Blue Underground // 1971 // 201 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Cynthia Boris (Retired) // October 26th, 2006
These are the Daughters of Darkness...They are waiting for you -- They thrive on BLOOD
Ever since I was a teen, I've wanted to see this vaguely erotic vampire film because it starred my favorite Dark Shadows' actor, John Karlen. Okay, not true. I really wanted to see the film because I was totally pulled in by kinky, nude still shots of John Karlen in the shower with Andrea Rau. Nothing like a soft-core vampire film to get the blood rushing. And this one should do the trick.
Daughters of Darkness, a.k.a. Le Rouge aux lèvres, is yet another take on the legend of Elizabeth Bathory, aka Countess Dracula. Historically, Bathory was reported to have bathed in the blood of tortured and slain virgins in order to stay young herself. But unlike the Hammer Horror telling of the legend, Daughters of Darkness gives us a subtle, erotic version of the tale.
Stefan (John Karlen, Dark Shadows, Cagney & Lacey) and Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) are newlyweds, traveling by train to the ship that will take them home to meet Stefan's "mother." Though they appear to be a normal pair of newlyweds, there are some strange twists and quirks in the script that suggests otherwise.
The opening scenes set the tone of the film with full frontal nudity from Ouimet and a bit of passionate foreplay with Karlen. But as luck would have it (because it's a horror film and this is how these things work), the train is delayed; the young couple misses their connection and are forced to stay over in a magnificent (but eerily empty) hotel.
Shortly after their arrival they are joined by Countess Bathory (Dephine Seyrig) and her...(ehemm) assistant, Illona (Andrea Rau). The Countess takes an interest in the young couple, especially Stefan, who she seems to seduce with her voice alone.
As the story progresses, Stefan and Valerie are drawn deeper and deeper into Bathory's game. Soon their honeymoon turns into a living nightmare complete with sex, lies, and murder. Not to mention a fair amount of bare skin.
Though this film is labeled as a vampire flick, you won't find the traditional batwings, fangs, or coffin beds. Daughters of Darkness has a much more subtle edge, more of a kiss to the horror genre and less of a violent thrust. It has a distinctly European feel with its international cast and Belgian locale. It's even interesting to note that Karlen, who is from Brooklyn, manages to take on a soft European accent even though he himself says he wasn't trying. The film also works its magic in regard to time. Even though it's made quite clear at the start that it's present day, the costuming, set design and lighting make you feel as if you've gone back to the 1930's, and it's a very nice place to be.
When it comes to the acting, Seyrig is positively captivating with her Jean Harlow looks and Marlene Dietrich manner. She is soft-spoken, charming, sexy, and wholly unlike the villain she's playing, making her one of the films most attractive elements.
Karlen holds his own against three beautiful but distinctly different women. He carries off both playful and perverted -- which seems to be the theme of the film above all else.
This Director's Cut DVD gives us more of Harry Kümel's erotic vision than the version that was released in theaters here in the US. There's a great deal of full frontal nudity on the women, bare buttocks on Karlen and oops! The editor missed that one quick shot of him in the bathroom -- the one where he's facing the camera. But for all the nudity, groping, and kissing in this movie, there are no representations of actual sex -- which makes me wonder if this wasn't another one of Kümel's intentional thematic elements like his use of the color red and images of a stormy sea.
This special edition DVD has all of the original special features including commentary by Kümel, stars Karlen and Rau and Journalist David Del Valle. New additions include "Locations of Darkness" -- Interviews with Co-Writer/Director Harry Kümel and Co-Writer/Co-Producer Pierre Drouot and "Playing the Victim" -- Interview with Star Danielle Ouimet. The locations piece is surprisingly interesting. As Kümel and Drouot talk about filming the movie, actual film clips of those scenes are shown giving you a "then and now" comparison. They also tell some very funny stories about a lusty director of photography and watch them fumble with embarrassment as they admit that their primary goal in making the movie was to become rich.
The interview with Ouimet is almost as entertaining. She talks about the advent of nudity in the movies and her own feelings about stripping down for the part. Even more intriguing are the stories she tells about working with Kümel. She describes him as rather an odd duck who made an elaborate show out of introducing her to co-star Karlen and even mentions that he once slapped her for being late on the set.
Both interviews make reference to the opening sex scene in the movie. Kümel, apparently inexperienced in these matters, directed the scene by showing the actors pictures from a book of sexual positions. Ouimet found the situation rather awkward. Personally, I don't think awkward even begins to cover it.
The movie is packaged with an annoying sleeve over a nearly identical plastic case with a cheap, hinged disc holder. The art of the package is lovely, however, a nice representation of the movie poster (from back when posters were marvelous paintings) on the front and a small filmstrip of stills on the back.
As a bonus, Blue Underground has included a second disc containing the movie The Blood Spattered Bride. Another lesbian vampire film, it has the requisite amount of sex, blood, and gore for the era. Filmed in Spain, the movie is yet another take on the Sheridan Le Fanu story "Carmilla." To be enjoyed for its cinematography and certainly not for its plot.
If anything, Daughters of Darkness is a victim of the time period in which it was filmed. In the early seventies, Hammer Films reigned supreme when they reinvented the horror genre by adding sex and gore to traditional legends such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. This film shares the same rich colors and locales and the penchant for nude women, but fans of Hammer will likely find it to be slow and not nearly bloody enough. The curse of this film is that it's labeled "horror" when it would more aptly be called an erotic thriller.
The mono soundtrack does nothing for the movie. Oh, and Danielle Ouimet's best moments are when she has her mouth occupied by anything other than dialogue. Order up a serving of Stanislavski for this Canadian babe.
If you're a fan of the vampire genre, Daughters of Darkness is not to be missed. This director's cut DVD is especially enticing as it features interesting commentary tracks, the most delightful being an aging John Karlen ruminating over the vision of his own young self. Fans of erotic thrillers and quirky European filmmaking will also enjoy this artistically stylish outing. However, fans of modern horror films like Friday the 13th and Halloween, will likely find this gothic flick to be slow and way too cerebral.
I hereby rule in favor of Daughters of Darkness: 2 Disc Special Edition and toast the victory with a cup of very red, red, wine.
Review content copyright © 2006 Cynthia Boris; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 201 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentary #1 with Co-Writer/Director Harry Kumel
* Audio Commentary #2 with Star John Karlen and Journalist David Del Valle
* "Locations of Darkness" Interview with Co-Writer/Director Harry Kumel and Co-Writer/Co-Producer Pierre Drouot
* "Playing the Victim" Interview with Star Danielle Ouimet
* "Daughter of Darkness" Interview with Star Andrea Rau
* Theatrical Trailer
* Radio Spots
* Poster and Still Gallery
* U.S. Combo Theatrical Trailer
* Original Release DVD Verdict Review