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The ageing Countess discovers that the blood of a maid can temporarily restore her youth and great beauty. She falls in love with a dashing young soldier but is compelled to kill again and again to maintain her attractiveness and prevent the secret getting out. Written by
I can't deny feeling just a tad bit underwhelmed after finishing my long-anticipated viewing of Jorge Grau's "The Legend of Blood Castle". Here I was all prepared and excited to acquaint with one of the most fabulous European Gothic horror movies of all time, directed by the Spanish genius who made "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie" and orbiting around one of the most horrific and notorious historical figures who ever lived. In the second half of the 16th Century, the Hungarian Countess Erzsébet Bathory discovered or at least she believed that bathing in the blood of young female virgins helped to retain a youthful appearance. She slaughtered hundreds of girls, which gained her the questionable honor of being the most prolific female serial killer of all times. Nearly 400 years later, this record still stands. There are a handful of really good horror films about her, notably Hammer's "Countess Dracula" and Harry Kümel's tantalizing "Daughters of Darkness", but still I was fairly confident that THIS would be ultimate cinematic version of the most macabre woman in history. "The Legend of Blood Castle" is reputedly the most accurate and relevant re-telling of the Bathory tale, elaborating more on her persona, her surrounding and her obsession for physical beauty.
Now, "The Legend of Blood Castle" might very well be the most faithful version of the tale, but it's also a very confusing film that can't always manage to hold the viewers' attention. Most of the plot descriptions, including the one of the back of the DVD box, solely talk about how the countess bathes in the blood of her maidens and how her husband marquise Karl Ziemmer fakes his own death in order to go out at night, pretending to be a vampire and bringing back pretty young victims for his wife. However, this storyline only unfolds after 50 (fifty!) minutes into the movie! Before this, the movie endlessly focuses on the amorous escapades of the marquis and the extended trial against a father/husband accused of being a vampire. This particular trial is actually quite interesting to behold, because the accused is already executed but nevertheless attends his own trial, from inside a glass coffin with a wooden stake through his heart! These fifty not-so- relevant minutes are occasionally very atmospheric and creepy, but overall confounding. Once the Countess has taken her first "bloodbath", however, the film is truly nothing short of amazing! The last half hour is pure Gothic greatness, with eerie murders, thick-red blood effects and a climax that will continue to haunt your thoughts long after the film has finished.
Perhaps one of the main reasons why the film, or at least the first full hour, comes across as rather underwhelming is due to the totally neutral and uncommitted English dubbing. The voices don't fit the characters and they all sound dreadfully monotonous. Some of the footage in the extended version is in Spanish with English subtitles, and those parts are noticeably a lot more spirited. Too bad the DVD didn't feature the option to watch the entire film in its original language, with subtitles. Jorge Grau nevertheless does his absolute best to clog up his film with a garden variety of Gothic trademarks, and they're most effective, I must say. The film opens with an atmospheric pagan ritual, the marquise's castle is full of hidden attics, peepholes and torture devices and last but not least throughout approximately 75% of the film you can hear two church bells eerily chiming. It's not a regular chime, mind you. First there's the "ding" and only like five whole seconds later follows the "dong". For some inexplicable reason, this is a masterfully unsettling sound effect and it honestly gives an extra dimension of fright to ALL the sequences where it's used. And there are plentiful! Personally I wasn't really impressed with Lucia Bosé's portrayal of Countess Erzsébet Bathory. Maybe this has to do with the fact she has to compete against other much yummier actresses like Ingrid Pitt and Delphine Seyrig, but more likely it's because she has very little charisma. Espartaco Santoni, on the other hand, nearly bursts with charisma and his performance as the sleazy marquise is tremendous. "The Legend of Blood Castle" is a good film, but I was really hoping I could call it a masterpiece of Euro-exploitation. Too bad, but still warmly recommended.
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