Movie Number– 28
Title– Daughters of Darkness (1971)
Running Time– 100 minutes (“Not Rated”)
Director– Harry Kumel
Writer– Pierre Drouot, Harry Kumel, and Jean Ferry
Starring– Delphine Seyrig, John Karlen, Danielle Ouimet, and Andrea Rau
(Originally an IP Movies Review)
Labels like “cult” or “Euro sleaze” can only take a movie so far before some consider it simply “boring”. Daughters of Darkness, the latest Blu-ray transfer from Blue Underground (the studio that brought us City of the Living Dead, Maniac, The Toolbox Murders, and The Crazies, among others, on Blu-ray), flirts heartily with that fine line, ultimately ending up on the wrong side.
A young, sexy, recently eloped couple – Stefan (John Karlen) and Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) – find their way to a luxury hotel in Ostend, Belgium. Unfortunately for them (or not), so have the Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Deplhine Seyrig – Last Year at Marienbad) and her beautiful “companion” Ilona (Andrea Rau). Valerie insists that Stefan call his mother to tell her of the marriage, but Stefan mysteriously denies her requests. Outside of Ostend, in Bruges, corpses of virgins show up, drained of all their blood. Stefan and Valerie decide to visit Bruges, where Stefan shows a weird fascination with one of the dead bodies. When they return, the Countess catches them, and asks them to join her for drinks in the lobby. The conversation quickly turns to the local headlines of the dead girls, which gets Stefan’s heart racing, and Valerie scared. The Countess decides that the three of them will become great friends, whether Valerie wants to or not.
The biggest problem with Daughters of Darkness is the slow moving plot, and tired story, which is merely a vampire trying to turn others into vampires; we’ve seen it thousands of times before. Daughters of Darkness attempts to set itself apart – and successfully at times – by adding in eroticism and nudity. This only happens in small doses, tucked away between the extensive, often boring dialogue of the characters that seems to have no point. The film tries to hide its fangs, so to speak, and not expose that it is a vampire flick too early, but this works against it: instead of watching violent, bloody death scenes, we are told of the Bruges murders through a newspaper headline; instead of watching the sexual encounters between characters, we are shown the beginning, or ending, of the encounter. Daughters of Darkness could work better by pushing the envelope further instead of implying itself to death.
Though the film is dialogue heavy to a fault, the actors involved – all four of the main characters, and the two supporting roles – are quite remarkable. Deplhine Seyrig is a mature seductress, as well as manipulative and powerful as the Countess. Her companion, the younger, jealous, sex slave (or so it is implied), played by Andrea Rau, is in wonderful contrast to Seyrig’s performance, making the couple engaging throughout. Danielle Ouimet has to be one of the most beautiful women I have seen in film from this era, and like the last couple, plays in perfect contrast to the domineering, experienced John Karlen. Karlen’s character is mysterious throughout, and his story is the most inexplicable. There is a phone conversation in the film that Karlen’s character has that can throw off even the most astute 70s-era vampire fanatics. It’s odd (but not out of place given the atmosphere of the film), and is left unexplained throughout the movies 100-minute runtime. That isn’t to take anything away from Karlen’s performance, however, as he plays the eccentric enigma that is Stefan delightfully.
The biggest problem with Daughters of Darkness lie in the roots of the film: the story. The final twenty minutes of the movie, when the action finally picks up, are not enough to make the viewer forget the previous 80 minutes worth of inconsequential story. Frankly, for an erotic vampire film, Daughters of Darkness has a surprising lack of on-screen sex and vampirism. More could have been fleshed out with the relationships between Stefan and dead bodies, Stefan and his mother, Stefan and Valerie, Ilona and the Countess, the bellboy and the Countess, and so on. All these relationships should have been clearer, especially given the running time. Daughters of Darkness relies, instead, on atmosphere (which is set up well thanks to the filming locations) and the implications that sex and violence are happening. That isn’t to say there isn’t any sex or blood in the film because there is; for a film that markets itself as an erotic vampire movie, though, there should have been, and could have been, a lot more of both. Daughters of Darkness has a strong cult following, and that following probably won’t grow too much with this Blu-ray Disc (BD) release.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.