Friday, October 11, 2013

1971 - Daughters of Darkness

Daughters of Darkness (1971)

(Saw this great little film again and realized the original post needed a serious rewrite)

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 RauDelphine 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.

Trailer for Daughters of Darkness (1971)

While far from traditional Transylvania, Daughters of Darkness is an enjoyable deviated little horror film, beautifully shot with style and just the right amount of undead kink for a fun night at the movies. To modern audiences, the film certainly suffers from a deeply flawed dependence on traditional, 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, good manners are an illusion and nobody is going to get away unscathed. 

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

It's the "Swingin' 70's" as we are introduced to Stefan (Karlen), a fashionable young American adopted into a wealthy British family and his new bride, the beautiful and exceptionally naive, even for a horror movie, Valerie (Quimet). The young lovers, enjoying their honeymoon, are meandering across Europe, making a casual route toward home. Not incidentally, a homecoming that will result in Valerie's introduction to Stefan's family, a meeting that Stefan is going to some lengths to delay. Stefan tries to figure out his options, while putting off the inevitable just a while longer, in the mean time, the two spend their days making love and seeing the sights of the continent.

Original poster, Les Levres Rouges (Daughters of Darkness)

Eventually the two reach the channel coast, where much to Stefan's relief, the weather is bad, the sea is rough and the two are forced to hold off their return to London for a few more days. Checking into a nearby luxury hotel, during their off season, empty except for the pair and a few servants. Stefan makes a show in front of Valerie, telling the porter to send a telegram to his family in Britain, while quietly slipping the man cash and a note informing the him to tell the pair that there had been no reply. 

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

Later that same evening, a well preserved antique Rolls Royce races across the countryside, speeding down the flat plain of the of farmland, hugging the coast, eventually drawing up to the hotel. It's passengers, a beautiful, mysterious Countess, glamorously dressed in 1920’s fashions with platinum blonde hair to match as well as her companion, a beautiful dark haired young girl.

The Countess and Ilona, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

When the Countess, with 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. With wide, stunned eyes, he is 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.

He swears he saw her before, when he was a boy, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Never the less, there she stands.

As young, beautiful as she was 30 years before.

As the two are taken to their rooms, the Countess and Ilona are briefly introduced to Stefan and Valerie, with the Countess taking a noticeable interest in the young pair, and especially Valerie.

Delphine Seyrig, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

The next day finds the newlyweds wandering around the town of Bruges when they come across a crowd of people watching a crime scene. A young girl has been murdered, her body found drained of blood, the fourth victim killed in the same was in as many days. 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 for the first time the young woman begins to wonder if there isn't more to her husband then she first suspected. But one thing is for sure, what she sees, disturbs her.

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

Back at the hotel, the Countess sits in the parlor, biding her time knitting, surrounded by her balls of yarn, like a spider spinning a thread. Obviously distressed, Ilona approaches the Countess, telling her that she is leaving, that she cannot stand to stay and help replace herself.

Building her spiders web, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

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

Like a favorite pet, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Upon their return from the village, the Countess invites Valerie and Stefan to join her for dinner that evening. It's a strange affair, where after some small talk the conversation turns to the horrors committed by the first Elizabeth Bathory. As Stefan and the Countess talk about the the tortures and death caused by the original Countess, both Stefan and the Countess become visibly aroused, while Valerie looks on horrified at the sight of the her husband and this strange woman, both in sexual ecstasy telling stories of burning and dismemberment.

Stefan and the Countess, Daughter of Darkness (1971)

Valerie eventually has enough of the conversation and flees to her room, just as a local police officer arrives to ask both Stefan and the Countess a few basic questions. After a shower, the young woman is feeling better, but her calm is shattered when she opens the balcony drapes, and is frighted at the appearance of a nude and disoriented Ilona standing at the window.

Valerie, is frightened by the sudden appearance of a nude and disoriented Ilona, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Hearing Valerie's screams Stefan runs toward their room, but by the time he arrives Ilona has fled. Valerie is quite upset, that is until the Countess explains to Valerie and Stefan, that Ilona suffers from seizures, and sometimes loses control.

Deep down, neither Stefan or Valerie truly accepts the excuse, but still manage to do their best to be an understanding couple. With Valerie's scare forgiven, the two bid the Countess goodnight.

Stefan and Valerie, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

The following morning, Stefan finally works up the courage to call home and talks to his mother, a nightmare stereotype of the “dangerous” queen, played like a cross between Joel Grey's MC from Cabaret, and the guy they always told you to watch out for in those second grade, watch out for stranger videos.

Never the less, in as kind a way as possible Stefan’s Mother tells his son that there is no way that his new wife is going to be ready to meet the family, and that they were probably not going to have much use for her. So that the best thing Stefan could do was to come home, and introduce his wife to his mother, their friends and very possibly the latex clad creature they keep in a box in the basement.

Fons Rademakers as Mother, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Clearly being welcomed into this family might not be what a new bride is expecting.

Angry after his phone call, and still stuck on the violent conversation from the night before, Stefan turns to his wife, and pulling off his belt begins beating and then raping her. Valerie discovers in the most horrible way possible that the man she is in love with is a fantasy, and that she is married to a monster.

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

The next morning, bruised, emotionally crushed, Valerie creeps out of bed leaving the Stefan sleeping, belt in hand, an angelic smile on his face. Looking out the window she sees that the Channel is smooth and clam, England awaits.

And yet the now cheerful Stefan decides to delay the pair for another day.

The next evening Valerie slips out of the hotel on a walk to consider her options, but is quickly joined by the Countess who with a combination of sympathy and humor begins to seduce the young, and as we have seen so far, not all together bright young lady.

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

Back up in their room, an angry Stefan is surprised by Ilona who despite her own deep and obvious disgust for the man, she gives herself to him, stratifying his every sexual need. And all to give the Countess, time to seduce Valerie, and in the end replace Ilona.

The Countess is a cunning seductress and slowly Valerie finds herself falling under the Countesses spell. Yet in the end something inside her tells her to flee and the two head back to the hotel.

Publicity still, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

At the same time, Valerie is deciding to return to the hotel, Stefan and Ilona are showering together when suddenly the woman finds the strength to assert her will, leaving Ilonar free to express her complete disgust and hatred of Stefan. Unfortunately for Ilona though, this confession simply arouses Stefan, who tries to force himself on Ilona inside of the shower.

Grabbing Stefan's straight razor Ilona strikes at Stefan cutting him, but then she trips, falling directly onto the razor almost instantly killing herself.

Ilona's fate, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Of course as fate would have it, no sooner does Stefan have a dead girl on his floor when his wife gets home, with the Countess hot on her heels. Visiably upset but still trying to be a good wife, Valerie ignores all common sense and and self-preservation, and helps Stefan dispose of the body.

After burying Ilona in the middle of a field, the couple return to the hotel where Stefan is noticeably surprised to find that after his raping her, cheating on her and then killing the woman he was having sex with that Valerie really does not really want to be alone with him.

Convincing the upset Stefan that Valerie just needs a bit of time to calm down from whatever they had been fighting about, she sends him back to his room to clean-up.

Finding herself alone with Valerie it isn't long before the Countess has drained the girl to the point of death converting her into a replacement for Ilona.

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

The next evening, a changed Valerie returns to the hotel and Stefan telling him that she is leaving him and never wants to see him ever again.

Stefan, a prize dirtbag but not born under a rock has figures out that the Countess Elizabeth Bathory is THE Countess Elizabeth Bathory, and that Valerie is under her power and decides to do something about it. Bluntly telling the Countess that Valerie is his and she can go find another slave.

Having heard enough, and having given her loyalty to the Countess, Valerie grabs a large glass bowl from a table and hits Stefan in the head with it knocking him to the ground.

Valerie and the Countess press the bowl into Stefan’s face suffocating him, struggling for several minutes until the bowl breaks and Stefan dies.

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

The new couple hide Stefan in the same field as Ilona and flee the hotel in the Countesses Rolls Royce, racing to find cover before the sun rises. But it is a night of finality and as the sun rises, the Rolls crashes, and while Valerie survives, the Countess is thrown int the branch of a tree, piercing her heart and returning Bathory to the grave.

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

As the film ends, Valerie,now much wiser, much more experienced, and also the new "Queen of the Dammed" walks with a handsome young couple fated to be her new slaves and protectors. She looks briefly into the camera and smiles, confident in her new power.

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

Okay, I really liked Daughters of Darkness. I know I wrote about it several years ago, but after a second viewing I am even more impressed. Kumel moves with a slow, deliberate pace, but somehow the story never seems to drag. The cinematography by Eduard van der Enden is soft and lovely. And Delphine Seyrig shines in her performance 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.

Meanwhile both Andrea Rau and John Karlen are almost as interesting as the the Countesses unwilling servant, and a hero who is anything but.

Publicity shot of Andrea Rau and John Karlen, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

In my original review of the film I wrote that Danielle Quimet’s acting, was as wooden a performance by an actor as I have seen in a horror film this side of a film by Ed Wood, and honestly my view has not changed that much, and yet at the same time I found myself much more sympathetic to Quimet's Valerie then I did in the initial screening. Not perfect but at the same time Quimet is does a great job of showing the typical 1970's wife doing anything she can to please her man, right up to the minute when she got enlightened and moved out.

Or in this case killed him with a candy dish.

Danielle Quimet, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

John 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 while clearly a complete bastard. Stefan is bad news from the moment we meet him until the moment he goes to his end and Karlen revels in the sadism of the roll.

John Karlen, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

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.

Andrea Rau, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Daughters of Darkness does deserve 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.

And yet, there is a David Lynch type quality to Mother, where while the character is obviously cruel, obviously twisted, he still has love for his son and tries to give him the best advice he can. 

For the 1971 crowd, scary, yet seductive, how about today?

Despite the stereotypes, the final message of Daughters of Darkness turns out to be a pretty empowering.

Valerie is strong, happy and in control of her life. It is obvious in the end, that Valerie is way better off as a Vampire then she ever would have been as Stefan's wife.

A nice selection of images from the film, set to the original soundtrack

Despite some serious flaws, Daughters of Darkness is beautifully shot, makes great use of the flat Belgium countryside, the characters are weird and over the top, the story is downright twisted.

A film that is well worth the time to watch.

The Countess, Daughters of Darkness (1971)

1970's stylishness at it's finest.


  1. New Diet Taps into Pioneering Concept to Help Dieters Lose 15 Pounds within Just 21 Days!

  2. I sent Johnny Karlen a link to this blog.

  3. In late night television broadcasts, this movie strongly imprinted on me as an impressionable teenager - such movies were as close to 'pornography' as my (pre-internet) generation could readily access.

    Watching it again as a (supposedly) mature adult, it is still a powerful work of art - archetypically European, with as much of the intensity coming from the unsaid as from dialogue actually spoken by acting talent of varying believability.