Film Corner: The Blood Queen

The Blood Queen

Alright. I'm waiting for the text-bank to open, so it's time for a shitty Amazon Prime movie! This one is called THE BLOOD QUEEN. "Based on the story of Countess Bathory, a serial killer in 16th century Transylvania who supposedly killed hundreds. Yet, nobody knows of the terrible crimes being committed in the castle of the famous royalty." Nobody, huh?

In addition to the movie summary, we get a wall of text when the movie opens: "What you are about to see is based on the true accounts of Countess Bathory, suspected of being one of the most prolific serial killers of all time. Immensely powerful, with the Crown indebted to her, she reportedly tortured and killed some 650 children within her castle walls." ...I should probably note that historians are far from certain about any of this and it's all tantalizingly up for debate, etc.

Like, there are people who think she was innocent and the victim of a conspiracy; there are people who think she was the worst serial killer ever; and there are people in the middle who think maybe some of it was true and some of it exaggerated. Take your pick! Also, unless Wikipedia is lying to me, Bathory was a countess of Hungary, not Transylvania, though some people think she inspired Bram Stoker's DRACULA (though there's not actual evidence for that theory, it's just a fun thing to believe).

BY THE WAY, can I tell you something funny while I'm here? Kissmate has been running a campaign for us over Discord and he was reading to me some bits of another, older campaign he found and I was like "...this sounds like Gilles de Rais" and he was like "who?" and anyway long-story-short there's an old D&D module that's basically a copy-pasta of the accusations re: Gilles de Rais, which quite tickled me because I recognized the similarities.

I bring that up here because Gilles is another one of these Notorious Serial Killers Of History that may have been entirely innocent and nobody really knows because history is like that sometimes. I should add, too, that Bathory's alleged victims were aged 10-14ish, which are "children" in our modern lexicon but in her culture they were essentially servants and apprentices. I mention that because we now get a voice over about monsters from a 6 year old girl. I am going to be annoyed if they aged down her victims just so people will be more shocked or will care. A 14yo girl is worth as much as a 6yo girl, dammit. *shakes fist at patriarchy*

Anyway, someone who sounds like Newt from ALIENS tells us that "we put crying children to bed and tell them [monsters aren't] real" and I- that's- *looks over at stack of Grimms fairy tales and sighs* Bathory takes an escalator up some stairs for the uncanny "floating woman in a dress" effect, then walks up the last few steps so the camera can pan out and show blood pouring from under her skirts. SYMBOLISM. Her dress is Ren Faire more than, you know, accurate.

The movie continues to insist we're in Transylvania. A young girl using the g-slur word does some kind of street act that's combination religious speech and Houdini act wherein her small accomplice performs an escape act for coins. A man at an inn seems to have been sent by the king to investigate a missing 600 girls. He's a young man who appears bored and he wonders if the children are being carried off by wolves.

I will note here that the "650" number came out at trial from a servant and was based on the claim that she'd seen it in Bathory's private books wherein she was supposedly tallying up all her victims like an accountant. It wasn't, like, an independently sourced number wherein 649 girls went missing and then around the 650th someone was like "maybe we ought to look into what happened to all the girls" and then CSI music started playing and Bathory's fingerprints were found.

There's a lot of g-word stereotypes about magic and powerful dreams and fortune telling. I'm assuming the Barker Girl is going to be hired on for the winter months to work for Bathory and duly menaced. The girl who still does not have a name is arrested for pickpocketry. One of the countess' women takes an interest in her and has her released to "the Bathory orphanage" which is probably supposed to be the countess' gynaeceum which is...not the same thing.

Before the girl and her brother are released to the countess, she asks if they've seen their missing older sister. "Lots of children disappear" is all she's told. The countess' ladies ride in an open cart of the sort you would pile hay bales in. This is supposed to be 1610, but it looks much earlier/poorer than that. Not that I'm an expert on early 1600s Hungary. I'm more of a Tudor enthusiast.

The children are awed by the sight of the castle where they'll be living, but the countess' ladies tell them that the countess finds royalty intolerable and will prefer their company. "Royal blood? Yuck!" (That was from the lady-maid and not the children, in case you're wondering if it was foreshadowing or sinister. Little of column A, little of column B.)

A line of identically dressed orphans is served gruel in a very Oliver Twist-esque scene. (They get bread once a week, etc.) This is just hilariously wrong in terms of historicalness. Bathory's gynaeceum--not an orphanage--were daughters of the lesser gentry sent to learn court etiquette. So all these boys are wrong, and they wouldn't be fed nearly inedible gruel from the Inedible Gruel Pot.

I resent that we still don't have names for these children. She just keeps referring to themselves as g*psies. (Sorry, I'm not sure how to warn for that word, because I know censoring it is harmful to some folks, but not censoring it can be harmful to other folks.) I don't really understand the point of the orphanage, either; if this is where Bathory selects her victims, why take in boys at all? And why are the girls marked down as "missing from town" if they were in the orphanage?

Girl mentions that Bathory has "other orphanages" and that kids are sometimes transferred, so that seems like a perfectly cromulent built-in excuse for why your victims are missing: you reassigned them to Castle *cough cough* Look A Distraction. OH MY GOD THEIR SHOES. I'm sorry, I am not trying to be That Guy who demands perfect historical accuracy from shitty Amazon Prime movies, but Girl has completely modern, kitten heel, strap-and-metal-buckle Mary Jane shoes that you could buy right now at a shop. In 1610. AH YES, THE MARY JANE ORPHAN SHOES. SO HISTORICAL. I made Kissmate come in here on his lunch break just so I could show him the Mary Jane shoes.

A NAME! I am informed from the closed captioning that [Aletta] is speaking. I still have no name for her brother. Oh thank goodness. The subtitle gods tell me that her brother's name is Mischa. I swear those names have never yet been spoken in this film.

Elisabeth shows up in an empire waist nightgown thing that looks... well, wrong, but what else is new. She's blond and ethereal and looks like she's trying out for the part of Galadriel. She tells the girl about school where they teach clever girls "to read and write". I mean, she did HAVE a school and maybe this is a reasonable modern adaptation since people aren't going to understand Etiquette School as way more valuable to a girl like Alette than reading and writing, but like.

Mischa endures bullying from the other boys (why?) on the yard crew. Aletta wants to stay and learn to read, and wants to look in the Countess' book because she wishes to see if there's a record of their missing sister passing through the orphanage. We get tense music and shots of the Countess wincing as she's corsetted up tighter and tighter. Her two favorite lady's maids--who seem to be on Bully The Orphans duties--are generally bitchy at the children.

Oh gosh, @nephthys0xa has sent me this link and it is marvelous: Freaky Friday: Five Things About The Blood Queen.

Bathory wants Aletta to be her new special companion and it's all very ominous but, like, is she supposed to have done this for all 600 girls? Because when would she have the TIME, is what I want to know. Well, now I'm not so sure it is only girls being killed. During the night, Mischa sees the oldest of the bullies being dragged off by two of the guards. The next morning the children assume he's "run off" and that it "happens all the time". But, like, Bathory was accused of killing girls and women only. Not boys. I'm pretty sure? So that's weird. Mischa is put on duty "digging holes" while the king's investigator finds a fresh grave and possibly a body.

Upstairs, Aletta scrubs a tub that has blood streaks in it. Bathory says it's mud from Paris to "clean the pores but leaves the tub filthy". Bathory throws a fancy dress ball and Aletta is dressed up like a pretty doll to serve wine. Her brother uses the distraction to steal Bathory's book o' secrets, in which Aletta hopes to find their sister's name. Mischa is discovered in the kitchen. He and the book are taken to Bathory. She threatens him with a kitchen knife and we flash to Aletta without seeing what happens. (Aletta has Magic Dreams because of her ethnicity.)

Aletta goes down to the kitchen and finds the chef dead-by-knife. Bathory chains up Mischa and threatens him while asking him what he saw. Oh, she's not just writing the details, she's DRAWING how she kills people. Of course, how silly of me. I mean, okay, serial killers take trophies and I guess a book of drawn deaths is the 1610 equivalent of a bunch of photos. I feel like this movie is trying to be a horror movie but it's not hitting the right horror notes. There's a lot of good material here; this should be a good October flick (minus the historical inaccuracy) but it's... just not sticking the landing.

Sister Katja is riding through the forest looking like Hot Topic exploded all over a Ren Faire. Mischa uses his previously established Houdini powers to unchain himself and wander the dungeons. Bathory's messenger arrives to report that the King wants her to stand trial for murder. Bathory decides to hire a personal guard, figuring that she can wait the king out. Katje walks around the castle--I really cannot tell WHY or what her ROLE is; I think she works for/with Bathory's messenger??--and sees Aletta. Aletta tells her Mischa ran away last night, but Katje doesn't believe.

It sure would be nice if The King's Men and Bathory's Men would wear, like, contrasting colors so I could know who is who and what emotions I should feel about them being on the countess' land. Relief? Tension? Katje explores the dungeons with Ye Olden Torche. I would still like an explanation, please, for how she ended up "missing" but also "in the Countess' employ" and "dressed like a lady" and possibly "international spy".

Aletta looks for her shoes and ends up cornered by Bathory, who wants a hot bath before bed. While Aletta pours water, Bathory pieces together her suspicions that Aletta must have told Mischa to steal her ledger. Bathory says that Katje was a "good student", and that some nights she seemed to enjoy the killing as much as Bathory did. Well, that's a bit of a twist. Did not see that coming. Okay, so Bathory isn't, like, grooming girls specially for their blood; she's just a sadist who likes to kill and torture for fun. Katje smacks her in the back with a hefty candelabra and hauls Aletta out to safety.

In the snowy forest, Mischa freezes to add an element of time-based suspense for us. Katje and Aletta prep to hide out in a castle stairwell (which is...secret? it's unclear why this is safe after attacking the countess). Someone mysterious picks up Mischa. Morning: Bathory tells her men to look for the "dangerous little girls" which she wants returned to her alive. Katje is possibly stabbed by one of the other lady's maids. Mischa is dealing with law enforcement officials who think he ran away from his "court sentence" and don't believe his tales of torture. They threaten to kill him.

Aletta finds a stabbed Katje. This family of orphans is having quite a series of unfortunate events. She's stabbed with... a needle full of sleeping solution. Okay, sure, fine. Mischa awaits execution because the judge is taking bribes from Bathory. Aletta has been chained up near the Ominous Bathtub. All seems lost. But wait! The executioner is out cold and Mischa is missing. The King's man brings in Bathory's messenger, who is willing to confess Bathory's crimes--and his own--because he was dating Katje and he found her dead body. That might be more impactful if we'd seen them exchange even a single word and not just meaningful glances.

The judge is cowed into finally accepting the truth. (Where is Mischa? Did he knock out the massive executioner? I have no idea.) The men prepare to storm Bathory's castle. Beside the tub, Baths prepares her death tools. Aletta stalls Bathory by telling her about her magic dream visions. Men scream as the soldiers storm. The two evil Lady Maids try to hide Katje's body. They...apparently??...begin seeing zombie ghosts of children who died. I'm just as confused as you probably are.

The King's men are confused to find that Bathory's inner guards have already been slain by some unknown and mysterious beast. "Has the King sent an army of his own?" Oh! The maybe-kinda-mentally-disabled man who has been working for the judge--his name was Bear--is the one who helped Mischa escape and killed the guards. I know this because he just walloped Bathory in the face. Mischa undoes Aletta's bonds and lets her down, but oh shit Bathory stabs Mischa in the heart by accident (she was aiming for Aletta). He bleeds out in the tub. Well, that's a downer.

Bear gently carries him out but I don't think he's going to survive this. The King's man takes Bathory into custody but she doesn't look like she's doing so well either. She was wounded several different ways. Mischa is laid to rest in the snow and dies. I'm having Not Good emotions about this movie taking a person famous for killing girls and making all her on-screen victims boys. Are girl-deaths just not important enough to care about?

Aletta gives us a voice over about Bathory's imprisonment. "They closed her in, brick by brick, where she had no contact with anyone and no light shone on her." Various other people suffer punishments, including the maids being burned at the stake. For reasons I cannot understand, Aletta takes the job of feeding Bathory every day. I guess she gets to watch her tormentor suffer. Bathory dies four years into her imprisonment.

Anyway, that's the movie. As I said, the reality is a lot more controversial. My money is that Bathory wasn't a serial killer so much as she was "just" a brutally abusive mistress with a body count. What's terrifying about Bathory isn't her crimes so much as the fact that she was probably more "normal" than many of us like to believe about nobles. Well, that's my pet theory anyway.


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