Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lesbian Vampires of Belgium

Andrea Rau, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

From the lovely nation of Belgium, we come to, Daughters of Darkness (Les Levres Rouges) a 1971 horror film directed by Harry Kumel, starring Danielle Quimet, Andrea Rau, Delphine Seyrig and one of my favorite American character actors John Karlen.

Now I know what you’re thinking, Belgium? Who the hell makes a horror film in Belgium?

It's just so flat.

While far from good old Transylvania, Daughters of Darkness is an enjoyable little horror film, beautifully shot with plenty of style, twisted performances from Karlen, Rau and Seyrig, and just the right amount of undead kink for a fun night at the movies. My only real complaint is that the film suffers from a deeply flawed dependence on some pretty nasty, though almost cartoonishly, over the top stereotypes as key story elements. Still, I suppose that in as film wrapped up in perversion as Daughters of Darkness is, nobody is going to get away unscathed.

It's 1971, and Stefan (Karlen), a fashionable young American adopted into a wealthy British family and his new bride, the beautiful and naive, Valerie (Quimet) are enjoying their honeymoon..

The pair are meandering across Europe, on a casual route toward home and Valerie's inevitable introduction to Stefan's family, a meeting that Stefan is going to some lengths to delay. But that is a problem for another day and in the meantime the two spend their time making love and seeing the sights.

John Karlen & Danielle Quimet, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Reaching the Channel, but facing bad weather and rough seas, the couple check into a luxury hotel, in their off season, empty except for the pair and a few servants. Stefan makes a show of telling the porter to get in contact with his family in Britain, but then quietly slips the man some cash and a note informing the servant to tell the pair that he had been unable to get a reply.

As I said, Stefan is in no rush to get home, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

As Stefan and Valerie settle down for a night of uncomfortably violent lovemaking, an old but well preserved Rolls Royce races across the Belgium countryside until it draws up to the hotel. It's passengers, a beautiful, mysterious countess, dressed in glamorous 1920’s era clothing with platinum blonde hair to match and her companion, another beauty, but dark haired, much younger, and with a bohemian edge.

Delphine Seyrig, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

When the Countess, who by the way, has the horror movie give away name of Elizabeth Bathory (Seyrig) and her beautiful German assistant Ilona (Rau), approach the front desk, our friend the porter is taken aback, certain that the countess has visited the hotel before. He quickly realizes that has to be impossible since the woman he is thinking of had visited decades before when he was a boy.

Never the less, there she stands.

The next morning the newlyweds are wandering around the town when they come across the a crime scene and are told by another passerby watching the police go about their work that there has been a horrifically violent murder of a young girl, the fourth in almost as many days.

Stefan and Valerie come across a tragedy, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

While watching the police go about their work Valerie can’t help but notice that Stefan has become visibly aroused by the murder scene and is disturbed to see this side to him.

That evening back at the hotel, the Countess sits knitting surrounded by her balls of yearn almost like in the middle of a web, when Ilona comes to her and tells her that she needs to leave, that she cannot stand to stay and help replace herself.

Kindly, but firmly the Countess tells Ilona that she can not leave and that she will do exactly what she is told to do. To which Ilona, while begging to be allowed to go away, still somehow without hesitation agrees.

Soon the couples meet and it doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes before Stefan and the Countess are discussing the crimes of the “original” Bathory with the pair becoming aroused while a clearly horrified Valerie looks on.

Stefan and the Countess, Daughter of Darkness (1971)

Having had enough Valerie goes back to the room and begins to take a shower. But afterwards when she goes to open her window, she discovers a nude and disoriented Ilona standing at her window.

Freaking out, Valerie screams but by the time Stefan gets to the room, Ilona has run off. Reasonably upset at what has just happened, Valerie is calmed down when the Countess let’s the pair know about Ilona’s fits that can cause her to go into these kind of seizures.

Original poster, Les Levres Rouges (Daughters of Darkness)

Off put, but doing their best to be understanding the couple let things go and then bid the Countess good night.

The next morning Stefan finally calls home and talks to his “Mother”, a homosexual man, who is a nightmare stereotype of the “dangerous” queen, played like a cross between the MC from Cabaret, and the guy they always showed you to watch out for in those second grade, watch out for stranger videos. Stefan’s Mother as kindly as possible points out to Stefan that there is no way that his new wife would be ready to meet the family so that the best thing would be to stop wasting time and just get it over with.

Fons Rademakers as Mother, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Clearly being welcomed into this family might not be what a new bride would be hoping for.

Angry and upset after the phone call, Stefan turns cold and attacks Valerie beating her with a belt and violently having sex with her, that would be called rape if it wasn’t for Valerie’s clear enjoyment of her husbands newly reveled dark side.

Valerie learns about the true Stefan, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

The next morning, more then a bit freaked out Valerie creeps out of bed leaving the Stefan sleeping, belt in hand, with an angelic smile on his face. The Channel is smooth and clam, perfect timing to head out toward England, but somehow Stefan manages to delay them yet again.

That evening upset about all that has happened, Valerie goes for a walk and is quickly joined by the Countess who slowly begins to seduce the young, and as we have seen so far, not all together bright young lady,. Meanwhile back up in their room, Stefan is surprised by Ilona who despite her own disgust for him quickly gets him into bed, and keeps him there giving the Countess the time she needs to work on Valerie.

Stefan is distracted by  Ilona, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Valerie begins to fall under the Countesses spell but eventually finds the will to pull away and head back towards the hotel.

Valerie and the Countess, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Meanwhile Stefan and Ilona are showering together when suddenly Ilona revels her hatred and disgust for Stefan, who then becomes aroused again, and tries to take Ilona in the shower, but instead only ends up tripping with her in his arms and impaling her on a straight razor killing her.

Ilona's fate, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Of course at that moment, just like a wife, Valerie arrives with the Countess on her heels, but instead of doing what any sane person would do, Valerie instead helps Stefan and the Countess dispose of Ilonas body.

Returning to the hotel after burying the body of the girl Stefan killed, Stefan is surprised when Valerie doesn’t want to be alone with him. The Countess tells Stefan she will take care of Valerie and sends Stefan off to his room.

Finally getting Valerie alone it isn’t too long before she finally achieves her goal of drinking Valerie’s blood and converting her into her new servant to replace Ilona.

The Countess takes Valerie under her wing, Daughter of Darkness (1971)

The next day Valerie returns to Stefan and tells him that they are through and that she never wants to see him again. Stefan, a prize dirtbag but not born under a rock has by this point figured out that the Countess Elizabeth Bathory is THE Countess Elizabeth Bathory, and decides to confront her , telling her that Valerie is his and that she needs to go find herself another slave instead.

Valerie at this point more loyal to the Countess then to Stefan grabs a large glass bowl and hits Stefan with it knocking him to the ground. Then Valerie and the Countess press the bowl into Stefan’s face suffocating him, until the bowl shatters, slicing into his face and killing him.

Stefan learns that sometimes woman bite back, Daughters of Darkness (1971) 

The new couple,Valerie and the Countess get rid of Stefan’s body and flee the hotel in the Countesses car. But just before the sun rises they crash, throwing the Countess from the window and impaling her on a tree branch, holding her until the sun rises and finishes the job.

The fate of the Countess, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

The final scene shows us Valerie, has replaced the Countess and is shown working on seducing a young couple of her own. Everything changes, everything remains the same.

Valerie, the new Countess,  Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Daughters of Darkness has some excellent performances, Delphine Seyrig shines as the Countess, giving us Marlene Dietrich by way of Bela Lugosi. Beautiful, with every word dripping in seductive tones, she is an almost irresistible presence. Andrea Rau as Ilona is also a stand out playing a puppet who desperately wants to get away from her mistress, but who is completely unable to do anything but instantly obey.

I wish I could say something nice about Danielle Quimet’s acting, but honestly while she is very pretty, she is about as wooden an actor as I have ever seen in a horror film not directed by Ed Wood.

John Karlen on the other hand is amazingly fun to watch.

Karlen, known to all fans of good schlock as the hapless Willie Loomis from televisions Dark Shadows, and later on as the beefy all American husband to Tyne Daly on Cagney & Lacy, plays Stefan, as all confidence and a cosmopolitan on the  surface, but is a total freak just barely underneath the surface. Watching him and Seyring get worked up together about torture and murder is not only a disturbing and odd scene it’s also wonderfully acted and great fun to watch.

Daughters of Darkness does deserve some criticism for what are some really glaring gay stereotypes. Not only of course the classic Lesbian Vampire motif, which as a good fan of exploitation I just can’t find it in me to criticize although I should,  but also Stefan’s highly stereotyped Gay “Mother”  who comes across as every uptight straight mans nightmare of the evil homo.

Still, I rather enjoyed the reality that in the end Valerie is probably way better off as a Vampire then she ever would have been as Stefan's loving wife.

Despite these flaws, the movie is beautifully shot , making good use of the flat Belgium countryside, the characters are weird and over the top, the story is downright twisted and it is a film that is well worth the time to watch.

A bit slow in places, but in the end, solid 70’s fun.

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