‘The ice cold terror of death’
Daughters of Darkness is a 1971 Belgian-French-German erotic vampire horror film (with dialogue in English), directed by Harry Kümel (Malpertuis) from a screenplay co-written with Pierre Drouot.
In France, the film’s title is Les Lèvres rouges, and in Belgium, Le Rouge aux lèvres, both literally translated as The Red Lips.
Director Kumel, interviewed by Mark Gatiss for the BBC documentary Horror Europa said that he deliberately styled Delphine Seyrig’s character after Marlene Dietrich and Andrea Rau’s after Louise Brooks to deepen the filmic resonance of his own movie. Because the vampire character of Elizabeth Bathory is also a demagogue, Kumel dressed her in the Nazi colours of black, white and red.
Commenting on both the film’s mordant sense of humour, and the director’s painterly eye in the composition of several scenes, Gatiss drew forth the comment from Kumel that he considers the film very Belgian, especially due to the influence of Surrealism and Expressionism.
Delphine Seyrig, Danielle Ouimet, John Karlen (Impulse; Dark Shadows TV series and films), Andrea Rau, Paul Esser, Georges Jamin, Joris Collet, Fons Rademakers.
A recently married young couple, Stefan (John Karlen) and Valerie (Danielle Ouimet), are on their honeymoon. They check into a grand hotel on the Ostend seafront in Belgium, intending to catch the cross-channel ferry to England, though Stefan seems oddly unenthused at the prospect of introducing his new bride to his mother. It is off-season, so the couple are initially alone in the hotel.
The sun sets and a mysterious Hungarian countess, Elizabeth Báthory (Delphine Seyrig), arrives in a vintage Bristol car driven by her “secretary” Ilona (Andrea Rau). The middle-aged concierge at the hotel swears that he saw the Countess at the same hotel when he was a little boy. The pair may have a connection to three separate gruesome murders of young girls that occurred in Bruges the previous week. On a day trip, Stefan and Valerie witness the aftermath of a fourth.
At the Ostend hotel, the countess quickly becomes obsessed with the newlyweds, and the resulting interaction of the four people leads to sadism and murder…
“Director Harry Kumel put a lot of effort in evoking a certain tone to the film, there’s a quiet, sensual, yet dangerous aura to Daughters of Darkness. The film is beautiful to the eyes, but the characters can suddenly turn twisted and dangerous and drain you of all your blood.” The Film Connoisseur
“The screen oozes deathless style, and enough cod dialogue to stop the whole thing degenerating into Great Art. Gorgeous, absolutely bloody gorgeous.” Anne Billson, Time Out Film Guide
“Of course, a bisexual female vampire with a taste for BDSM isn’t an entirely uncommon entity in the realms of horror fiction. The true wild card in Kümel’s film lies in the character of Stefan, the secretive husband prone to fits of violent rage. His rather prurient interest in sexual sadism becomes apparent when he recounts the legend of the bloodthirsty Countess Báthory, writhing with erotic pleasure as he describes the tortures inflicted upon her victims.” Lady Lazarus
“Red, white, and black are prominent throughout the film, symbolic of blood, life, and death, respectively. And the music. Outstanding. The film opens with an amazing theme that sounds like something out of a Euro-crime film, but with an undeniably sinister horror vibe. The score is consistently great from beginning to end, building tension when necessary and adding a nightmarish mood to the overall product.” Aaron, The Death Rattle
“This is an intense, trippy European art-house film taking “bloody Countess” Bathory as its cue, light on substance but heavy on style. Some viewers dismiss it as pretentious, but it’s clearly not taking itself too seriously. Strange and atmospheric, filled with lush colors and teasing imagery, and with a sort of mod Gothic New Wave soundtrack, Daughters of Darkness feels ten years ahead of its time.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers
“With art direction by Françoise Hardy, the picture combines eerie poetry with elements of camp parody, skillfully avoiding a collapse into either option and produces an unsettingingly intelligent film that sadly wasn’t well received by any of the audiences for art cinema, horror or camp movies.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror
“Without question, this is the most erotic lesbian vampire movie ever made … The level of sexual uncertainty among the quartet rises steadily and largely without the expected conventions. The film is beautifully written and acted on a curiously conversational level.” Mike Mayo, The Horror Show Guide
The vampires are shown to be the evils of high-society, the excesses of Western aristocracy turned into blood rituals. Countess Bathory isn’t depicted as deviant because she’s a lesbian but rather because she manipulates and corrupts the youth of the world for her own use. Ilona isn’t her friend but her slave, and Valerie isn’t a love interest but a prize to be won. It’s a strange, troubling, and thought-provoking movie.” Kyle Anderson, Nerdist
Valerie: “I like the seaside in winter.”
Elizabeth Báthory: “Aren’t those crimes horrifying? And yet, so fascinating.”
Retired policeman: “Ah, madam, those Bruges murders are rather special. One might say classic. The kinds of things you read about in medieval manuscripts. You know, silly tales about ghouls chased away by garlic. And vampires shrinking from crosses. And running water. And daylight.”
Valerie (to Elizabeth): “I despise you. You’re disgusting!”
Ostend and Bruges, Belgium
Chris Alexander talks to Danielle Ouimet for ComingSoon.net