October 8, 2012

Daughters of Darkness (1971)

(AKA Les lèvres rouges)

"A newlywed couple are passing through a vacation resort. Their paths cross with a mysterious, strikingly beautiful countess and her aide."

I was tempted to embed the full movie from YouTube above as that was where I lazily rewatched "Daughters of Darkness" rather than pulling out my DVD, but I don't expect it will around much longer. "Daughters of Darkness" might be quite an unknown film to a lot of people, but it's most certainly not in the public domain. It's not even that expensive as a 2-disc special edition to justify the piracy of the Blue Underground release.

I'm not really going to go into a lot of detail about "Daughters of Darkness" because I think it's one of those movies which you are better off not knowing too much about before you watch it. There isn't much of a story to retell anyway as "Daughters of Darkness" is more about its aesthetic appeal and the way the characters interact than anything else.

Directed by Harry Kümel, "Daughters of Darkness" is a visually stunning yet languid and almost arthouse piece of European erotica. It is also a horror movie, of course, but the horror is more in the background until the end. The focus throughout is really on the extremely dysfunctional, sadomasochistic relationship between Stefan (John Karlen) and his newlywed bride Valerie (Danielle Ouimet).

Not to put too fine a point on it, Stefan has a little bit of a secret which is one of those things which causes hours of debate for movie buffs, but with Countess Bathory (Delphine Seyrig) turning up, he's not the only one who isn't what he seems.

Many reviewers fuss over how much Delphine Seyrig looks like Marlene Dietrich, but apart from the rather uncomfortable looking hairstyle, there are few similarities between the two. At times, good lighting makes Delphine Seyrig looks extremely beautiful which, coupled with her smoky voice, makes her quite sexy. Occasionally, with more shade, she really looks her age and isn't so hot at all, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The same thing happens with everybody in the film. There are times when even John Karlen (formerly of "Dark Shadows" and later to be Harvey in "Cagney and Lacey") looks attractive, and other moments where he looks quite old and tired. His acting is mostly sub-par, and the way he mispronounces "Ostende" as "Ostand" is jarring, but when he's being bad, he's kind of great. His naked buttocks will probably still haunt you forever though.

Danielle Ouimet is anything but plain with her long, blonde hair and model figure yet, unless you are really into Abba, she may be an acquired taste. With a great deal of nudity in "Daughters of Darkness", you have to be grateful that most of it is due to her.

Personally, I think Ilona (Andrea Rau) is the sexiest of all of them. Her bobbed haircut may not be the most flattering as it makes her look like a goth version of Louise Brooks, but she exudes hotness. In case you are wondering, yes, she does indeed like to get naked a lot too.

Unsurprisingly, Delphine Seyrig keeps her clothes well and truly on. Trust me on this though, she still contributes an insane amount of eroticism with only her hands and long, red fingernails.

When I first saw "Daughters of Darkness" back in the early '80s, I was just the right age to appreciate the women and not understand any of the deeper psychosexual disorders which were being played out. Today, if I wanted to be cynical, I could just write most of the story off as a load of bed-hopping by deluded bisexuals, and simply note how the various seductions were parodied to some extent by "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" a few years later.

As far as vampire movies go, "Daughters of Darkness" is a lot more adult and intellectually appealing than many others from the same era. How much of that is accident and how much is design is hard to tell especially when you listen to the director's commentary. Having heard Harry Kümel being rather dismissive of his creation, I still think that "Daughters of Darkness" is a slightly flawed masterpiece.

I highly recommend that you watch "Daughters of Darkness" for yourself and make up your own mind about it.

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