The Countess Bathory story has attained a great deal of fascination in vampire fiction. On cinema screens, she first appeared in a supposedly historical account from Hammer Films with Countess Dracula (1970) played by Ingrid Pitt where the story was greatly fictionalised. More common have been her appearances as an actual vampire, beginning with the languidly bored lesbian vampire seductress played by Delphine Seyrig in Daughters of Darkness (1971). Countess Bathory turns up in a number of other films in various of Paul Naschys Waldemar Daninsky films with The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman (1971), Return of the Werewolf (1973) and Night of the Werewolf (1981); the Spanish The Legend of Blood Castle/The Bloody Countess/The Female Butcher (1973) played by Lucia Bose; played by Paloma Picasso in an episode of the erotic anthology Immoral Tales (1974); played by Diane Witter in the obscure Bathory (2000); played by Caroline Neron in the present-day Canadian erotic thriller Eternal (2004); in the present-day played by Michelle Bauer in Fred Olen Rays Paul Naschy homage Tomb of the Werewolf (2004); in the cheap Night Fangs (2005); with modern-day girls travelling back in time in Demons Claw (2006); in the present-day Draculas Curse (2006); in the present-day in the animated Hellboy: Blood and Iron (2007); in the softcore Blood Countess (2008); mixed up with the Dracula story in Blood Scarab (2008); as a present-day abstinence campaigner (Louise Griffiths) in Chastity Bites (2013); as the female Jerry Dandridge (Jaime Murray) in Fright Night 2 (2013). She even appeared in the midst of a videogame in Stay Alive (2006) and as the host of a horror anthology in Countess Bathorias Graveyard Picture Show (2007), while Eli Roth homages her activities in Hostel Part II (2007).
Bathory was one of several films that came out around the same time that attempted to take the Countess Bathory story back to a more realistic and historically-based interpretation, freeing it up from its association with vampire mythology. The first to appear was Metamorphosis (2007). This was a terrible film that brought into all the vampire mythology but at least had the distinction of being the first treatment of Countess Bathory to be shot in Hungary by a Hungarian crew with imported American stars. Bathory was originally made as a mini-series for Czech/Hungarian tv but ended up screening as a single film at various festivals and in English-language release. This version was made by a Czech director and was shot in Czech, Hungarian, Slovak and Austrian locations with pan-European funding and a largely Hungarian crew. It makes effort to throw out all the vampire mythology and set the historical record straight regarding Countess Bathory. Around seven months later, there was also The Countess (2009), directed by and starring Julie Delpy as the Countess, which likewise attempted to set the historical record straight and tell the Elizabeth/Erzsebet Bathory story as it was.
Bathory and The Countess are notable for taking revisionist accounts of the life of Elizabeth Bathory. Some historians in recent years have challenged the account that Elizabeth Bathory was one of the most notorious serial killers in history and posited that she was framed by nobles seeking to procure her wealth and lands and that the claims about her sadism and murder of servants girls were either fabricated or extracted via torture with the confessors being killed immediately afterwards. (Bathory dramatises this very argument). Again, it should be pointed out that this argument is only surmise there is no clear proof either way beyond the historical record of the trial. What it should be said in favour of Countess Bathory as multiple murderer is that the pathology of sexual sadism described holds up remarkably congruently centuries before such schools of psychology were devised and that such behaviour regarding the peasant classes as disposable was not untoward for the nobles of the day who could flog, beat and murder the serfs with impunity. Evidence obtained via torture was standard operating procedure for courts of the era and to claim that this makes everything suspect is to read it too much from the perspective of modern liberal law courts.
The Countess told its story from a feminist standpoint, while Bathory appears to be doing so more from a desire to rescue Countess Bathorys reputation from the historical graveyard. This does perhaps take things to far more of an opposite extreme than seems historically credible in this version, Countess Bathory is not one of the most notorious murderers in history but a decent and upstanding noble who treats her servants kindly and is traumatised when she accidentally kills a maid while under the influence of a rivals drugs. The film dabbles with various aspects of the myth but interestingly inverts them the Countess is seen bathing in blood to restore her age but on closer inspection this is shown to be a bath of red herbs provided by the witch Darvulia; The Countess is seen dissecting bodies but these are anatomical experiments she is conducting so that the artist Caravaggio can better understand the human form. The film does get a little absurd when it starts to suggest that Countess Bathory suddenly became cruel, killed a maid and mistreated servants only when her rival had poison placed in her herbal remedies. Not to mention an ending that elevates the Countess to a level of almost saintly grace as she lies back and the candle flame seemingly bends under supernatural guidance and consumes her and the room she is imprisoned in, a point where the film fancifully departs from the historical record altogether in reality, the Countess was far more mundanely found dead of natural causes inside the suite where she was bricked up. The problem with both of these films is that the legend of Countess Bathory as a blood-bathing sadist and slaughterer of her servants is far more interesting than the attempt to historically revise it and both films have to keep finding ways of blurring the telling to allow some of the more lurid aspects of the story to creep back in.
I am not entirely sure if I brought into Bathorys attempt to offer a sympathetic, revisionist version of the Countesss story. What you cannot deny is that a good deal of lush, rich design work and costuming has been placed into the film. There are times the sumptuousness and richness of the set dressing proves visually overwhelming. The film gives the clear impression that it has attempted to authentically replicate the historical locations or at least shoot in modern equivalents. Particularly good is the lushness of some of director Juraj Jakubiskos visuals an outdoor chess game played with three-foot tall stylised chess pieces; of Hans Mathiesons Caravaggio rowing a gondola through a mist-laden Venetian canal with a naked Anna Friel in the bow; lovemaking scenes with Hans Mathieson inside a confessional booth, which in one charming image is seen to be gracefully sliding across the floor of the church with the vigour of their thrusts. One rather silly piece is having the character of the elder monk (Bolek Polivka) invent modern devices such as the camera, the parachute, even a set of clockwork rollerskates several hundred years earlier.
British actress Anna Friel is an interesting choice in the title role she apparently lobbied hard for the part. Friel is mostly noted for nice girl roles in British dramas or television and taking on a role like this is a decided stretch from the parts in which she is usually cast. She plays with a certain autocratic hauteur, although the role is too sympathetic to ever require her to conduct much of a stretch to show Countess Bathory as a cruel historical figure that would have been the acting tour-de-force that Friel clearly expected in taking on the role. Karel Roden seems to like this type of villainous role, while some of the costumes he is wheeled out in make him look undeniably like Gary Oldman in Bram Stokers Dracula (1992).