In the late 16th century, a serial killer ran loose in Hungary. The killer preyed on virgins, massacring upwards of 650 young girls. This was Countess Elizabeth Bathory, a noblewoman who used the blood of virgins to ensure her eternal life and beauty. She was accused of torturing her victims, eating them, and bathing in their blood. Her obsession with blood earned her the nickname Countess Dracula and she soon became associated with the myth of the vampire. After her trial, she was sentenced to house arrest, spending the rest of her days locked in a tower like a demented Rapunzel.
Centuries later, we are still obsessed with Bathory’s heinous crimes. She’s been inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records as the most prolific female serial killer. And countless films have been inspired by her murderous career. Here are ten films that are either directly about Bathory or use her as inspiration for their cold-blooded female killer.
The Brothers Grimm (2005)
Do you remember the Terry-Gilliam-directed classic that is The Brothers Grimm? Because I sure do. Matt Damon (Ford vs. Ferrari) and Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight) star as the titular Brothers Grimm who grift the countryside by claiming to eradicate evil forces from villages. But, then they meet an actual threat; the Mirror Queen (Monica Bellucci, Irreversible). She lives high up in a tower in the middle of an enchanted wood and lures in young girls from the local village. She, of course, needs their blood to ensure her youth and beauty. She is a fantastical adaption of Bathory, a monster hidden behind beauty.
Immoral Tales (1973)
This French anthology film directed by Walerian Borowczyk (The Beast) is described as “split into four erotic-themed stories that involve the loss of virginity, masturbation, bloodlust, and incest.” It’s essentially disturbing softcore pornography, which is both exciting and upsetting. The third story of Immoral Tales is centered on Elizabeth Bathory and her erotic fixation on blood. The whole film is about how desire manifests in strange ways, so Bathory fits right in! It’s gory, it’s sexy, and it’s weird; what else do you need?
The 1979 Australian horror movie Thirst leans heavily into the vampire angle of Bathory. Kate (Chantal Contouri) is kidnapped by an underground organization called The Brotherhood who believes she is a descendant of the Countess of Blood herself. This means that Kate is predisposed to consuming human blood to maintain her strength and beauty. But, like any sane person, Kate is rather hesitant to accept such a fate and must struggle with what it means to be a vampire.
Hostel II (2007)
While Eli Roth’s Hostel II is not solely about Bathory, perhaps its best kill scene is heavily inspired by her. Lorna (Heather Matarazzo, The Princess Diaries), one of the American tourists about to meet an untimely death, wakes up hanging over a bathtub. A woman, credited as Mrs. Bathory, walks into the room, disrobes, and lays in the tub. She brandishes a massive scythe, slices Lorna’s throat, and bathes in the cascade of her blood as Lorna’s life drains (quite literally) out of her. So much of the death in the Hostel franchise is at the hands of older men in the name of sport. Something about the disturbingly erotic death of Lorna makes it stand out and feel unique in a myriad of gore.
Stay Alive (2006)
In William Brent Bell’s 2006 film about a killer video game, Bathory is the virtual villain who transcends the digital world searching for more blood. A bunch of thrill-seeking young adults find a new video game they can all play together. To start the game, the six of them must recite the Prayer of Elizabeth which seems like a silly gimmick. But, they quickly find out that when you die in the game, you die in real life. And when you die, it is violent and awful in a way that only Lady Bathory can deliver. It is rather clever for the Countess, who can supposedly make video games, to adapt with the times and find new ways to collect the blood she needs. We love an innovative queen.
Chastity Bites (2013)
This 2013 horror-comedy has Countess Bathory posing as an abstinence counselor at a contemporary high school, which is brilliant. She needs virgins, so naturally promoting virginity to high school students is the perfect way to find and groom victims. It is a hilarious look at the obsession with virginity and how it can be weaponized against women.
Daughters of Darkness (1971)
Elizabeth Bathory is an eternally youthful hotel owner in the 1971 Belgian horror film, Daughters of Darkness. She (Delphine Seyrig, Jeanne Dielman) and her young secretary Ilona (Andrea Rau, Lola) use the hotel as a rouse to lure in young girls and, you guessed it, kill them. When a newlywed couple arrives on their honeymoon, Bathory becomes obsessed with them, and a strange and bloody complicated relationship emerges.
Countess Dracula (1971)
The 1971 film directed by Peter Sasdy is not actually about Dracula or his wife; as previously mentioned, Countess Dracula was one of several nicknames for Bathory. Sasdy’s film covers the life of Bathory (Ingrid Pitt, The Wicker Man) before and during her bloody rampage in the Hungarian countryside with a focus on her sexual escapades. It is bloody and erotic, common themes in films about her. It is interesting that Bathory, a ruthless serial killer, is so often sexualized, while male serial killers are grotesque. Perhaps it is the historical distance from the events, or perhaps it’s just good old fashioned misogyny. Regardless, Countess Dracula, and all of the films on this list, showcase a centuries-old fascination with bloodlust and how it manifests almost primarily as eroticism and softcore horror porn.
The Countess (2009)
Julia Delpy’s (Before Sunrise) 2009 film The Countess is a rather straightforward look at the Countess’ (played by Delpy) life, but leans more towards the sympathetic, especially in looking at her past. The film reflects on the tragedy of her childhood, the murder of her young lover, and the cruelty of her parents. While Delpy never tries to pardon her crimes, she tries to give the character more nuance and depth, rather than just an erotic vampiress waiting to suck you dry.
Juraj Jakubisko’s 2008 film Bathory is a more thoughtful adaptation of Bathory’s (Anna Friel, Limitless) story and looks at her as more sympathetic rather than a cold-hearted killer. In this tale, Elizabeth Bathory is performing medical experiments and autopsies in her castle. Her fascination with medicine is misconstrued as witchcraft, which is used against her by a male rival (of course). Her red baths, though just full of herbs, are thought to be full of blood. Her rival encourages these tales and works to ensure her downfall.
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