Blue Underground presents
Daughters of Darkness: Special Edition (1971)
Countess Bathory: Isn't she beautiful?
Ilona: You haven't stopped talking about her.
Countess Bathory: Did you see her skin? Her lips?
Ilona: She's leaving tomorrow.
Countess Bathory: By that time, many things can happen.- (Delphine, Seyrig, Andrea Rau)
Stars: Delphine Seyrig, Danielle Ouimet, John Karlen, Andrea Rau
Other Stars: Paul Esser, Georges Jamin, Fons Rademakers, Joris Collet
Director: Harry Kümel
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:40m:01s
Release Date: 2006-10-31
DVD ReviewThere's a lot to like here, so much I'm not really sure where to start.
The make-a-long-story-short version is that this subtle 1971 lesbian-themed vampire outing from director Harry Kümel goes to great lengths to be different, to be something so far removed from the typical vampire film that it is quite daring in the almost subdued way it presents the subject matter, and the fact that it still holds up so well is saying something. There are no coffins, no stakes in the heart (well, practically) and nary a fang to be found—hell, it's really not much of a horror film—but there is a wealth of those strong waves of super-heated sexuality that so many vampire features have tried to portray, but just couldn't pull the trigger on as well as Kümel does here.
A newly married young couple, Stefan and Valerie (John Karlen and Danielle Ouimet), are traveling by train from Switzerland bound for a ship to England, when situations force them to take refuge in an elegantly sprawling and very empty hotel in Belgium. The only other guests are the mysterious and regal Countess Bathory (Delphine Seyrig) and young Ilona (Andrea Rau), her Angelina Jolie-ish minx of an assistant. It doesn't take long for things to go horribly askew, as dramatics escalate from smoldering, longing looks, plenty of demure pouting, hot rum, and a conversation-as-foreplay that involves discussing centuries-old descriptions of torture, which only makes the local string of blood-draining murders seem all the more suspicious. And I'm not even going to mention Stefan's fussy mother, who makes a stunner of an appearance midway through, in a scene that further helps tilt this one in a new direction.
It's a given that Countess Bathory is very, very old vampire, and Ilona is her latest Renfield—that in no way is a big reveal that will take anything away from the enjoyment of this sexy retelling of the ages old myth. The Countess' ability to cloud the minds of others, often with nothing more than her mere presence, is treated with a slowly percolating but forceful sexuality that makes the great Delphine Seyrig's Norma Desmond/Marlene Dietrich performance almost seem non-threatening, even as we see it how clearly it is. There is nothing remotely off putting about the Countess (ok, maybe she's a little forward), and as things begin to go badly for Stefan and Valerie, it is Seyrig's oddly appealing vampire that becomes the most approachable, centered character.
And of course by approachable, I don't mean in a sexual way, because that's reserved for Andrea Rau as the seductive Ilona, who makes the very act of chewing her lip seem almost pornographic. With her neat bob cut and tiny black dress, Rau's Ilona—all big lips and wide eyes—is the film's sexual centerpiece. She's a frustrated mess, completely under the control of the Countess, and Rau runs the gamut from vomiting into a toilet completely nude to a sexual encounter involving a shower and a razor blade that is one of the signature moments in Daughters of Darkness. I may have found Seyrig's Countess just as alluring as poor Stefan and Valerie did, but Rau gives this the requisite grownup sizzle.
Detractors may accuse this of moving a bit too slowly, but this isn't your standard issue fang-in-the-neck vamp saga. It's almost as if Kümel is throwing genre fans a bone by including a scene where the Countess is attempting to comfort poor Valerie, and as she raises her arms slowly her cloak unfurls like bat wings. It's a beautiful shot, done at night on a high cliff, and as the camera pulls back as the Countess presents herself, it's as if Kümel is nudging us in the ribs. The flow of Daughters of Darkness is more about sexual magnetism and control, and damn if it doesn't look good.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.66:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The new 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer here from Blue Underground puts the old Anchor Bay version (as well as the 2003 Blue Underground issue) to shame. Sure, there's some still some moderate print damage—with a bit of specking and dirt noticeable on a few of the night shots—but interior colors and fleshtones look far more vibrant and natural than they have in the past, though nighttime exteriors get a little iffy, in part to Kümel's use of blue filters. Not flawless, but easily the primo R1 version of Kümel's sexy vamp flick.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in an unremarkable English-language Dolby Digital mono track that sustains consistently clear dialogue, with nothing resembling any semblance of richness. No hiss issues to contend with, but it is still a rather coarse track, and some elements of the De Roubaix score threatening to clip, though they never quite do.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Blood Spattered Bride
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by David Gregory, Harry Kümel, John Karlen, David Del Valle
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
- Photo Gallery
- Radio Spots
The disc one extras represent a sort of combo platter of previous releases, in the form of a pair of commentaries, with each ported over from a previous version. A track with actor John Karlen and journalist David Del Valle was found on the Anchor Bay incarnation, and it shows up here, a peppy little chat, sprinkled with some chuckling here and there, especially during the sex scene between Karlen and Andrea Rau. The other commentary has director Harry Kümel and moderator David Gregory, a repeat of the previous Blue Underground 2003 release. This one is noticeably more serious, as Kümel fields a string of intelligent questions from the knowledgeable Gregory on all aspects of the production. Nicely done, and worth a listen for fans of this unique film.
A trio of previously issued Blue Underground featurettes include Locations of Darkness (21m:37s), in which Kümel and producer/co-writer Pierre Drouot return to some of the film's original locations to discuss how certain scenes were shot, plus it's geek cool to see the two hotels used to create the one lobby used in the final version. Playing The Victim (15m:29s) is an interview with Danielle Ouimet, who played innocent blonde Valerie in Daughters of Darkness; Ouimet is infectiously pleasant and effusive with her memories of the project, even when discussing some bad blood between her and Kümel on set. Daughter of Darkness (07m:59s) is a subtitled interview with Ilona herself, the exotically cool Andrea Rau. She's open and honest about her freedom to do nude scenes, and like Ouimet, seems to have mostly wonderful memories about this offbeat little genre title. Growl!!
An unexpected bonus (and one that isn't mentioned on the slipcase) is on disc two, represented by a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of Vicente Aranda's 1972 The Blood Spattered Bride (01h:40m;55s). It's an English dub, and the print is a bit grainy, but it fits thematically (another lesbian vampire) with Kümel's feature. It's a bit slow-moving, typical of the period, but it carries a beautifully gothic look to it, and waffles between moody and sensual without being particularly frightening.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsIt's one thing to get a nice looking transfer for a largely overlooked early 1970s lesbian vampire film, but Blue Underground has upped the ante by not only including two separately issued commentaries, but a trio of watchable interviews, as well. And if all that good stuff weren't quite enough, a second disc features yet another period lesbian-themed vampire film (The Blood Spattered Bride), just to really make this a no-brainer purchase for horror fans.
Rich Rosell 2006-10-30