Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Daughters of Darkness (1971)

“Love can be stronger than life — stronger, even, than death.”

Synopsis:
When a sadistic man (John Karlen) and his beautiful new wife (Danielle Ouimet) stop at a nearly deserted Belgian inn on their way back home, they meet a mysteriously ageless woman (Delphine Seyrig) and her loyal companion (Andrea Rau), who seem deeply interested in befriending the couple.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Horror Films
  • Lesbianism
  • Newlyweds
  • Vampires

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “Belgian writer-director Harry Kumel’s English-language lesbian vampire film is among the most stylish of horror films and probably the most perverse.” He argues that this “cult film is flawed, yet it masterfully combines traditional horror elements with outrageous, often ludicrous wit; and no other horror film can match the eroticism that pervades every scene.” He adds that “it’s a rare horror film with social relevance: it more than expressed feminist themes — it actually had a decidedly anti-male attitude, despite being made by men.”

The film centers on Seyrig’s character, who “claims to be Elizabeth Bathory — the name of the ‘Bloody Countess’ who lived and murdered scores of virgins for their blood three centuries before” and is played by Seyrig “with the sense of irony and melancholia that we associate with the roles of Seyrig’s friend Marlene Dietrich”.

Peary notes that “like Stephanie Rothman’s similarly plotted The Velvet Vampire, this vampire film shows that female vampires can win over a woman completely through the unbeatable combination of willpower, mind control, and sex appeal.”

Peary goes on to write that the “film contains horror-movie conventions — mist, too-loud suspense music, bloody violence, vampires who cast no reflections, don’t drink alcohol, and peer into bedroom windows from balconies — but Kumel (influenced by former friend Josef von Sternberg) handles nothing conventionally”, instead cleverly using “sound, music, his wonderful sets, colors (especially red):

… clothes, character placement, and weird camera angles (often he shoots from above, or at a great distance to convey the terrible isolation each character feels).” Peary elaborates upon his GFTFF review in Cult Movies 2, where he notes that the “film can be intentionally silly”, “downright horrifying”, or “utterly outrageous, in a macabre sort of way” — then shift to being “surreal, as in the magnificent shot of Elisabeth surrounding Valerie [Ouimet] with her cape as they stand on a cliff, the full moon shining behind them.”

He argues that while this “may be a wicked film”, and “it is no gem”, he finds it “sexy, imaginative, amusing, and undeniably fun.” While I acknowledge Peary’s appreciation for Daughters of Darkness, I can’t say I feel the same way. This films seems to me to be all style and no substance, and I honestly don’t understand the “point” (which I know is probably asking too much of a vampire film). Very little actually happens, other than ongoing seductions and killings. Intriguing narrative threads — i.e., Karlen calling home to his “mother” (Fons Rademakers) — are introduced, then dropped:

… and the lead characters are either unlikable or not particularly sympathetic (i.e., we don’t learn enough about Ouimet to relate to her). While fans of vampire flicks will surely want to check this one out, it’s not must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Delphine Seyrig as Elisabeth Bathory
  • Fine cinematography and set design

Must See?
No, though fans of the genre will of course want to check it out.

Links:

2 thoughts on “Daughters of Darkness (1971)

  1. A once-must, for Seyrig’s hypnotic performance. As per my 6/23/20 post in ‘Revival House of Camp & Cult’ (fb):

    “Look how perfect they are!”

    ‘Daughters of Darkness’: Although it is also very stylish and occasionally visually striking, the main reason to see this vampire flick is the other-worldly performance given by Delphine Seyrig, embodying the spirit of Hungarian noblewoman Elizabeth Báthory – said to be “the most prolific female murderer” (Wikipedia). In the same year (1971), Ingrid Pitt also portrayed a notorious woman based on Báthory in the lackluster ‘Countess Dracula’, but ‘DOD’ goes one step further and makes Seyrig a vampire.

    Traveling with her ‘secretary’ (Andrea Rau), and killing young girls along the way, the two decide to rest at a luxurious hotel – where the only other guests appear to be newlyweds Danielle Ouimet (who I kept seeing as a blonde Celine Dion) and John Karlen (Willie Loomis in ‘Dark Shadows’). The just-marrieds have issues of their own: Karlen’s psychosexual panorama is challenging, to say the least, and apparently rooted in homosexual trauma at the hands of the old queen Karlen refers to as ‘Mother’. (That whole subplot is murky at best.) But all Seyrig sees, of course, is fresh meat. Director / co-writer Harry Kümel is discreet and tasteful with the bloodletting. It would be 12 more years before another European actress took the vampire thing to more of an extreme: Catherine Deneuve in ‘The Hunger’.

    If you’ve not seen Seyrig before, she appears memorably in ‘Last Year at Marienbad’ – though a master class performance is on display in Chantal Akerman’s 3 1/2 hour, 1975 cult classic ‘Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles’.

  2. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    I love this stylish and creepy film and for horror buffs it’s definitely a must see as part of the move towards lesbianism in vampire flicks around that time and for being far and away the best of such films.

    As has been pointed out Seyrig is mesmerising and gives an amazing performance. Love the look of it and the atmospheric soundtrack. The oddball “Mother” character is just there to add a weird spin n the leading man and based on his phone conversation with Mother we imagine all sorta of strange things will befall the leading lady when she meets him / her.

    However, for general FFs this isn’t a must see.

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