in Review, Shocktober

Daughters of Darkness (1971)

At a glance, Daughters of Darkness looks like a trashy exploitation flick. Us horror buffs know the type. Your dime-a-dozen euro-horror (usually Italian) bloodsoaked booboramas with bad dubbing but for some reason an amazing soundtrack. Well, Daughters of Darkness does have an amazing soundtrack but it’s also not an exploitation flick. This is a classy affair better suited for a spot in the Criterion Collection than a midnight showing at a sleazy grind house theater.

Daughters of Darkness is European but not Italian. It’s Belgian. Which isn’t a region I often see represented in cinema. You would assume the film is in French, but actually, it’s in English. Not bad dubbed over English either. All the dialogue is delivered competently by a group of talented international actors. John Karlen (American) and Danielle Ouimet (French Canadian) star as the film’s doomed couple and the wonderful Delphine Seyrig (French) and Andrea Rau (German) play their sexual undead adversaries. I should also not this film is categorized as an “erotic vampire film” though it’s never in poor taste or gratuitous for the sake of being gratuitous.

Stefan (Karlen) and Valerie (Ouimet) are a recently married couple traveling to the Osten seafront in Belgium on their honeymoon. The couple stays at a hotel in the offseason completely alone. Until one night, when a Hungarian countess (Delphine Seyrig) arrives. The countess takes an interest in the attractive couple, and along with her soft-spoken but loyal assistant Ilona (Andrea Rau) become deeply entangled in the couple’s romantic lives. Eventually, it is revealed that the countess is actually Elizabeth Bathory, who was in real life a Hungarian noblewoman who killed hundreds of women from 1585 to 1609. It’s also believed that Elizabeth Bathory along with Vlad the Impaler may have been the inspiration for a book by some Stoker guy. You might have heard of it, Dracula? If you’re not familiar it’s like Bunnicula but with a dude instead of a rabbit.

Stefan and Valerie each find themselves drawn closer to Elizabeth. Stefan is more willing, also attempting to engage physically with Ilona—which ends poorly—but Valerie finds herself just as drawn to the charismatic countess. It is also believed that Elizabeth may be responsible for a series of murders around Bruges. You know, that place from the Colin Farrell movie. Though the film is mostly self-contained within the confines of the cavernous hotel.

Not much happens in the film–except for the greatest car crash/impaling scene in movie history–rather, it’s the intimate character interactions that make Daughters of Darkness worth watching. I wasn’t familiar with Delphine Seyrig going in but she’s incredible. Actually, I see right now she’s been in tons of famous French films along with being the title character in the famous art house film Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. That’s one of those films I’ve heard is great for years but have never watched because I have to do stupid shit like marathon the Friday the 13th movies every year. Regardless, Seyrig is sexy, scary, and sophisticated and reason alone to see the film.

I should also mention that the film looks beautiful with stark wide shots of the empty beach and sensuous close-ups. François de Roubaix of Le Samourai fame composed the score and sets a moody tone with dizzying keyboards and Grindhouse guitars. It’s a very artsy film and far above the b-movie monster movies, it’s often grouped alongside. Make no mistake this isn’t a film just for die-hard horror fans. This is like, art and stuff.

Being a vampire sucks…