Appellate Judge Tom Becker stayed at a creepy hotel during the off season. He got bit by bed bugs.
"Imagine, she bled 300 virgins to death."—Valerie
"Some say 800. But a woman will do anything to stay young."—Countess Bathory
Newlyweds Stefan (John Karlen, Cagney and Lacey) and Valerie (Danielle Ouimet, Satan's Sabbath) are on their way from Switzerland to England to meet Stefan's mother. The marriage was an impetuous one, and the two barely know each other; their relationship seems based mostly on sex.
Stefan is anxious about bringing Valerie home, so when their train is waylaid in Belgium, he doesn't view it as an inconvenience. They put up at an ornate hotel, and since it's the off-season, they are the only guests.
Soon, however, two more guests arrive: the glamorous Countess Bathory (Delphine Seyrig, Last Year at Marienbad) and her "secretary," Ilona (Andrea Rau, Lola). It immediately becomes clear that the Countess is not like other women when the concierge recognizes her from a previous stay—40 years before, although she seems to have not aged a bit.
Could this be the same Countess Bathory who, in the 16th Century, captured young women and tortured them, bathing in their blood to retain her beauty? Could be. What's indisputable is that the Countess is fixated on Valerie—and she intends to have her affections reciprocated.
Stylish and ridiculous, Daughters of Darkness is a seminal lesbian vampire film, even though there's little in the way of lesbian sex or traditional vampire shenanigans. Director Henry Kumel has taken the legend of Elizabeth Bathory—an actual Hungarian Countess who was the inspiration for the Lady Dracula stories—and grafted it onto a moody, high-class, psycho-sexual thriller-light that's so well-crafted, you barely notice that, at its heart, it's a soft-core Eurosleazer.
When we first meet Stefan and Valerie, they are making love on a train. Valerie seems in love with him in an almost innocent way, only slightly put off by his arrogance and naïvely unconcerned about how little she knows of him. From the start, we sense that he's duplicitous and manipulative, and it gradually becomes clear that Stefan's hiding more than a few unpleasant secrets. Valerie is Red Riding Hood married to the Wolf, and she's not going to find Grandmother's House particularly comforting.
Into this looming disaster comes the Countess—really, the Hunter (Huntress?) who will save Little Red Val from the Beast. But the Countess is a Beast herself, albeit a gorgeous and flamboyant one. Valerie actually finds the Countess to be a bit too flamboyant; it's Stefan, perhaps recognizing something of a kindred spirit, who's drawn to her. In time, we understand more why this decadent, exaggerated female presence would appeal to him.
But he certainly doesn't appeal to the Countess; she sees right through him. When dissension hits the marriage, she sends her companion and supplicant, Ilona—who'd earlier murmured in despair that she wished could die—to take care of Stefan while she tends to the vulnerable Valerie.
And then, the "blood, beautiful, red blood" begins to flow freely.
There aren't really many scares to be had here. The fun is watching the story unfold, with Stefan's inner ugliness slowly revealed as the Countess' plan comes together. The baroque atmosphere, opulent sets, and striking images are quite effective, and there's copious nudity and well-handled sex scenes. Karlen, the future Harvey Lacey, gives Stefan an air of seductive slime, making him more pitiable than repellent, a spoiled and petulant child-man rather than a brute.
But what makes Daughters of Darkness really memorable is Delphine Seyrig's audacious turn as Countess Bathory. Mixing old-school glamour with new-school eroticism, she's less bat than cat, a couture-clad panther whose purr is as effective as her growl. Her orgasmic revelry with Karlen, as the two recount a tale of torture, is a campy, creepy highlight.
Daughters of Darkness has gotten so many DVD releases, it's like the Dirty Dancing of lesbian vampire cult movies. This latest from Blue Underground is a Blu-ray upgrade of their 2006 Two-Disc Special Edition, which was an upgrade from their 2003 Special Edition, which was an upgrade from the 1998 Anchor Bay edition.
The tech upgrade is impressive. It's a clean transfer that offers a good amount of detail and rich colors. The DTS-HD Mono track is clear, though it doesn't have a lot of depth. Both image and sound are improvements over the 2006 Special Edition.
The Blu includes all the supplements from the 2006 release, some of which were on the earlier releases:
• Two Commentaries, one by Kumel, the other with Karlen and
writer David Del Valle;
In addition, the set includes a second lesbian vampire cult movie, The Blood Spattered Bride. This 1972 Spanish production is actually pretty entertaining and ridiculous in its own right, and it's always nice to have a double feature.
While it would have been great if Blue Underground had added something new to the supplements, this Blu-ray offers enough of a tech upgrade to warrant a recommend of at least a rental. The film itself is one of the better examples of vampire erotica, and Seyrig's performance is something of a must-see.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
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