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 behaved 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