Daughters Of Darkness (1971)

SEPTEMBER 11, 2012


I had been putting off watching Daughters Of Darkness for a few days (I got the rental disc a week ago), because I knew it was a "lesbian vampire" movie, and also European (read: likely to be more explicit than an American counterpart) and thus I wouldn't be able to watch the film's two commentaries at work. Thus, I'd have to wait until I had five hours at home to go through it all, because I am self-forbidden from skipping commentaries before I write my reviews.

However, it's also been insanely hot (again) here in LA, so I don't want to spend 5 waking minutes in my house, let alone 5 hours. So I finally found a solution - I'd watch it at work after everybody had gone home, in my comfortable air conditioned office, on a night where I didn't have any actual work to do. That night was tonight, and within minutes my suspicions were made correct as I was treated to a fairly graphic sex scene right off the bat.

But here's the funny thing - the two big sex scenes in the film are both straight, featuring our male lead and his wife (scene #1) or a seductress at the hotel they were staying at (scene #2). As far as the lesbian stuff - I've seen more action on some network TV shows, as this angle is erotically charged, but not explicit. A few small kisses is as far as any of the actresses go with each other, but the impossibly gorgeous Delphine Seyrig merely smiling sexily at one of the other ladies is far more titillating than any full on love scene would be anyway.

That said, it's more of a fucked up relationship drama than a full blown vampire movie; there isn't a lot of vamp action, and what little there is is confined to the film's final moments. I don't even think anyone says vampire, and apart from blood drinking and the harm from sunlight, I think the only part of the traditional mythology that comes into play is the fact that they can't go under running water - which is one of the more rarely used elements in vampire movies. Garlic, crosses, mirrors - this stuff is ignored, but they go with the water thing, something I had actually forgotten about as I think I've only seen it in one other vampire movie (Dracula AD 1972), so I was actually kind of confused by the scene at first.

But the deaths are pretty nutty, so there's definitely a quality over quantity thing here as they seem like they might have inspired the Final Destination sequences at times. For example, a girl is falling, reaching around for something to steady herself, and grabs an open razor. She screams, slips further, knocks over some stuff, her lover rushes over, he slips, etc, etc, and eventually they both tumble to the floor, where she somehow lands on the razor, impaling herself. Later there's a car accident that ends in a reverse staking - it's applause-worthy to be sure, and more than makes up for the fact that the movie can be a little slow at times.

OK, make that very slow. It's all very sexy and peculiar, and I wasn't BORED, but if I were to sum it up for someone, they might be confused as to why it was 100 minutes long, as not much happens. There are a couple of wonderfully odd subplots (the man's "mother" in particular), but they could be excised without much harm, as the movie's really about just one thing - Countess Bathory (Seyrig) playing the young couple against each other so that she can eventually get rid of the guy and have the girl for herself. But doing it doesn't take much effort, so there's a lot of drawn out scenes and bits of randomness to keep it from happening too soon, or else the movie would be 45 minutes long.

But it works, if you're patient, and/or can appreciate the terrific performance from Seyrig, as well as a very off-kilter turn from John Karlen (Dark Shadows' Loomis), who often resembles Joe Pantaliano - I would love to see this movie paired with Bound, in fact, as that also has a lesbian character coming between a man (Pantaliano) and his unhappy wife. He's tasked with the rather unenviable position of being the male lead, who should be a hero since he's the human and Seyrig is the vampire after his wife, but he's actually kind of the biggest piece of shit in the movie. Add in the wonderful, not often seen Belgium locations and the great score by François de Roubaix (who sadly drowned a few years later, at the age of 36) and you have a plain ol' good film that happens to be a part of the horror genre.

Blue Underground's DVD has some terrific features, including those aforementioned commentaries. Both are worth listening to, though the one with Karlen is much more fun as he hasn't seen the movie in a while and snickers at some of its more out there moments in between some pretty strong recollections, including an unfortunate incident with director Harry Kümel that resulted in the two finishing the film as professionals and never speaking again. Kümel's track requires complete attention due to his thick accent, but it's worth the effort as he talks about the deeper layers of the story (which borders on narration at times, but not offensively so) and his inspirations. He also confusingly claims that the movie is not a horror movie, and in the same breath says he should have filmed an anonymous death of some guy on a bike with more blood, showing his head split open and such. Make up your mind, Harry. The two tracks are different enough to make them both worthwhile, but if you only have time for one I'd go with Karlen's, as it's more fun to listen to and less "stuffy".

But do find time for the supplements, which includes Kümel and co-writer Pierre Drouot traveling around the hotel that they shot the film at, some of which hasn't changed at all. The two men have a grand old time recollecting the shoot and bickering (in a friendly way) over what was shot where or when - it's much more interesting than seeing a fan of the film do it, which is what I'm used to for such "Locations: then and now" pieces. Then there are interviews with the other two women in the film; Danielle Ouimet who played Karlen's wife, and Andrea Rau who played Bathory's... uh, assistant? (her nature is never fully explained in the film). Like Karlen, they have fond memories of the shoot and of working with Seyrig, whose absence from this disc is a true shame as she died in 1990 at the age of 58, thanks to her heavy smoking habit. The film's ultra-schlocky trailer ("If you think these ladies are something, wait until you meet Mother... she's... something else!") is also included, if you want proof that ANY film can be given a trailer that makes it look like a silly B-movie.

The slow pace (acknowledged by pretty much everyone on the bonus material; even Kümel admits it's too slow) and minimal vampire action will obviously turn some folks off, but for those who can appreciate something a little more dramatic and alluring should be quite satisfied. This is the sort of thing I love finding for my daily movie - even if I never watch it again I'll single it out as one that made this 5+ year journey worthwhile.

What say you?


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