is more explicit than their real-movie sex.

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.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Is it supposed to be steampunk?

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Someone clearly spent a lot of time on this.

Erzsébet confronts the monks, telling them how silly they are (like, y’know, this whole movie).

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

I was momentarily distracted by the appearance of almost historically accurate stays to not question the lack of a chemise or the fact that she’s greeting strangers half-naked in winter. Also, holding a modern riding crop.

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.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

György’s wife, center, wears a vaguely (& poorly fitted) Germanic 16th-c. gown, made in random upholstery fabrics. Erzsébet is sticking with her Tudor style now.

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.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

I looked for HOURS to find anything before the 1630s that resembled this hairstyle. Nada, zip, rein, nothing. I have no idea what this hair is all about. Please to explain.

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).

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

THIS IS A BAD DRESS. VERY BAD.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

I DON’T CARE IF IT’S A MASQUERADE COSTUME. I DON’T CARE WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE FROM THE FRONT. BAD DRESS. BAD.

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.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Please kill me too. Make it all stop.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Erzsébet tells her son it’ll all be OK. Don’t believe it, kid. (The only reason I’m including this screencap is because her dress is a nod towards the 1600 time period.)

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).

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

This is the second corset I’ve seen in the entire movie. Yay for spiral lacing and no metal grommets, but why does it have to be on a dead body?

December 1610 — sad farewells (although I’m pretty tired of this flick by now so let’s wrap things up).

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

*sigh* Now Erzsébet’s stays have an 18th-c. style of boning across the top, and I bet her servant’s bodice has metal speed-lacers up the front.

György comes to arrest Erzsébet at Christmas Eve dinner. She briefly puts up a struggle, but is ultimately taken. Of course.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

+10 for a gothic black standing ruff, +5 for a gothic burgundy gown, -20 for wearing a 1590s/1600s standing ruff with 1550s gown. But you do you, girl.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

I mean, this is super pretty, with all the historically inaccurate bugle beading on very modern lace. I’d wear the shit out of it, don’t get me wrong.

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.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Her most historical hair in all the film!

 

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?

31 Responses

  1. Amanda

    Wow. It’s real dedication you Frock Flicks ladies have for us! That movie looks…deranged. Somehow the roller-skating monks just put it over the top for me, LOL! Especially when compared with The Countess, which I watched after you reviewed it here, and really enjoyed! This one just looks cracked-out.

    Reply
  2. Marie

    I am a bit obsessed with vampires and have read several biographies of Elizabeth Bathory, and I lost it laughing when Caravaggio showed up. This movie was just weird, and bears no resemblance to her actual life.

    I, too, would wear the shit out of the black beaded whisk ruff. I might have to make one now :D

    Reply
  3. Loren Dearborn

    OMG that was hilarious, one of the most ROTFL reviews you’ve ever done. I would totally watch it — but only if you recorded a rifftrax I could listen to while watching and I had copious amounts of booze..

    Reply
  4. Kendra

    I AM SO GLAD YOU REVIEWED THIS. I watched the first half (the thing is like 3 hours long) a few years back and was like “wtf, this is so weird, I have to watch this with Trystan & Sarah.” Now I can see things got EVEN CRAZIER in the second half.

    *****THE HAIR*****

    That red masquerade costume — BACK FAT ALERT (hey, we all have it, but we don’t necessarily need to share it with the world)!

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      It is SO VERY BAD. I did try to find some kind of historical precedent for the bullshit hair & costumes, but no, it does not exist. This is some grade-A nonsense!

      And yes, 3 hours of movie, plus 3 freaking days of screenshots & writing, no lie! I made a commitment here!

      Reply
    • Marie

      It’s just a crap fit. Like all back fat, it’s caused by poor fitting and that dress is incredibly ill fitting. It must have been painful to wear.

      Reply
  5. mmcquown

    At least five other versions of the story: Daughters of Darkness (71) a contemporary version; Countess Dracula (71) Hammer;s version; Bathory (08), Countess (09) reviewed here, and last, but not least (???) Die Blutgrafin, a musical version starring Tilda Swinton. Sharpen those stakes, folks. I have seen only the early versions, and Hammer’s at least gets the ending right.

    Reply
  6. minette

    This is one of the very few movies associated with my own country (Slovakia – its director is Slovak) and talking about Slovak-ish history, and I actually liked this one a bit as a work of art, if not as a piece of historical fiction, so it’s a bit painful to see it being torn apart (especially in comparison with The Countess, which, to be honest, I think is godawful). However, I love your costume analysis. I’ve been a fan of yours for a while and really adore your work. Sorry for being so negativistic, I may not disagree with you in this case (when it comes to quality of the movie, not the historical and costume accuracy), but I am still a fan.

    Reply
    • minette

      Oh, and also, I feel like I have to defend the reputation of Slovak film. Yes, productions with higher budgets aren’t very common, but hey, those few don’t always suck! See also The Seven Ravens, a Czecho-Slovak coproduction fairytale/fantasy.

      Reply
  7. Rori

    This makes me question whether the real Elizabeth Bathory was really a serial killer, or she was a victim of “written by victors” case.

    Reply
    • Eset

      She probably wasn’t as bad as bathing in virgins blood however there quite reliable accounts describing her as being brutal to her servants. And by brutal I mean physical violence and torture. Local girls wouldn’t go to serve in her household if they had a choice.

      Reply
  8. Eset

    As a Czech I feel a need to defend this film. I saw it in cinema when it came out. I was a movie buff back then and it was kinda compulsory, with all the hype about it being a new Juraj Jakubisko film and a big budget production aimed at European market to boot. Which is main problem of the whole film. Jakubisko is an arty director so he goes more for look and feel that historical accuracy. But because of the cost of the production he had to try to please more mainstream audience hence the weird romance subplot. I remember the film being too long, bland, with story pulled in too many directions, trying to please to many people at once and desperately needing skilled editor. The length of the thing actually made the comic relief scenes with monks quite refreshing.
    Try your luck with cheaper films. They don’t tend to be so pretentious. We’re really good at fairy tales and comedies. Three Wishes for Cinderella has nice renaissance-ish costumes and feisty Cinderella that can ride a horse and shoot from crossbow better than the prince. Beauty and the Beast has regency-ish costumes and the Beast’s castle really creeped me out as a kid. And Emperor’s baker and Baker’s Emperor is a comedy about Rudolf II with really good 50s renaissance costumes.

    Reply
  9. Ellie

    What is with all the harpsichord playing? I hope it’s a harpsichord anyway, cause pianos hadn’t been invented yet. Please tell me that there is a harpsichord soundtrack expressing her angst through music.

    Reply
  10. Gosia

    Trystan, I admire you for your persistence, because from what I see on the caps the costumes are the worst ones I have ever seen in a period film. And even the script couldn’t make up for the crappy costumes … In short, this must have been the worst period film you have ever watched and I really appreciate your sacrifice for us Frockflickers :-).

    I have been a reader of Frock Flicks for over a year now and I have learnt from your articles that costumes in period films have in the vast majority nothing to do with real historical clothes and that the viewer should be really glad if she/he finds a period film with halfway historically correct costumes.

    Reply
  11. A Little Bit of Bad Taste

    I actually didnt hate it… I don’t really think of Erzebet in the historical sense anyway because who really knows how much said about her is true or for political and monetary gain… I liked the 17th century hair because I am OBSESSED with Velazquez and his portraits of all those infantas and the queen and its not a hairstyle we see often in film because its weird as hell. I think the ratty way they did it was interesting. The only possible portrait of her is pretty dull so they had to clearly make it up anyway since nobody knows what she looked like or wore. I’d like to think she wore similar things to that Habsburg in green but she was Hungarian…and it seems they liked those peasanty looking folk outfits which I abhor so Im thankful theres not much of that… ALSO in film, I doubt they would ever do that since it would look so similar to the servant outfits etc… they have to have contrast.

    I never watched it all because it was super long lol and got boring but I didnt hate the clothes. Now that Julie Delpy Bathory films outfits were complete shit imo so this was a step up (prob again, bc the 17th century is my favorite) I also appreciate how they didnt just make all the costumes sexy… they were weird and elaborate and kinda insane. I am assuming the main issue with the costumes came from budget, I am guessing alot of this stuff was rented (except obviously the ruffs, both black and white and maybe the portrait costume) I am probably way off but the most historically accurate red and gold gown reminds me heavilly of the gown worn in the Brothers Grimm (but I know it isnt)

    Honestly, another way they could have just did it, is used another artist as inspiration instead of Velazquez. CRANACH. Those cranach gowns would have been folksy enough with the front laces yet luxe enough with the velvets and fit (sorta) the time period. Hell, they could have worn them with ruffs for all I care, I also love cranach lol and the necklaces which are clearly made up for his 16th century glamour portraits! (Thats what I must like about Cranach, Velazquez and Peter Lely…they all seem to paint imaginary clothes and the same exact clothes on every subject! lol like 1980s glamour portraits…it cracks me up when I think of it like that but thats what they were)

    Reply

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