Category Archives: film

Movie reviews. Genre commentary.

Bathed in Blood

Hematolagnic Ablutophilia. Noun. A macaronic neologism that combines Latin and Greek roots to mean a sexual fetish which evokes arousal when the subject or object is bathed in blood. First usage? This article.

From the terrible recent Aleta: Vampires Mistress to the marginally better Fright Night 2, vampires bathed in blood is a trope in more than a few vampire films — one that finds its origins in the historical figure of Erzsébet (Elizabeth) Báthory. A late 16th / early 17th century Hungarian Countess infamous for having allegedly killed hundreds of young girls, she reputedly bathed in their blood in order to retain her youth.

Countess Dracula (1971)
Ingrid Pitt in Hammer’s Countess Dracula (1971)

As she is depicted in many movies — most notably 1971’s Countess Dracula, starring Ingrid Pitt, (and two more recent offerings, one with Anna Friel and the other, Julie Delpy) — Bathory has become association with vampirism, especially bloodlust in the pursuit of youth.

While testimonies following her arrest — extracted under torture, and often supplied by “witnesses” with connections to those who owed money  to her husband —described how Bathory tortured and murdered young girls (as many as 650 by some estimates), no references to the bloodbaths appeared in the transcripts from her “trial” that surfaced in 1765 (later published in 1817).

So why does legend overshadow the facts of her arrest and subsequent life sentence to confinement in a tower of her castle?

Elizabeth Bathory, c. 1585
Bathory at age 25, in one of the few surviving contemporary portrait of the Countess

The first written account of the Bathory case — Jesuit scholar László Turóczi’s Tragica Historia — was published in 1729 at the height of the alleged vampire attacks in the Habsburg Monarchy from 1725 to 1734. A fantastical account of a blood-craving Countess, appearing at a time when “enlightened” Europeans were exhuming and staking corpses, sealed her fate.

THE PRIEST WHO WROTE THE BOOK ON VAMPIRES

As Bathory’s reputation grew (in works like historian Matthias Bel’s The Castle and Town of Csejte [1742]), so did that of the vampire (Father Abbot Dom Antoine Augustin Calmet’s seminal Dissertations sur les apparitions des anges, des démons et des esprits, et sur les revenants et vampires de Hongrie, de Bohême, de Moravie, et de Silésie, for example, appeared in 1746).  Bathory’s story and those of vampires thus became intermingled. By the middle of the eighteenth century, Elizabeth Bathory’s name would become synonymous with bloodlust, vampirism and blood itself.

Not only blood, but the blood of virgin girls. It raises questions of not only her mental state, but her gender, even her sexuality.

THE WRITERS WHO RESURRECTED HER

The legend of Elizabeth Bathory waned in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. But contemporary historians Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally helped to resurrect her and her reputation in the early nineteen righties. McNally, in particular, in his Dracula Was a Woman: In Search of the Blood Countess of Transylvania (1983) suggests that the Bathory legend indeed has roots in antiquated ideas about sexuality and gender. Lust and sadism were thought to be masculine vices. Bloodletting for a woman, then, must be attributed to her vanity, her pride.

THE LEGACY OF LILITH
The Temptation of Adam and Eve by Michelangelo
The Temptation of Adam and Eve by Michelangelo

Curiously, it is exactly the sin of pride (which included vainglory or vanity as far as the Church was concerned) that condemned the Lilith of mythology. In Hebrew Apocrypha, she is Adam’s first wife.  Desiring equality with him — including the option of having sex in anything other than the missionary position — Lilith was rejected by both Adam and God for such independent thinking. Upon a self-imposed exile, she becomes a temptress, seen as a winged demon from Babylonia and Sumerian traditions, and forever associated and intertwined with the serpent of the Garden of Eden. Demonized for her sexuality, Lilith becomes / is a symbol of man’s fear of strong-willed women. Sexual beings with their own desires. Creatures that shed blood, yet are renewed.

The fifth season of HBO’s True Blood featured a character named Lilith. Silent and sinister, she is believed to be the first vampire ever to walk the earth. And she walks completely nude, covered in blood as vampire men and women fall under her intoxicating spell. Her blood is the source of immense power. And she is dripping wet with it.

Something deep in our reptilian brains, it would seem, is repulsed by yet attracted to this potent image of a woman either empowered or ecstatic, bathed in blood.

If blood is the life (Deuteronomy 12:23) and life is power, a powerful woman may have been judged by many an eighteenth-century man to be too bloodthirsty. Depraved. A demon. A vampire. Craving blood.

Perhaps even bathing in it.


For more information about Countess Elizabeth Bathory, visit www.infamouslady.com

For more about Ingrid Pitt, read this blog entry about the Women of Hammer Horror.

Update: See the 2008 film BATHORY: COUNTESS OF BLOOD, starring Anna Friel, for yet another take on the Countess.

 

Waiting for Argento: Blood, Boobs and DRACULA 3D

“Is it right to be obsessed with looking at terrible things and sharing them with other people?” — Dario Argento, Italian film director, producer and screenwriter

Dario Argento's Dracula 3D
Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D

Quoting Argento, I feel like some whore in a shower stall talking to herself as she cleans off the filth of her last embarrassing encounter. That is to say, I know that if/when Dario Argento’s DRACULA 3D will be released in the US, I will look. In fact, I really want to like what I see. I do. I swear.

But should I be sharing such an awful thing with other people? Especially when this long awaited film — screened and panned at Cannes and currently only being distributed in Europe — still has no U.S. release date!?!?!?

Famous for 1977’s Suspiria, and being cited as an inspiration for the work of directors like John Carpenter, Argento has made over twenty horror movies, each with a schlocky seventies european sensibility. He has amassed quite a fan-base around the world, and is given a degree of respect in Europe; but when his re-interpretation of Dracula in 3D was screened at Cannes last May, the audience jeered and many left their seats.

Still, like his central character here — a Dracula that’s cunning and oddly appealing — Argento’s films have a certain charm. They are forever stuck in the hazy twilight of adolescent wonder for all things reputedly hip and cool simply because they are foreign — a benefit of the doubt certainly extended more easily in the days before the web and the globalization of media. But Argento’s appeal is limited, and his consistently bad movies, while often entertaining in their ineptitude, tend to receive more attention before people actually see them. He has our enthusiasm on credit because of an account only long ago in good standing.

Like the count himself, Argento seemed far more interesting the first, second or even the third or fourth time around — when he was novel, exotic, a stranger from a strange land.

Thomas Kretschmann as Dracula

Suspiria is a good example of how one of his films can be more than their silly premises (in this case “ballerina vs. witches”). With beautiful cinematography and an atmosphere of the surreal, Suspiria consistently finds it ways to top positions in lists of great horror films.

Still, 1977 was 35 years ago. And Argento has made no effort to adapt his skills or sensibilities to modern audiences.

I’ll expect terrible CGI and clumsy use of 3D. I’ll forgive  the poor acting (Rutger Hauer as Van Helsing is the only actor with even a slight chance of salvaging what is sure to be terrible dialogue). And I’ll look past what’s sure to be downright bizarre physical effects (a review from Cannes mentioned a a gigantic bug?). And why will I excuse all of this? Because I’m a sucker for bad foreign, bloody period semi-(or even not) faithful adaptations of Dracula (need I say more than Jess Franco’s El Conde Dracula with Christopher Lee?). They all can’t be Hammer’s brilliant Horror of Dracula (1958), Coppolla’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), or even Lugosi in Todd Browning’s classic Universal fare (1931). But they are all worth a watch just once. Just to say I’ve seen every Dracula film (and I’m pretty sure I have).

Sure, the blood will be fun. And Argento filming his beautiful daughter, Asia, in all manner of stages of undress as Lucy will be oddly alluring and extremely off-putting at the same time, I’m sure.

But does Dracula 3D have enough of what makes a bad movie good to ever get this film to rise above the just plain terrible?

You be the judge. And so will I.

If it’s ever released here in the states, you can bet I’ll follow up. Good or bad, Dracula 3D is bound to be a guilty pleasure worth pursuing.