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Blue Underground presents
Daughters of Darkness (1971)

"There are more maniacs loose than one thinks."
- Stefan (John Karlen)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: September 30, 2005

Stars: John Karlen, Delphine Seyrig, Danielle Ouimet, Andrea Rau
Other Stars: Fons Rademakers
Director: Harry Kümel

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, sexuality, violence, gore)
Run Time: 01h:39m:46s
Release Date: May 27, 2003
UPC: 827058100496
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+BB A-

DVD Review

Countess Elizabeth Bathory was a renowned monster of the 17th century, murdering young women so that she could bathe in their blood, on the delusion that it would keep her eternally young. Since she was also from the same general neighborhood as Dracula, it didn't take a lot of imagination for her story to become conflated with that of the vampire. This cult classic from 1971 takes the Bathory legend and runs with it, making one of the more successful modern-day vampire pictures.

Newlyweds Stefan (John Karlen) and Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) are taking a train across Europe to visit Stefan's mother in England. When the train is delayed and they miss the boat, the couple stops in Ostend at a vast hotel that is quite empty since it's the off-season. Countess Bathory (Delphine Seyrig) and her young companion Ilona Harczy (Andrea Rau) check in shortly thereafter. As the newspapers fill with tales of young women with their throats torn out, Stefan begins to take a more than unnatural interest. The Countess similarly takes an interest in the couple, and Ilona develops a disturbing habit of lurking outside their window in the nude. Soon the couple's chemistry begins to change in surprising ways under the influence of the Countess.

Although there are a few minor characters, the bulk of the film is devoted to these four characters, and the development of their shifting allegiances and jealousies. There's a huge undercurrent of sexual tension, fueled by the overt lesbianism of the Hungarians and Stefan's own kinks, including a streak of sadism to go with his fascination with violent death. Voyeurism also figures into the mix, as the Countess and Ilona both take a surreptitious pleasure in spying on the newlyweds; as the Countess seduces Stefan, Valerie is alternately fascinated and furious at the betrayal. There's plenty of nudity, although not much explicitness. Gore is not plentiful, but it's often the result of disturbing items, such as straight razors and broken glass, which gives it a serious impact when it is onscreen.

Seyrig (Last Year in Marienbad) lends an air of intelligence to the Countess, who also has a character of detached observation. Ilona is a proto-Goth, played by a veteran of softcore porn who was obviously quite at ease with the nudity required. Actually, Ouimet was also a Canadian sex symbol of sorts also, but the two acquit themselves quite well, playing up the emotion without becoming overwrought, a dark and light yin/yang swirling around Stefan, who is pulled in numerous directions by emotional and physical attractions and repulsions alternately. John Karlen, best known from his long run on Dark Shadows isn't your typical leading man, but does a satisfactory job; intriguingly, his portrayal gets an added depth not so much from anything he does but from a cutaway when we learn who exactly his mother is. It's a mind-blowing little sequence that puts everything into a new context, and it's really quite independent from the story proper.

The picture is gorgeously shot, with a lovely use of color. The scenes are frequently punctuated by fades to red that emphasize the blood aspect of the story. On occasion these are produced naturally, such as when Ilona drapes a red scarf over a lamp, and others the fade just comes out of nowhere. The emphasis underlines the theme of vampirism, but it's seldom clear whether Bathory and Ilona are really vampires or just delusional. The hotel porter insists he saw the Countess looking exactly the same as a boy, but otherwise the situation is quite ambiguous. It's an interesting study in corruption either way, and a more thoughtful picture than your usual vampire epic. The film is an uncut version that includes about seven minutes not in the US theatrical release.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture is significantly improved in detail and color over the earlier nonanamorphic Anchor Bay release from 1999 (though the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on that disc is probably closer to the correct ratio). There's a fair amount of grain that occasionally has a sparkly quality, and there's some moderate ringing and some aliasing. Shadow detail is somewhat plugged up too, so it seems that there may still be some room for improvement. The source print, however, looks quite good.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The English mono is acceptable, considering the film seems to be largely shot with live sound. It's clean enough, with nominal hiss and noise as one might expect for a low-budget picture of this vintage. The music by François de Rousbaix is lacking deep bass, unsurprisingly, but is not overly tinny.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1) director/writer Harry Kümel 2) actor John Karlen
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Poster and still gallery
  2. Radio spots
Extras Review: All the extras from the earlier Anchor Bay disc are intact here, and more than doubled. Star John Karlen contributes the same commentary, which takes a less-than-serious approach to the film. More interesting is director Harry Küel's new commentary on the film, which does a better job of covering background and relating stories; Karlen's memory is rather thin and interviewer David Del Valle has to keep drawing him out, but he does occasionally contribute some interesting tidbits. A new interview featurette with Andrea Rau (7m:59s) finds the actress still recognizable 35 years later (and still wearing the same distinctive haircut!), and very pleased to reminisce about the picture. There's a trailer, four radio spots (with too much of an echoey effect) and a thorough photo and poster gallery that covers the marketing in a number of different countries and even the soundtrack album. It's too bad that couldn't have also been included as an extra, but the set is nonetheless well-packed.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

An interesting and sexy vampire picture that takes full advantage of its settings, and an improved transfer and beefed-up extras make it worth an upgrade.


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