While perusing the Horror Blog, I came across a link labeled Dueling Bathorys. I only know of one Bathory--Erzebet Bathory--and the thought of two of her definitely raised the hair on the back of my neck. Following the link revealed that there are two competing movies about Bathory in the works: The Countess and Bathory.
Until I started preparing to write this post, I wasn't aware that many of the details surrounding Bathory's life are in dispute. The established facts seem to be that she was born noble, was implicated in the deaths of numerous women, and was tried for their deaths. Bathory is still considered to be the most notorious serial killer ever to have come out of Hungary.
The parts of the story that are in question appear to involve the motive and method behind the murders. One common story concerning Bathory is that she murdered because she was worried about losing her looks and believed that by bathing in the blood of virgin women she could regain her youthful appearance. Another holds that Bathory was a sadist and employed intricate tortures in taking life.
Some historians believe these stories are legends that grew out of prejudice against women. The story about Bathory killing out of vanity, for instance, may have grown out of people's discomfort with the idea of a female murderer. Killing was not considered to be part of a woman's inherent nature, but, the rationale goes, a woman's vanity might override her natural instincts and drive her to murder.
I was first exposed to the legend of Erzebet Bathory through a dramatic production of the Blood Countess, an adaptation of poet Robert Peters's long poem of the same name. Robert Peters devoted much of his writing career to investigating dark subject matter, including serial murder, death and madness. A number of his works, including his long poem about Mad Ludwig of Bavaria, are available online for free.
Peters performed the lead role in the play of the Blood Countess himself, in drag. The photo here shows him in full makeup as Erzebet. Although there was some comic edge underlying his performance, Peters played the role of a woman with great seriousness, carefully modulating his voice to a female register as he spoke.
Peters gave life to the more extreme legends around Bathory, depicting her as a sadistic, wanton murderer. Yet he also infused her with some of the seductive appeal that movie audiences responded to in the character of Hannibal Lecter. For example, the play begins with Bathory calling out with girlish exuberance, "Give the chained women extra rations of milk and cheese!" Bathory's infectious happiness and pleasure in her own generosity is contrasted with the reminder that somewhere, offstage, a slew of young women are chained up, awaiting death.
Even though all the horrors in the Blood Countess took place offstage, when I saw it performed, their description was enough to drive one audience member out of her seat and straight out the back door. It's fascinating the way our minds can imagine so much more, and so much worse, than our eyes can see. I imagine that when the two Bathory movies come out, very little will be left to the imagination. There will be a bloodbath, in more ways than one. But with so much mystery surrounding this woman's story, there's at least the potential for much more.