Monday, March 26, 2012

Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Title: Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Director: Harry Kumel

Cast: Delphine Seyrig, John Karlen, Danielle Ouimet, Andrea Rau


A while back I collaborated with a couple of bloggers on an article called 16 Unusual Vampire Movies where we came up with a list of vampire films that break the norm of what we’ve come to expect from a vampire film. Many interesting films where mentioned on that article, amongst them Daughters of Darkness which I’ve only recently had the pleasure of watching, and I say “pleasure” because I really enjoyed this film! I wasn’t expecting to, but damn it, I loved it!

Daughters of Darkness tells the tale of a recently married couple who end up staying in a deserted hotel for a couple of days. Unbeknownst to them, a vampire vixen by the name of Elizabeth Bathory checks into the hotel as well; yup, that’s right, that Elizabeth Bathory; the countess who bathed in the blood of her young female victimes so she could retain her youth forever. Some reports say she killed about 650 young girls, though when she was convicted, she was only charged for 80 deaths. Her similarities with the famous ‘Vlad the Impaler’ led to her being named ‘The Blood Countess’ and even ‘Countess Dracula’. In reality she probably only killed these young girls out of pure sadistic pleasure, but you know how legends go, and so it wasn’t long before people started to say that she bathed in the blood of her female victims, and eventually that she drank it as well.

In Daughters of Darkness Bathory is portrayed as a vampire, though not in the traditional way. We never see fangs, they don’t melt in the sunlight and they don’t sparkle when the moonlight hits them. No, the vampires in Daughters of Darkness are too ‘chic’ for that sort of thing. These vampire vixens worry more about how they’re going look and what they are going to wear before they indulge in their bloodlust. I liked that about this movie, these vampires ladies really play it cool. In a way they are closer to the way Count Dracula would behave in the old Hammer Dracula movies. You know, really polite, really pleasant, then when you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security “whamo!” they attack! This Elizabeth Bathory as played by actress Delphine Seyrig, starts out like a pleasant lady, kind of sexy, kind of charming with her sultry whisper of a voice, but after a while she’ll really get under your skin! Delphine Seyrig really steals the show on this film as the countess; she’ll charm the hell out of you before you know it.

So yeah, this movie might bring to mind those old Hammer films with its premise. You see, the film starts out the same way a lot of Hammer vampire films would start out; with a couple arriving at a lonely destination and having to stay the night in a strange and mysterious place. In this case, instead of Dracula’s Castle, the couple stays in this gigantic lonely hotel called ‘The Grand Hotel des Thermes’ which to me was reminiscent of the lonely hotel in Kubrick’s The Shinning (1980). I liked the fact that it seems like the couple has this gigantic hotel all to themselves, not another soul in sight except for the two vampire ladies that roam the hallways, oh and let’s not forget the one concierge who seems to take care of everything in the hotel. So the film has this great feeling of isolation, which in my book always helps a horror film.

Upon its original release Daughters of Darkness was described by one reviewer as an “Artistic Vampire Film” and I have to say that this is an accurate description for the film. This isn’t a film concerned with shock or gore, though it does have its fare share of  blood and violence; it is not this films prime concern. They way I saw it, Harry Kumel, the films director, was going for a deliberately quiet film, one that would little by little get to you. This is a film where most of the characters talk in whispers and low tones, no one raises their voices. The vampire ladies are polite and dress in these beautiful garments through out the whole film. This is the kind of film in which the main villain is constantly changing her attire, because she’s ultra ‘chic’ that way. Even the look of the film suggests a cold, quiet night. Lot’s of cold blues in the exteriors, while the interiors are yellow and deceptively warm. Yes my friends, this is a film with lots of ambiance. Not surprisingly, most of the film takes place during the night. Speaking of the films look, the colors really jump off of the screen! The blues and the reds dominate as much as in any Mario Bava film. This is a beautiful horror film to look at.

Hammer explored the story of Elizabeth Bathory in their Countess Dracula (1971), though to be honest Daughters of Darkness does it in a far more interesting and sensual manner; I personally found Hammers Countess Dracula to be an extremely boring affair where with Daughters of Darkness I was glued to the screen even though the film is of a colloquial nature. If you want to check out a Hammer film that was similar to Daughter of Darkness, yet slightly more of a b-horror film in nature then check out The Vampire Lovers  (1970) , one of the more enjoyable Hammer films and a bit more sleazy then Daughters of Darkness which as it turns out is an art house vampire film. Yes, characters do talk a lot in Daughters of Darkness, but the film more then compensates with the over all mood of the film and the themes that it explores. In the film, Stefan, the husband is portrayed as a ‘cold’ man who tells his wife he doesn’t love her even though they’ve just recently married. He is abusive with his wife, he has a morbid interest with the dead and he is easily seduced by the Countess. This is a film that puts the vows of marriage to the test. Are marital vows strong enough to stop you from being seduced? Lesbianism is also explored, but in a subdued manner, it is not graphic or in your face. This is a sensual film, but not in an graphic or cheap manner. 

For all intents and purposes, this should have ended up being a sleazy b-movie about lesbian vampires falling in love with their victims, but instead its this artsy, lush, sensuous vampire film. Director Harry Kumel put a lot of effort in evoking a certain tone to the film, there’s a quiet, sensual, yet dangerous aura to Daughters of Darkness. The film is beautiful to the eyes, but the characters can suddenly turn twisted and dangerous and drain you of all your blood. I guess the best way to describe this film is that it’s a fine mix between a trashy sex flick, and classy looking horror film, and there’s not a lot of those around which makes Daughters of Darkness a rather unique film in my book.

Rating: 4 out of 5  


jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Delphine Seyrig (as the bird was in 1950 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously, which is long since dead, unfortunately).

abdul666 said...

An elegant, sophisticated, undersexed version of Jean Rollin movies?

Franco Macabro said...

@jervaise brooke hamster: She was quite the looker even on this film where she is obviously in her forties or something.

abdul666: Never seen a Jean Rollin movie so I couldnt say! Oh wait, yeah, I did see 'Zombie Lake' which I've always hated...but I do seem to remember a huge amount of unnecessary nudity in it so you are probably right. It's funny, suddenly all the girls in the film take off their clothes and start skinny dipping! Funny part is they filmed two versions of Zombie Lake, one with the girls skinny dipping, the other with bathing suits. Just in case you know?

Thanks for commenting people!

abdul666 said...

For Rollin feminine nudity was *necessary*! Not as 'exploitation' (he did porn films for that) but as a tribute to feminine beauty. His 'lesbian vampires' movies are atmospheric, sometimes almost dream-like, and he managed some very poetic images.

Franco Macabro said...

I'll have to check some of his films out at some point, thanks for pointing them out Abdul666.

Franco Macabro said...

And thanks for those links as well, they are most helpful!

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I'm glad you finally got the opportunity to catch this one Franco. I think one thing that makes it interesting (as you mentioned in your review) is that it was released exactly around the time Britain's Hammer studios were also plundering J. Sheridan Lefanu's CARMILLA in their 'Karnstein Trilogy' which included THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and TWINS OF EVIL. they make fascinating companion pieces.

Another aspect of interest for DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS is the way it was distributed in the United States; the emphasis was placed on its base horror elements, and the lesbianism...not even the merest hint that it might be an art movie. It reminds me of the similar treatment of Franju's arty EYES WITHOUT A FACE, which was distributed in the US under the absurd title of THE HORROR CHAMBER OF DR.FAUSTUS!

I thought you would enjoy this one. If you ever get an opportunity I would also recommend Harry Kumel's MALPERTUIS which was also released in 1971....Excellent work buddy!

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Thats true Francisco, Delphine was still a very tasty bird at the age of 38 or 39 in this movie, so just imagine how incredible the bird must have been 20 years earlier when the bird was that magic age of 18 ! ! !...WOW...WOW...WOW.

Franco Macabro said...

@Shaun: Yeah, I'm a huge fan of Twins of Evil and Vampire Lovers, I think they are both some of the best hammer vampire films, they were raunchier and bloodier then the old Dracula's with Christopher Lee. I still need to check out Lust for a Vampire and all those Rollin Lesbian Vampire movies, they sound pretty cool as well. Have you seen any of those?

Yeah, promotional material for films especially during those days had a sleazy nature to it, they would say anything in a poster to get you to sit in that theater!

I'll see if I can get my hands on Malpertuis, thanks for the recommendation.

Venus Venusia said...

I've been wanting to see this movie for months! I actually have a photo of it from a magazine article on my refrigerator, haha. When I get a break from school I'll have to look into it.

teddy crescendo said...

"Lust for a Vampire" is quite a good film (very under-rated). By the way, Venus Venusia is a hot chick ! ! !.

Franco Macabro said...

Venus Venusia: This is the perfect movie to watch on a cold stormy night...or one of those quiet nights, when you just want to watch something thats kind of atmospheric...quiet...yet creepy. Hope you enjoy it!

Franco Macabro said...

@Teddy: Yeah, I've been meaning to give that one a go for a while now! I've read both good and bad things about it, hopefully I'll enjoy it.


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