Thursday, 10 March 2011

Bathory: Countess Of Blood (Juraj Jakubisko, 2008) DVD Review

Anna Friel stars as the infamous Countess in Bathory (2008)

Lets make something irrefutably clear. There is not an ounce of truth to Bathory: Countess Of Blood. Not one proven fact. On the surface there is, sure. Elizabeth Báthory was a Hungarian Countess who lived between 1560 - 1614, and that was indeed a time of religious unsettlement between Protestants and Catholics. But her reputation as the most prolific female serial killer (a vampiric one no less) of all time is pure myth. Her nickname "Countess Of Blood" belongs in fiction, and that's exactly what this bloated, lifeless period drama is. It's fantasy. The idea that she bathed in the blood of virgins and consumed the contents of their veins in order to stay young is a folk tale, and this film supplants it with an even more superfluous and ludicrous one. There is an interesting enough story to tell here without witches and caricature monks with anachronistic contraptions such as roller skates, video cameras and microphones. If this 134-minute snoozefest sounds like an elaborate road to nowhere... well, you should try watching it.

Bless Anna Friel. She's not a bad actress but I can't for the life of me work out why she took this role, in which she is terrible. It can't have been for a paycheck, or because she thought it would boost her profile. Not only does she show no emotion throughout the entire running time, she also cannot master a Hungarian accent. More to the point, who thought it would be a good idea to cast her? The film is filled with a host of recognizably non-specific European faces, and here they are stuck with a notable case of Valkyrie Syndrome. I ask very simply: why is everybody speaking English? Why aren't they doing anything to move the plot forward? In fact, where and what is the plot, and when did we establish it? The screenplay (with three credited writers) is an absolute mess, filled with exposition that not only takes place in eye-rolling narration but actually condescends by showing us the narrator and having him speak directly to camera! What, did the filmmaker think his simple minded audience wouldn't understand the concept of narration? The director is Juraj Jakubisko and he confuses the word epic with long in a way that would make even Ridley Scott blush. Bathory is a film about a 16th century noblewoman accused of vampirism - there is no excuse for it being this boring.

Further still, it's absurdly stupid. One scene sees Báthory's wife raped by her husband, resulting in the death of her child. But later he writes her a letter of apology, so that's all okey-dokey. But you haven't heard the stupid part yet. To write this letter he sits in a field being ravaged by war, explosions going off all around him, and doesn't even blink an eye! Instead he sits and narrates to himself and the camera focuses on him doing so in yet another maddeningly condescending scene where the director thinks us simpletons can't even work out whose voice it is we're hearing! If anything there should be less dialogue as one key exchange (on the topic of producing an heir to the throne) goes like this: "Will you know how?" "My Uncle told me how." I mean that's just embarrassingly creepy. After around seventy minutes of squarely sod all in the narrative department Báthory suddenly goes off-the-wall crazy and employs a witch to keep her young by way of some unexplainable herbal remedy. This provides a fast-track road to nowhere too, except for some dreamlike hallucinatory sequences which are neither A) dreamlike, or B) hallucinatory. They're sequences in which the camera is tilted a bit to the left, some silly masks are employed, lighting turns to different colours and 'scary' imagery flashes onto the screen. Basically they belong in a 70s B-movie.

It's also shoddily directed and not even the somewhat impressive set and costume design is safe under the eye of Jakubisko, who employs state-of-ten-years-ago CGI to touch up environments that looked perfectly fine to begin with. And there is some truly laughable green-screen work in some latter snow-set scenes, where Báthory rides through the mountains (still not as bad as the monks who skate through them though). So, the film makes no sense whatsoever, is terribly executed in all technical departments (have I mentioned the use of slow motion?), wastes talent such as Anna Friel and Karel Roden, and revises history in a dumbfounding and terminally boring way. The constant use of fade outs hints at a troubled spell in the editing suite, the floor of which this abomination should have stayed on. Would you like one final example of how stupid this movie is? No problem. One scene sees an insanely talented painter craft a beautiful masterpiece the likes of which would illuminate galleries the world over. The problem is that he creates it overnight under the light of several hundred candles and acts somehow surprised when it catches on fire. And his subject was a dead child frozen in ice. Which didn't melt under the heat of the candles. Bathory isn't a bad film. It's a really, really terrible one and you should never watch it. Ever.

Extras: Quite a few, but I haven't watched them. I value my health.


  1. I wish the reviewer would stop sitting on the fence & tell us whether they thought the film was any good or not...

    Only kidding! I bought the film from ASDA for 5 pound. Had never seen it before anywhere but was drawn into it with the prospect of watching a sexy film on friday night with my girlfriend, so maybe I got what I deserved? The reviewers is right, it is a terrible film, but there are some reasons for watching it: 1) To laugh at how bad it is & enjoy analysing the many & varied ways it fails; 2) To see the only film currently in existence that has 2 medieval monks roler skating on wooden skates(& their other crazy inventions too). Indeed they are the best bit of the film in my opinion. Maybe the film could be remade with them as staring characters?

    For anyone thinking of seeing Bathory, I do think that the viewers cinematic experience is enhanced by not being sober at the point where they hit the 'play' button.

  2. My notable interest in Bathory's historical preference was one of the reasons that I even obliged to watch this movie (despite having known the numerous negative critical reviews, beforehand). Generally, I felt that it had been ungainly directed and written. The content was undoubtly squalid, but the writer/director's aims in the plotting are quite noted-it simply was just not portrayed very well in the movie. But, it is very disappointing, as to say. It may be based on a historical figure's life, but that is no excuse for its failure in content. They failed to deliver a good movie (having the plot mainly taken from a literately inspirational historical case of Elizabeth Bathory's prolific nature)...

    - Samantha I,
    9th Grade History Student at Special Science

  3. Lavish but very pooly directed and writen!

  4. I honestly liked the costuming, and some of the scenes and ideas were good. That being said, I felt that the scripting wasn't very well done, and the fade outs and strange add in scenes that were supposed to complement the way of Bathory's life just seemed forced; the random insanity scenes and her somehow acquiring mushrooms as a drug caught me off guard rather than help me to understand the version of Bathory the director imagined. The scene where her husband rapes her and simultaneously cheats on her did not seem like the kind of thing a strong woman like Bathory would just let go. There are instances I would understand this situation, but her love for him wasn't infallible enough for her to just get over what happened, especially when you think of the importance of children in her mind. Really, I agree with the Anonymous post September 11. I just felt that the costume designers and actors should get a bad rep for trying hard in something that was poorly executed. Some of the editors should even get some lenience, if there's an editing crew subgroup in existence that is supposed to monitor this aspect of film. Whoever oversaw this project really wasted the talent at hand, and rendered the film into a headache for the majority of their audience.

  5. "should get a bad rep" was supposed to be "should not". I wrote that whole thing and lost my entire point by making a stupid error. Guess I understood the film production even subconsciously?

  6. well i liked it....alot