Since I've been watching a ton of Eurohorror classics lately, now is as good as a time as any to say a few words about "Daughters of Darkness." I made a vow some time ago to ignore vampire films as a general rule. It's not that I strongly dislike all vampire films, mind you, but I just feel like the genre has been done to death over the years. How many versions of Dracula can you watch before your eyes start rolling over the predictability of it all? The plots are all essentially the same, right? You've got the obligatory virgin, the dashing young lad, the wizened vampire hunter, and good old Drac himself ambling around in the dark tormenting the others. A bunch of people fall prey to the vampire, the hunter teams up with the young man in an effort to save the young girl, and a stake through the old ticker pretty much wraps the whole thing up. Well, a bit of experience reveals quite a few films that play around with this tried and true formula. One way to accomplish something different, if these European flicks are any indication, is to punch up the proceedings with a generous helping of bare flesh. There's nothing like a bunch of gals trooping around in revealing outfits, or no outfits at all, to perk up the dreary old Stoker legend. And if you can make the head vampire a woman, that certainly can't hurt either. Welcome to "Daughters of Darkness."
Something weird and wonderful is going on in this movie, but you have to wait awhile to see it. The picture starts out by showing us two freshly wedded lovebirds, Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) and Stefan (John Karlen), heading to the European coast on a train. Ostensibly, the two married in secret and are now going to head over to England to meet Stefan's domineering mother. Valerie worries whether the woman (ha!) will accept her since Stefan makes it abundantly clear that his beloved mother is quite picky about her son's girlfriends. Stefan assures Valerie all will go well, but it soon becomes apparent that he isn't hurrying to get to England. While waiting for the ship that will take them home, the two check into a massively creepy hotel on the coast. No other guests are staying in the building since it's out of season, so Valerie and Stefan have the beautiful building all to themselves. That is until Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig) and her beautiful companion Ilona (Andrea Rau) arrive on the scene in a vintage automobile. Most of us are aware that Elizabeth Bathory was a notorious sixteenth century Hungarian noblewoman who supposedly kept herself eternally young by bathing in vats filled with the blood of young maidens. Unfortunately, Valerie and Stefan don't make the connection.
Still, the newlyweds grow increasingly aware that something isn't right with the beautiful countess. First, it's rather odd that the hotel manager claims that he remembers Countess Elizabeth showing up at the hotel nearly fifty years before looking exactly as she does now. Second, she's downright creepy. There's something hidden behind her horrific grin that makes you want to scream. Second, the Countess Elizabeth takes an incredible interest in the activities of the couple. She always seems to appear whenever Stefan and Valerie leave their room, grinning that horrible grin and cooing like a cat over the two newlyweds. Bathory seems to have an eye for the beautiful Valerie, too, which makes sense when we discover exactly why Ilona follows her around like a puppy. It turns out history made a mistake about the blood vats, not recognizing or refusing to record that Bathory was really a vampire with a penchant for young gals. She's roamed Europe for over three hundred years playing the same bloody game, a game that now threatens to rip apart forever this hapless couple. In no time at all, Elizabeth manages to drive a wedge between the Stefan and Valerie, recruit the latter to her thirsty cause, and wreak a whole heck of a lot of havoc in the hotel.
You just gotta love this film. "Daughters of Darkness" is one of the best vampire films I have ever seen for a multitude of reasons. The primary reason the picture succeeds is due to the amazing talents of Delphine Seyrig. Who is this enchanting woman and where has she been all my life? I love this lady! She manages to make her character insanely gorgeous and metaphysically eerie at the same time. She slinks around in shimmering outfits dropping suggestive comments, tells horribly gory stories, winks, and grins with the greatest of ease. And her fate at the end of the film is gruesome and disturbing. Just as good as Seyrig is the oppressive atmosphere of the hotel and the desolate surroundings. Characters move around outside under overcast skies and through pouring rain. Forests nearby are dense and spooky. Every set piece seems to telegraph a sense of impending doom for the film's participants. Finally, you simply won't believe your eyes when Stefan calls his mother on the phone. What was director Harry Kumel thinking here? What an incredibly bizarre scene to insert into the picture! Oh man, you just won't comprehend the insanity of it!
"Daughters of Darkness" deserves five stars for its amazing performances and over the top antics. I can't thank Blue Underground enough for releasing this treasure on DVD. While the print transfer occasionally suffers from some minor blemishes and fading colors, most of the movie looks great. Extras include two commentary tracks, radio spots, a trailer, stills, and an interview with Andrea Rau. Run, don't walk, to pick up a copy of this underrated gem.
on April 10, 2005
The notion of "vampirism" has always had ties to dark and forbidden sides of human sexuality, and has served as metaphor for homosexuality, nymphomania, and maochism. The sexual revolution of late 60's and early 70's produced a bevy of erotic, "lesbian" vampire films, in which their creators were able to graphically exploit all manner of sexual taboos that had only been hinted at previously. DVDs have given us a wonderful cross-section of these forbidden fruits from Jess Franco's psychedelic Vampiros Lesbos to the surreal-dreamy trappings of Jean Rollin's Shiver Of The Vampires, but Daughter's of Darkness is for many (myself included) is the cream of the crop.
Daughter's is kind of a hybrid between Sheridan Fornau's often-filmed vampire story, Carmilla, and the many legends and exploits of real-life "vampire" Elizabeth Bathory. Brought into the present, the film begins with the arrival of two newlyweds, Stephan & Valerie (John Karlen & Danielle Quimet), to a gloomy and mostly deserted beachfront hotel in Belgium. From the onset we observe all is not right with this union, Stephan refuses to tell his "mother" of their marriage and is revealing an aloof and sadistic temperament, which Valerie mournfully tolerates. Out of the night arrives the Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig) and her sultry companion/accomplice Ilona (Andrea Rau). The Countess takes an immediate, carnal interest in the young newlyweds, and especially in Valerie. Meanwhile there seems to be a rash of murders in the nearby villages in which the young female victims have been drained of all their blood. Before long the countess and her reluctant companion have seduced the troubled newlyweds, and this is where the fun begins.
Though many erotic vampire films of the time boast tantalizing visuals & copious nudity, director Harry Kummel clearly meant Daughters of Darkness to be more than a thinly veiled soft-core "art film". Not that it's minus these elements, Daughters' is quite explicit, but it's also a sophisticated and highly styled horror film laced with bewildering moments of black-comedy. In short, it's delightfully European.
As the ageless and decadent Elizabeth Bathory, Euro-star Delphine Seryig is without peer. More often than not, female erotic-vampires are portrayed as baleful, unwilling victims of their own desires, but not Elisabeth. The Countess takes great pride in her wickedness, and done-up like a thirties Marline Dietrich, Seyrig is believable and amusing, but never corny as she gleefully corrupts all that she touches.
Blue Underground's anamorphic transfer of Daughters is a vast improvement over the early Anchor Bay edition. Though utilizing the same source, Blue Undergrounds mastering is sharper, the colors are more stable and it's free of the bleeding and artifacts that plague the previous release. It still contains the commentary track with male lead John Karlen, but raises the stakes greatly with an additional commentary track with director Harry Kumel, an onscreen interview with actress Andrea Rau, an excellent theatrical trailer, radio spots, and a poster and still gallery. Priced at $20 (or less) this is an essential up-grade for Euro-horror fans and an excellent entry for the Euro-curious.
on September 3, 2005
This is one of those movies from the days when local stations ran horror movies on Saturday afternoons, stations that -- alas! -- have since aligned with upstart networks and now run infomercials all day. Mostly they'd run the great films from Hammer Studios, the Japanese monster movies like "Godzilla," and, of course, the '50s B-movies like "Them." Every now and then, though, they'd show this truly creepy little gem. Now, of course, as an adult I recognize this as an 'Art Film' but then it was just eerie, creepy, and totally different -- especially when compared to the typical vampire and other monster movies where the hero gets the girl and the monster gets killed/destroyed. A horror movie done as an art film, there's a lot going on that the viewer either has to guess, assume, or be left wondering about. In that sense, "Daughters of Darkness" foreshadows the modern Japanese horror films like "Ringu" or "Uzumaki" where you're left with unanswered questions, the kind that make you check to make sure the doors are locked. Blue Underground did a fantastic job with this DVD transfer, and it's great to be able to see this movie in its entirety instead of edited for TV. The only thing missing is Delphine Seyrig singing the title theme at the beginning of the movie ("...Don't let the sunlight find you, or you may fade and die."). Where'd that go?
on December 26, 2006
"Daughters of Darkness" crackles with repressed sexual energy and barely suppressed libidinous desire in a way uncommon for an early 1970's horror film. Eschewing the somewhat vulgar and obvious treatment of the same story by Hammer, made as "Countess Dracula", Belgian director Harry Kumel opts for an overly symbolic aesthetic that self consciously emulates European art cinema. The similarities to Alain Resnais' "Last Years in Marienbad" are notable in relation to casting, but also in the strangely isolated and ethereal hotel setting. Kumel also experiments with time and space in a non linear way. This is not to say that his film makes no narrative sense, in fact it easy to follow, but symbolic representations of time signified by the countess herself makes one question not only the films reality but also its temporality. Kumel also makes use of an intriguing colour scheme which privileges reds and greens as symbols of death, decay, but also regeneration. Perhaps the films most impressive aspect though is its almost total rejection of the iconography of the horror genre. For example we see no fangs, we so no drinking of blood, no familiars, in fact by the films conclusion we are not even 100% sure there has been any vampirism. This is a great film because Kumel takes exploitation material (lesbianism and vampirism) and places them in the background, preferring to privilege mood, ambience and an artistic formal strategy.
Blue Underground's DVD presents the film fully restored and uncut and in a sumptuous transfer. Also included in this edition is another treatment of the Countess Bathory story, the rather more exploitative "Blood Spattered Bride", this is a perfectly acceptable effort, but with a stronger emphasis on nudity and violence...But there is nothing wrong with that.
on November 26, 2005
This is a well-executed vampire film with a number of very good ingredients thrown in. The lead role of the seductive countess is well played by Delphine Seyrig, and she leads a small but attractive cast of actors who all perform convincingly and are also enjoyable to look at. The movie is set in a bleak European winter that offers little by way of great scenery. The plot centres around a young newlywed couple on their way to England who get sidetracked and find themselves staying at an empty seaside resort. Here the husband starts to reveal the first hints of his slightly sadistic and perverse nature. Shortly afterwards, a Hungarian countess with a mysterious past arrives with her female assistant and they immediately start taking an unnatural interest in the newlyweds. The Hungarian countess is actually a blood drinking vampire and when she decides to thrust herself upon the unwary couple in a quest for fresh blood she finds that the husband is somewhat more forthcoming than his beautiful wife. An accidental death follows and then things start going out of control.
Despite the inclusion of frontal nudity, lesbian erotic undertones and a certain amount of blood and gore, this is no exploitation movie. The production is polished and the acting accomplished. The movie is somewhat of a slow burn that builds and maintains a good amount of atmosphere. For lovers of the vampire genre there are enough touches of class in this to warrant multiple viewing.
on April 24, 2004
Stefan, a British aristocrat with sadistic tendencies, and the beautiful Valerie, a simple girl, have eloped and are on their way home to break the news to Stefan's mother. However, Stefan is hesitant to bring his wife to see his mother as he delays the trip back to England on purpose by making up stories. The newlyweds decide to stay in an extravagant hotel on the seaside while Stefan attempts to buy some time. Stefan and Valerie are the only guests at the hotel besides the flamboyant Countess Bathory and her seductive secretary since it is off-season. During the stay the Countess Bathory has taken a liking to the couple and begins to seduce them both as she begins setting her wicked plan into action.
Daughters of Darkness is a vampire tale with a malevolently chilly and sexually tense atmosphere that haunts the mind with its subtle approach as Kümel avoids the popular approach of vampires. The vampires do not sleep in coffins nor attack the necks of their victims with sharpened elongated teeth. Instead Kümel disguises the threat of evil behind courteous behavior, alluring charm, and vivid gesticulations that become passionately seductive for the characters in the film. In addition, the mise-en-scene is strongly suggestive and vibrant colors are used in order to enhance the bewitching atmosphere that is viewed by the audience. This leaves the viewer with an uneasy, but artistic cinematic experience that selective audiences will appreciate.
on April 24, 2016
This review is of the Blue Underground Blu-ray of the film. The picture quality is excellent. The image is sharp and clear; the grain and color balance are appropriate for an early 70s film. A female vampire (the same character Ingrid Pitt played in "Countess Dracula") takes an interest in a honeymooning couple at a seaside resort hotel in the off-season. This is a thinking man's vampire film, with the emphasis more on style and atmosphere than blood (no dripping fangs). The female lead is played by the stylish French actress Delphine Seyrig, somewhat in the style of Marlene Dietrich. Lesbianism is hinted, but not shown on screen, though there are heterosexual scenes.
on May 9, 2011
Unfortunately the dvd reviews and the blu ray reviews are together on this site. There is a huge difference in quality between this blu ray and the dvd version. This movie has never looked so good , it's been restored and blue underground did a fantastic job on this one! The extras are the same with interviews and documentary type stuff in standard definition. The bonus movie is the unrestored 'the blood splattered bride' which has a decent print to be sure but is not restored and is only in standard def. which you could buy as a seperate blu underground dvd but here it's extra. It would have been great to see that restored in high def though. This company really does a top notch job of taking older movies and making them look great on blu ray. Ok , so now you know this is not like 'kellys heroes' from warner brothers which is a unrestored mess, this is worth getting in high def if you like this type of movie. It's a europeon lesbian vampire movie , and being that it was the early seventies , sometimes image outways plot. But the plot is basic anyways , it's based on carmilla the lesbian vamp story. Now this one isn't as great as 'vampyres' but both are of their seventies era. This isn't a type of action vampire movie from today , instead it's a slower tale of seduction and erotic gothic horror. It is almost a art movie in some ways and this will leave some viewers not happy. But patience is worth it in these type of movies. That being said you have to be in the mood for this type of movie unlike lets say the more straight forward 'countess dracula' starring ingrid pitt which is from this same era. Both movies borrow countess bathorys evil name,
she was a real vampire who along with her coven of witches killed 600 people to bathe in their blood. She did this to stay young. she also enjoyed torturing people and was finally walled up alive in her castle in HUngary back in the 1500's or so. Her story is so horrible that her name lives on in lots of movies but her real story hasn't been told. She's one of histories most evil women. Oh yeah they burned all the witches around her. for once they were real dark arts ones! not some poor wiccans or other innocents. Still this movie has her as a real vampire who is looking for love and such in todays world and it's artflick vamps with some nudity on blu for you.
on December 30, 2008
There are a number of reviews of the 2-DVD twofer version of "Daughters of Darkness" that call this movie a 5-star masterpiece. If you watch this movie for the first time with that level of expectation, you will likely be left feeling hugely underwhelmed by the movie's conclusion.
True, this movie does exhibit a higher degree of "art film" production values than your typical horror/vampire film (in particular, I notice that Kumel has some sort of fetish for artistic shots that highlight hands), And it does feature a pretty compelling performance by Delphine Seyrig, a sort of French Marlena Dietrich, whose charisma is undeniable. But those positive attributes are not enough to outweigh several impossible-to-believe script details (in particular, the various character deaths), and the plodding editing.
The director's (Harry Kumel) commentary explains that he was instructed to create a "commercial" film, which according to him meant "sex and blood." The movie opens with a sex scene, and also features full frontal female nudity, pretty close to full frontal male nudity, and according to Kumel, the first mainstream film depiction of a male achieving an orgasm. In addition, both female and male homosexuality is implied. However, Kumel's explanation made clear to me why I was left with the feeling that these "commercial" elements are contrived and not integral to the story. I suspect that this film would never have been more than a blip on anyone's radar except for the scandalous reputation that was intentionally created by attempting to shock 70s era audiences (note: by today's standards, this is easily an R-rated film).
This is not to say that I hated this film, hence my 3-star rating. It is definitely a solid horror film, and it does have an unconventional charm that you do not find in modern day, gore-filled horror/slasher films. My closest analogy would be to call it "a poor man's 'The Fourth Man'", a film that I consider to be as close to a "masterpiece" as you can get in the horror genre. Given its popularity/infamy, you should definitely see "Daughters of Darkness" once just to understand what all the hullabaloo is about. Just don't expect a 5-star gem.
This DVD, while enjoyable, has its problems, noticeably towards the end in some of the darker scenes where digital pixelization becomes distracting. That aside, the real value of this DVD is that it is the longest released version of this 1971 horror classic AND for the audio commentary supplied by journalist David Del Valle and actor John Karlen. Karlen provides some down-to-earth and often funny comments throughout to Del Valle's serious questions (at times, I almost thought I was watching "Mystery Science Theater," I was laughing so loud). Karlen's quick wit provides a nice contrast to this serious vampire film, reminding us that "it's only a movie." Three stars for the film; five stars for John Karlen.