Elizabeth Báthory (1560-1614) was a sadistic Hungarian countess and female serial killer, accused of torturing hundreds of virgin girls and young women before dying in a bricked-up imprisonment scenario. As legend would have it, Báthory was rumored to have bathed in the blood of her victims to retain her youth, an assumed fallacy which no doubt lead her to go down in history as sort of a “Lady Dracula.” Filmmakers saw the sensational subject as fodder for a numerous horror movies, and Báthory was the inspiration for Peter Sasdy’s COUNTESS DRACULA, as well as a segment in Walerian Borowczyk’s IMMORAL TALES, with looser reworkings of the legend including WEREWOLF SHADOW, THE DEVIL’S WEDDING NIGHT and others. Director Jorge Grau’s Ceremonia sangrienta, better known in the U.S. as THE LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE and THE FEMALE BUTCHER, is a Spanish/Italian co-production which many fans believe is the best cinematic imagining of the Báthory legend to date.
In 17th Century Hungary, a village is in fear of vampirism, and a suspected bloodsucker is ceremonially beheaded in public. In the meantime, Countess Erzsebet Báthory (Lucia Bosé) accidentally bops one of her pretty maidservants in the nose with a glass mirror. Drops of blood caused by the mishap land on her arm, and the Countess notices that the affected area has replenished her skin’s appearance. With the superstitious locals still in fear of the thirsty dead, the Countess’ husband Karl (Espartaco Santoni) fakes his own death and ably assists his wife by supplying the vain lady with nubile village girls who act as a steady supply of pure blood to douse herself in. Karl becomes infatuated with an innkeeper’s lovely daughter (Ewa Aulin), simultaneously having an affair with the lass while continuing a murder spree for the sake of his wife’s beauty.
Admittedly, THE LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE is slow moving from the onset, but if you can get past the initial dullness and stick with, it’s a rewarding viewing experience and one of the best-produced genre films to come out of Spain. Although you would expect the subject of Countess Báthory to be a natural for the expected exploitative elements, Grau’s film is rather classy and restrained in terms of its graphic representations, but still manages to impress. The cinematography is handled skillfully, the tone is downright serious, the acting doesn’t border on campy, and the gothic trappings are of the highest caliber, from authentic castles and old-world exteriors to striking period costume designs.
Italian-born Lucia Bosé is both beautiful in face and figure, and somewhat sympathetic as the Countess, even when she intentionally cuts the hand of a young child to sample her pure blood, or her perverse bathing in the red stuff. Actually it’s the heartless Marquis Karl (played by Espartaco Santoni, recognizable from LISA AND THE DEVIL, NIGHT OF THE DEVILS and other genre items) who does most of the dirty work. Looking like a menacing cross between a Dracula wannabe and Paul Naschy in HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, the character seduces his share of attractive females, puncturing their necks with a blade, as he is no true vampire with the advantage of canines. As the sultry innkeeper’s daughter, Ewa Aulin (the star of CANDY and DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER) isn’t give enough screen time in her final film appearance, but her presence is always welcomed, especially when her nightshirt is undone. Ana Farra (CURSE OF THE DEVIL) is memorable as the Countess’ all-too loyal housekeeper whose fate boils down to a MARK OF THE DEVIL-style tongue yanking; a squeamish demise to behold, even if nothing remotely explicit is actually shown.
Though by no means a wholly genuine representation of the Báthory legend, the outcome is unique in that despite all the vampire shenanigans and the appearance of actual bats (one which is tortured by some rotten kids), there’s really nothing supernatural when it’s all is said and done, but it maintains a sense of macabre throughout with the historical aspect in check. Visually, some of the highlights include the use of a hole in the attic floor in which the blood of butchered victims flows onto the Countess, whose bedroom is right below; Karl intensely playing the piano while the blood of his last victim remains stained on his hands; the Countess hallucinating that the rotted corpses of some of her victims have come back to life to taunt her and; the shocking discovery of a pair of dead nude females lying in Karl’s tomb when his carcass is supposed to lay rest there.
Mya Communication presents THE LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE in a 1.85:1 widescreen non-anamorphic transfer that’s satisfactory if far from stunning. Represented here is the Spanish cut of the film which runs a little over 88 minutes. While detail and fleshtones generally look good, at times the picture quality appears a bit soft or on the dark side. The Spanish print source is generally in very nice shape with some scattered dirt and debris, but a digital glitch, which occurs a dozen times or so throughout the presentation, has the picture joggling forth a few frames or temporarily stalling (nothing drastic but noticeable enough that it’s well worth mentioning). One brief scene and almost all of the “final process” scenes were never dubbed into English, so these sequences play in the Spanish language with accompanying English subtitles which can be removed. The mono English dubbed track suffers from some hiss and distortion, as well as few brief sound drop outs. Cleaner Spanish and Italian mono language tracks are also provided, but without a subtitle option.
Extras include over five minutes of deleted scenes (mostly dialog driven) from the longer Italian version, accompanied by English subtitles. Two alternate nude scenes that were shot for countries other than Spain are provided, also in Italian with English subtitles. You can also watch these two alternate scenes in “comparison mode” which displays them side by side with their “clothed” counterparts. The Italian source for all the aforementioned material is vastly inferior in quality than the main feature. Other supplements include the Italian opening credits, the American opening and closing credits and a poster gallery which showcases the different ways in which the film was marketed around the world. (George R. Reis)
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