Thursday, January 12, 2012

DVD Review: Daughters of Darkness (1971)

If you're anything like me, you probably stayed up way past your bedtime and watched the late night horrors...at least until you fell asleep on the sofa or got dragged to bed. I saw the opening half hour of an endless number of movies, some I've caught since, while others have eluded me. One such movie is Daughters of Darkness.

I'm guessing it was a late night showing on Channel 4 in the 80s, this 'erotic' (or 'arty') horror probably wouldn't make the cut for ITV or the BBC, both of which preferred a bit of Hammer for their late slots. Either way, all these years on, the opening 20 minutes of this English language Belgian horror, the work of director Harry Kumell, was instantly familiar to me. I think that says something.

The story is slightly familiar too, based on the Elizabeth Bathory story (also used by Hammer for Countess Dracula in the same year), it kicks off with a pair of hipsters, Stefan (John Karlen) and Valerie (Daniele Ouimet), who have just got married and on their way to meet Stefan's 'mother' in England (make of that as you will). However, the loving couple (who are seen 'loving' in the opening scene on the train) stop off in Ostend to break up the journey. It's a bad decision.

Not that you'd think that at first. The hotel is the stunning (and real) Thermae Palace, looking even more imposing in the out of season seaside weather. They're the only guests and get the best suite...it's all too perfect. Of course it is, this is a horror movie.

Not long after, a car pulls up outside. A huge 1930s number driven by the striking Ilona (Andrea Rau), with Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig) in the back seat. As they enter, the elderly concierge has a double take - he's seen the Countess at the hotel before...when he was a small boy. How could this be? I think you've guessed why.

The papers are full of stories of young girls being drained of blood and a retired police detective / vampire hunter is taking an interest in the countess. But the countess and Ilona are more interested in the newly-weds. It's an obsession that leads to the break-up of both couples...not to mention sex, sadism, death and more than a couple of unexpected twists and turns.

If Biba had branched out into movies in the early 70s, this is pretty much the kind of thing you would have expected it to make - 30-style glamour meets art school cool meets eroticism and vampirism. Except this is no 'Hammer' vampire flick. The vampires here are laid back and stylish, with their bloodlusts operating more in your mind than on the screen. It's a subtle take on the vampire concept and it works well. No reflection in the mirror, the fear of water, the vampire hunter, it's all here, just not in your face.

That said, you'll find as many holes in the plot as you will in a teabag if you care to look closely and the ending is more than a little silly, both visually and in terms of the plot. I'll not give it away, but you'll certainly be saying to yourself 'how could she not see that coming after all those years on the road?'
But you know what? I don't care. In numerous ways, Daughters of Darkness is a treat for the eyes and one of the most stylish horror flicks you'll ever encounter. Ok, it can be a bit too arty and some scenes might not be suitable to watch with an easily-shocked relative. But you'll be drawn in from the opening frames and at the end, you just might be looking up reservations for the Thermae Palace. But if someone pulls up outside in a 1930s saloon...check out. Quickly.
Find out more about the DVD at the Amazon website

No comments: