Day 22: Female-Helmed Horror Movies For October
Starring and Written, Composed and Directed by Julie Delpy
1 hour, 38 minutes
I watched it on DVD, borrowed from the library. (Use your library, folks! The resources are amazing. They have the entire Criterion Collection, for example.)
The Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Julie Delpy) was an infamous Hungarian countess and serial killer who lived from 1560-1614. After being separated from her young lover (Daniel Bruhl), she becomes convinced that he shunned her due to her aging looks. She is soon deranged by her heartbreak and starts killing young virgin women, draining their blood to use as a tonic to make her skin look younger. The body count is estimated to be as high as 650. Some have argued that this was all a construct to rob Bathory of her riches and power, quite unusual for a woman of that time but most think there was entirely too much evidence that she was guilty. The movie doesn’t propose that she was innocent, which makes it even more disturbing that the extensive voiceover at the end rages about how unfair it is that she was vilified when men killed just as many or more in their wars. Sure, men aren’t penalized for slaughtering in the name of war and that is an atrocity but my goodness, Bathory killed hundreds of innocent girls for her insane vanity.
But see what I’m doing there? How I’m writing about this? This whole thing was just way too damn grand and melodramatic and apparently, it rubbed off on me. I’ve been a fan of Julie Delpy for years. The Before series, especially “Before Sunset,” which she starred in and co-wrote, is a masterpiece of a relationship drama. I also really loved “Two Days in Paris,” a terrific portrait of a pair of endearing neurotics. Delpy is known as a renaissance woman on her films. She does all the things. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find she built the sets herself or catered it or something, too. But she just completely missed the mark here. There are plenty of other truly wronged feminist heroes throughout history. Bathory is an odd choice at best to support. To be fair, it’s not that she exactly supports her. I don’t think Julie Delpy is like, “Yay, I love this serial killer.” But the movie isn’t terribly critical either. It’s too close to its melodrama to really explore the destruction or really even the madness.
No matter where Delpy’s true opinion on Bathory lies, the movie just doesn’t work. Everything is way too damn serious and without much life or character. Delpy and Bruhl have decent chemistry and it is somewhat interesting that she falls in love with such an ineffectual coward. Bruhl lets his cruel, manipulating power player of a father (William Hurt) run his whole life and never truly stands up for either himself or Elizabeth. But she never seems frustrated with him, even at the end. She’s just so grateful to see him again. Gross.
And for a movie about the bloodlusty Bathory to be this relatively bloodless? Come on! There are a few bits of blood draining, and I get that she seems to have been aiming more toward drama than horror (why?), but it just adds to the overall coldness. The most revolting thing in the movie involves an injury Bathory gives herself when she cuts her chest open and seals a lock of her lover’s hair inside. Yep, that happened, and it’s super gross. But the rest is a fairly clean montage. Sometimes a movie fails largely because they just get the tone so wrong, and that’s my best guess as to what happened here. “The Countess” never gets down and dirty. It stays entirely too respectable.