Daughters of Darkness

Shot in Belgium in 1970, “Daughters of Darkness” was director Harry Kumel’s only English-language feature. Due to it’s naughty nature, the film was trimmed more than 12 minutes for its United States release. The DVD (like the laserdisc) restores the censored footage, but after more than a quarter-of-a- century, the film’s shock value has been diluted.


All style and mood, “Daughters of Darkness” is a rare horror film. It stars an American actor, a French leading lady, and was shot in Belgium in the English language. daughtersdarkessNot only that, but it’s more preoccupied with bodies than blood. John Karlen (“Cagney & Lacey,” “Dark Shadows”) and model Danielle Ouimet star as a newlywed couple who miss their boat to England and decide to spend the night in a luxurious (yet very deserted) spa. They have the run of the place until Countess Elizabeth Bathory and her personal assistant show up.

For those out of the loop, Bathory is the legendary “Scarlet Countess,” a wicked woman who bathed in the blood of 300 virgins to maintain her youth. I guess it beats wrinkle creams. The Countess is played by French actress Delphine Seyrig, whose good looks hide a secret agenda. Is she really a vampire, or just one those chic Euro- lesbians? It doesn’t take long before the Countess sets her sights on the newlywed couple, or for the cast to shed their clothes.

Now if they would just show a little fang. That’s the problem with “Daughters of Darkness.” It has been praised for it’s restraint, yet after such a long set-up, the pay off is weak. The characters are interesting, you just wish the four screen writers had done something more with them. Karlen, looking so young, fit and trim, comes off very European in the film, a plus considering the rest of the cast.

His character seems to have a lot of conflict going on inside, yet the writers never explore or explain the turmoil. Delphine Seyrig is lovely to look at, and is honestly menacing. Andrea Rau adds an exotic touch as the assistant to the Countess who understands her existence all too well. Hampered by a leisurely pace that takes advantage of the exquisite, colorful production design, “Daughters of Darkness” never seems to get down to business.

The tables turn at the end, but by then you wonder what all of the fuss was about. The nudity might have been daring back in 1971, but today it’s pretty tame. The blood is minimal, and no one bares their fangs. I would rather have seen one set of fangs than Karlen’s penis one more time. Oh well.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: [ ] EXCELLENT [ x ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.

Despite some flaws in the original negative, “Daughters of Darkness” looks pretty good. Director of photography Eduard van der Enden creates a lot out of a little. Director Kumel’s color scheme is striking (especially his use of reds) and the digital transfer is clean. Some of the dark scenes look like they were shot through gauze, but it’s hard to tell if this effect is a flaw on the film or the transfer. The 1.66:1 transfer is soft-matted, and there are occasional alignment problems at the top of the screen. The colors are strong, and the flesh tones especially impressive.

HEARING: [ ] EXCELLENT [ ] GOOD [ x ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.

The Dolby Digital Mono track is sufficient, but lacks the ability to draw you into the film.

ORAL: [ ] EXCELLENT [ ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ x ] D.O.A.

No closed captions or subtitles.

COORDINATION: [ ] EXCELLENT [ ] GOOD [ x ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.

“Daughters of Darkness” features an alternate audio commentary with actor Karlen and writer David Del Valle. The dialogue was recorded for the Laserdisc version of the film. It’s funny to listen to Karlen and Del Valle talk about the film as if it were the Holy Grail of vampire films. Karlen has a lot of respect for director Kumel, and speaks of him as if he were a God among directors. It’s also a hoot when Karlen puts Del Valle in his place numerous times. Especially revealing is Karlen’s discussion of a scene where he’s supposedly talking to his “mother.” Unbeknownst to Karlen, the director had decided to use an aging homosexual queen as “Mother” on the other end of the line. Karlen didn’t know this until he saw the final print. The use of a man to play “mother” is never explained in the film or in the commentary. There’s also a problem with the chapter stops. The DVD lists 13 in its scene access menu and on the accompanying literature, and yet there’s actually 32. Even more annoying, the chapters are only accessible through their time codes. The chapter listing remains at number one.

PROGNOSIS: [ ] EXCELLENT [ ] GOOD [ x ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.

Anemic. It doesn’t totally suck, but will drain your patience.

VITALS: $29.99/Not Rated/100 Min./Color/32 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#DV10494

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS

BIRTH DATE: 1971

HMO: Anchor Bay Entertainment



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