It seems the mad countess has finally won her bid for immortality — or at least eternal youth.
Hungarian noblewoman Elizabeth Bathory has been a favorite horror tale figure in Eastern European myth since her demise in 1614.
Now she’s back, slated to cast her spell in dueling versions, one by Slovak auteur Juraj Jakubisko (featuring Anna Friel) and one by French thesp, helmer and scribe Julie Delpy, each following different instincts in getting down to who and what the powerful countess really was.
Delpy has been mum on details while prepping her E5 million ($6.6 million) shoot of “The Countess” in authentic locations near where Bathory reigned — and supposedly bathed in the blood of virgins to prolong her girlish looks — in what is now Hungary and Slovakia.
Pic is backed by Social Capital and Bloodworks, a shingle traditionally known for horror and slasher films but now expanding out of that mold with this more nuanced film, which Delpy penned and will star in. Her Bathory script examines the mindset of a mysterious, wealthy and cruel figure who is said to have killed some 400 girls.
In online interviews, Delpy, like Jakubisko, has said it’s not exactly clear whether the countess was really behind all the bloodshed. After all, her vast land holdings and castles were worth a fortune, her husband was away at war with the Turks and some stood to gain substantially from any witch-hunt directed at Bathory.
Jakubisko co-producer Mike Downey of the U.K.’s Film and Music Entertainment says the rival film conception of the bloody countess is presented in a more epic setting. Jakubisko portrays Bathory from age 10 until her death 35 years later, puts his distinctive stamp on the battle sequences and constantly moves the action from manor houses to more than 20 different castles and chateaus, with 120 speaking characters and thousands of extras.
The project has completed editing and weighs in as the most expensive production in Slovakia and the Czech Republic since 1989 with a budget of $14.5 million and a run time of 2 hours, 22 minutes. It’s also the helmer’s first English-language movie.
“In today’s digital age, fewer European feature film projects embrace major international stories on such a grand scale,” says Downey. “Juraj Jakubisko is a master of cinematic style, and we invested in his vision because it is a film of ambition, scope and scale destined for worldwide theatrical release.”
A contributor to the Czech New Wave of the ’60s, Jakubisko brings his sense of magical realism to the project, adds producer Deana Jakubiskova. “There are some dreams,” Jakubiskova says, “when she is under hypnosis, she sees many things.”
Bathory, in this version, also took the plunge into the decadent art world, becoming entangled with bad-boy painter Caravaggio, a colorful and probably fanciful idea that struck Jakubisko when research showed three years unaccounted for in the Italian’s life.
Bathory has clear modern-day parallels, says Jakubiskova. “Her problem was she was too rich and too powerful — but not as powerful as men when they wanted her property.”