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November 2010

Daughters Of Darkness

cast: Delphine Seyrig, John Karlen, Danielle Ouimet, and Andrea Rau

director: Harry K�mel

96 minutes (18) 1971
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Optimum DVD Region 2

RATING: 6/10
review by Andrew Darlington

Daughters Of Darkness - poster

Daughters Of Darkness, Blue Underground DVD

Daughters Of Darkness - video

Daughters Of Darkness

Daughter Of Darkness was a cheesy hit record for Tom Jones, before he discovered postmodern irony and became almost cool. This is the plural Daughters Of Darkness (aka: Les l�vres rouges), a more impressive proposition altogether. Countess Bathory, in another of her multiple screen-portrayals, was thinly disguised as Elisabeth Nodosheen, and played by Hammer's Polish-born scream-queen supreme Ingrid Pitt in Countess Dracula (1970).

If Bram Stoker's original blood-sucking vampire was loosely conceived around the real-life exploits of 'Vlad the impaler', then Ingrid's lasciviously predatory Countess Elisabeth also had tenuous roots in history, telling the vaguely Sapphic tale of the 17th century Hungarian aristo 'the Scarlet Countess', who discovers that drinking and bathing in the blood of some 300 freshly butchered virgins does the secret of eternal youth thing far better than Oil of Olay ever did.

Now, in a sequence of heightened erotic arousal Countess Bathory (played here by Delphine Seyrig) relates this episode of sadism and torture from her family history to troubled Stefan (John Karlen) whose own penchant for mild S&M is intoxicated by what he hears. Her story ends with the original Countess walled up in her room. "And then...?" ventures Stefan tremulously. "Who knows?" says Bathory dismissively. Well, this is what happens.

Countess Dracula is still around, in a different guise, in this pale, atmospheric, slow-paced example of early Belgian-French-German cultural integration. European stars and production, done in English with an eye to global distribution. The regal Delphine Seyrig, who died in October 1990, was already known for Euro art-house movies including Alain Resnais' enigmatic Last Year In Marienbad (1961), as well as work with cult directors Joseph Losey, Fran�ois Truffaut, and Luis Bu�uel.

This movie also has arty pretensions, but while there's easy-on-the-eye full-frontal nudity, there's nothing as cheekily gratuitous as the lovely Ingrid dabbing blood on her body with a giant sponge. The film opens with a misty trans-Europe express speeding from Switzerland across frozen countryside towards a rendezvous with the ferry to England. In their honeymoon carriage, the flowers and champagne of cavorting newlyweds Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) and Stefan Chilton flushes blood-red with signal alerts.

A derailment down-line means they've missed their connection, and have to put up overnight in the 'royal suite' of a bleakly out-of-season Ostend hotel, filmed in reality at the lavish 'Grand Hotel Des Thermes' to a setting of moody electronic music. But all is not as it seems. She is blonde and attractively long-haired. He is fashionably tousled in a petulant kind of early-1970s way, given to wearing a sharp plum-coloured leather jacket with heavy aviator shades. He jokes darkly that "you don't love me. I don't love you. Apparently we were made for each other." And he's hiding a secret.

He fakes a phone-call home to the mother they're supposedly en route to meet. He says she will not approve their marriage - because they are 'different'. Later, when he finally gets through to Chilton Manor the 'mother' sitting in the jungle conservatory is a very camp man! Stefan cuts himself shaving, watches the blood in horrified fascination, and snaps at Valerie when she shows concern.

Later, their picturesque tourist boat-trip through Bruges canals is interrupted by seeing an ambulance picking up the latest atrocity-victim in a spate of mutilation murders. Stefan strikes Valerie in his eagerness to get a better look at the young girl's corpse, drained of blood. "You were pleased, it gave you pleasure, you enjoyed seeing the girl's body," she accuses him.

Meanwhile, the hotel's only other guests turn up, platinum-blonde Hungarian Countess Bathory swathed in movie-star red, with her dark-haired basin-cut 'secretary' Ilona, a couple obviously locked in some kind of femme sub-dom relationship. Stefan recognises the name Bathory. Maybe he's seen the Ingrid Pitt movie? While Pierre, the hotel concierge, recognises her as the same woman who'd stayed in the hotel 40 years ago, when he was a young bellboy. And she looks exactly the same. "My mother perhaps?" the Countess suggests playfully, then calls him familiarly by his name.

The two couples become inextricably, and fatally intertwined. "Did you see her skin, her lips?" drools Bathory about Valerie to Ilona, watching the newlyweds stroll the chilly beach. "I wish I could die," pouts Ilona languidly. When the light hurts her eyes, Ilona veils it with her flimsy neck-scarf, casting the room into red, anticipating the blood-flow to come. Four people, trapped into claustrophobic, age-old ritual. Four people, plus walk-on bits for the concierge, and a rain-wet retired policeman who adds knowing hints about "the kind of thing you read about in medieval manuscripts; vampires, ghouls."

And Valerie presciently admits "every woman would sell her soul to stay young," while wondering what is Bathory's secret. In the midst of traditional horror-show storm and lightning Stefan's pervy dark side emerges and he beats Valerie with his leather belt. When she walks out on him it allows Bathory to move in, to comfort her, "tell me Valerie, whatever Stefan demands of you, do you consent to do it?" she coaxes. No, his kind of love is 'degrading'. "Love can be stronger than life; stronger even than death," insists Bathory, "come, I will show you what men are really made of. Every man... Yours..."

Meanwhile, Ilona comforts Stefan in bed with a blowjob. Soon Ilona and Stefan have moved to the bathroom, with close-ups of her trembling red lips as she watches him shower. But she's too terrified of water to join him, and in the playful tussle that ensues she falls on his cut-throat razor, and is killed. Just as Bathory and Valerie enter... "Let the dead bury the dead," Bathory instructs, taking control of the situation, kissing Valerie and leaving a trace of lipstick-red on her mouth as they conspire to conceal the body.

With a blackmail-threat hold over the couple she exerts her power, sheathed in silver lame, and sipping a green drink that might be decadent absinthe. What is she - "a kind of ghoul? A vampire..?" ... "No, my dear, I'm just an outmoded character, nothing more. You know, a beautiful stranger, slightly sad, slightly mysterious, that haunts one place after another..."

"Death seems to follow in your wake," Stefan accuses. "Perhaps it's looking for me?" she admits. In fact, it's looking for them both. They compete for control of a confused Valerie, and in the ensuing tussle a glass bowl shatters, the fragments conveniently slashing both his wrists allowing the girls an artery each to suck blood from. Significantly, at one point, Bathory raises her cape, like batwings, to envelop a robotically obedient Valerie, who is dressed in sacrificial white.

They are locked in some new femme sub-dom relationship. Speeding away together in Bathory's car, trying to outrun the coming dawn, she takes the corner too fast. Thrown through the windscreen the Scarlet Countess is precisely skewered on a tree-branch, and then crisped by the inferno as the auto-wreck explodes. End? Not exactly... Some months later, Valerie is there, in an enveloping cape, introducing herself to a new honeymoon couple, reciting Bathory's lines in Bathory's voice and regal mannerisms. "And then...?" ... "Who knows?" Although Daughters Of Darkness falls a little short of its art-house aspirations, it's a cut or several above your regular slasher vampire flick.

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