Between 1585 and 1609, Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed of Hungary is believed to have kidnapped, imprisoned, brutalized, and murdered literally hundreds of young female virgins from the provinces over which she lorded.
Physical evidence such as torture chambers and mutilated remains attest to the heinousness of Bathory’s crimes in both scope and scale. From there, legends of wickedness undertaken by the Blood Countess have only grown more voluminous and ever more gory.
Chief among the sanguine atrocities attributed to Bathory is that she bathed in the blood of girls and young women as part of a supernatural beauty ritual, believing the practice would keep her forever young.
Such an abomination naturally lends itself to horror cinema, as well as more serious-minded drama and even satire. Among the dozens of films inspired by Countess Bathory, here are ten that, in their own ways, manage to slay.
COUNTESS DRACULA (1971)
The same year that the bizarre European art opus Necropolis cast Countess Bathory (there called “Marthory”) amid Attila the Hun and Frankenstein’s monster, England’s legendary horror studio Hammer Films offered up Polish sex symbol Ingrid Pitt in a tantalizing fright spin on the ignoble Hungarian noblewoman. Here, she’s named “Countess Elisabeth Nádasdy,” but her kinky crimes are just as lushly reprehensible.
DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971)
Set in 1971 Belgium, Daughters of Darkness posits that Elizabeth Bathory’s bloodbaths achieved their goal. French diva Delphine Seyrig stars as the Blood Countess, and the plot chronicles her vampiric seduction of a pair of young newlyweds on their honeymoon. Daughters is a cult favorite wherein subtle seductiveness gets jolted unexpectedly by outbursts of violence.
IMMORAL TALES (1974)
One-of-a-kind Polish provocateur Walerian Borowczyk combined explicit eroticism and classic European art in his best-known films, and nowhere does he do it more effectively than in the Elizabeth Báthory sequence of his sex-sadism-and-madness omnibus, Immoral Tales.
Paloma Picasso (Pablo’s daughter) portrays the Countess in the bewitching, dialogue-free segment. We see her watch over dozens upon dozens of naked nubiles she keeps in fairly luxurious lock-up before picking one young woman to have sex with before slaughtering her and bathing in the girl’s life fluid.
MAMA DRACULA (1980)
In a gag that became commonplace among post-eighties horror comedies, the Báthory spoof Mama Dracula hinges on how tough it is for the Countess in present times to find the blood of virgins. Louise Fletcher (Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) stars as a matronly Countess. It’s not funny, but it’s weird enough to check out, especially as everyone says “weer-gens” in a direct spoof of Udo Kier in Andy Warhol’s Dracula (1974).
NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF (1981)
Spanish horror hero Paul Naschy made a career of playing lycanthropic nobleman Count Waldemer Daninsky in a series of “Hombre Lobo” films. Naschy said that Return of the Werewolf was his favorite. After being executed along with Elizabeth Báthory (Julia Saly) in the 1600s, both Daninsky, who is good at heart despite what happens under the full moon, and the Countess, who is pure evil, return to life in modern times. The battle, from there, is on.
STAY ALIVE (2006)
The teen horror flick Stay Alive chronicles players of an “underground” video game of the same name, wherein participants contend with a digital version of Elizabeth Báthory (Maria Kalinina). Unfortunately, if the Countess kills you in the game, you die in real life. The online adventurers then have to embark into the castle where the actual Bathory was imprisoned in order to finally undo her vicious grip on reality — albeit all in PG-13 fashion.
HOSTEL: PART II (2007)
Fright filmmaker Eli Roth attempted to outdo his original 2005 “torture porn” hit about an Eastern European hunting club in which members pay to commit barbarities on live human victims. In Hostel: Part II, Countess Bathory naturally lends herself to such a premise. As Mrs. Bathory, Monika Malacova luxuriates in a fancy old bathtub while, just above her, Heather Matarazzo (Wiener Dog from Welcome to the Dollhouse) is hung nude — screaming and struggling — as she is slashed open and drained of her blood.
Budgeted at $15 million, Bathory: Countess of Blood was the most expensive Czech/Slovak production ever. Clearly, the Countess remains a big draw in that part of the world. Anna Friel does a fine, frightening, yet undeniably alluring job in the title role. Weirdly, director and cowriter Juraj Jakubisko seems to argue that Bathory was largely a misunderstood victim, while peppering the action with absurdist touches such as spies on roller-skates and monks with parachutes. It does make one wish that director Ken Russell had taken on the Countess.
THE COUNTESS (2009)
Esteemed French actress Julie Delpy developed The Countess for years as a labor of love, ultimately competing with Jakubisko’s Bathory: Countess of Blood, which reached audiences first — but was not as well received as Delpy’s effort. With The Countess, Delpy writes, directs, and stars in a blood-soaked biopic that approaches the core story with an impressive degree of seriousness.
CHASTITY BITES (2013)
Chastity Bites sends up teenage abstinence programs by having Countess Báthory run one just such operation in a contemporary California high school in order to keep herself awash in the blood of virgins. Louise Griffiths stars as “Liz Batho,” as the Countess calls herself for the modern setting. She’s running a dandy scam with her Virginity Action Group — V.A.G. —until teenage feminist blogger Leah Ratliff (Allison Scagliotti) writes in protest of the anti-sex philosophy and discovers something even more sinister afoot.
Watch Investigation Discovery’s original scripted mini-series, SERIAL THRILLER with ID GO. Each installment of the SERIAL THRILLER trilogy propels viewers into a chilling true crime story of a real-life serial killer.
Main photo: Paloma Picasso, Immoral Tales publicity photo