Proving the old adage that truth is often stranger than fiction, the tale of Countess Elizabeth Bathory de Ecsed of Hungary is one that, were it to be told as pure fiction, seems ridiculously implausible. The facts and numbers of Bathory's killing spree have been the subject of some level of debate since her 20-year reign came to a close with imprisonment in 1610, but few dispute her title as the most prolific female serial killer in history. The Countess was ultimately convicted of 80 murders, with some attributing hundreds more to her reign.
A new theatrical production, Elizabeth Bathory, The Blood Countess, brings the murderess' bloody exploits to life for audiences at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre in North Hollywood. Written and directed by Bea Egeto, co-directed by Charlotte Bjornbak and also starring Ms. Bjornbak as Elizabeth Bathory of the past, the tale is told by Leaha Boschen as the imprisoned Bathory in her final days. Blood Countess is part of the B'z Shorts series and runs 55 minutes with no intermission.
Elizabeth Bathory opens with a plea for clemency from an imprisoned Bathory, appalled by her despicable treatment and unsympathetic to the countless victims laid to waste in her path. She takes us back to the early years of her life, happy and in love with her husband Ferenc Nádasdy (Daniel Halden). The two seem a perfect match, sharing more than a passing interest in the dark arts. But his death in battle throws the now middle-aged countess into a tizzy, left only with her loyal servant Ilona (Jen Albert). During one of her regular fits, Bathory slaps a new servant, drawing blood from her lip. When the Countess inspects her own hand, Bjornbak's eyes bulge out with excitement. She believes the droplets of blood have restored her hands to a youthful state. Now she'll require enough blood to cover her entire body. And more after that. And so the spree begins, bathing in the blood of young, unsuspecting virgin servants with the willing assistance of the unfailingly loyal Ilona.
Bjornbak offers up a truly inspired performance as Bathory, delving deep into the twisted depths of the Blood Countess without so much as a flinch at the violence. Staring into mirrors and ever-seeking the approval of Illona, Bjornbak summons closeup-ready Gloria Swanson as she stares hungrily into the flesh of her next victim, eagerly anticipating the telltale moment when their open veins will fill her bathtub. Bjornbak is downright scary at times, peppering in just the right dose of humor to balance the tone. "Turn her upside down," Bathory commands Illona at one point in the show. "Let's see if we can squeeze out a few more drops.
Somewhat surprisingly, for a tale about a serial killer who baths in the blood of virgins, there really isn't that much blood on stage. Or perhaps I'm just that bloodthirsty. Either way, I think this production of Bathory could benefit from a few more buckets or perhaps a moment where Bjornbak appears fully drenched in sticky red goo much like the Banshee character from last month's Zombie Joe production of Shudder.
That being said, Elizabeth Bathory, The Blood Countess is a very entertaining, brisk show. It sails along from start to finish, offering audiences nary a breath in-between killings, the Countess racking up numbers that put Norman Bates and Leatherface to shame. As there are many theories and interpretations of Bathory's spree, the show takes necessary liberties with the interpretation, hinting at Bathory's bisexuality and sadomasochistic tendencies while showcasing a kind of greatest hits of her killing methods.
Horror fans should find a lot to like in Bathory - murder, blood-bathing, lesbians and torture - all in less than 60 minutes.
Elizabeth Bathory, The Blood Countess runs Saturdays at 8:30 pm through April 30, 2011 at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601.
For more, visit the official website for Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre.