REVIEW: DVD Release: Daughters Of Darkness

Film: Daughters Of Darkness
Release date: 30th August 2010
Certificate: 18
Running time: 96 mins
Director: Harry Kuemel
Starring: Paul Esser, John Karlen, Delphine Seyrig, Daniele Quimet, George Jamin
Genre: Erotica/Horror
Studio: Optimum
Format: DVD
Country: Belgium/France/West Germany

Newlyweds Stefan and Valerie are celebrating their spontaneous marriage in Childen Manor, Ostend, Belgium, when things take a turn for the worse, and certainly for the bizarre. A plot thick with surreal and thrilling events; Harry Kümel screens a rather original (if not still a little predictable) take on a vampire horror surrounding a ghoulishly grim honeymoon with a difference!

Everything seems to be running smoothly, and in the normal post marital fashion for honeymooners Stefan and Valerie - even in the middle of winter, at a seaside resort, they appear perfectly happy as though nothing could spoil their joyous bliss. This is until they realise they are not the only guests staying in Childen Manor. The Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory and her faithful assistant Ilona are also occupying a suite close by.

From here on in, strange episodes come to pass, arising suspicion between Stefan and Valerie, and the Concierge Pierre, who swears the Countess has not changed or aged one bit in the forty years since he last set eyes on her in the Manor as a young boy.

News reports of sadistic occurrences begin to emerge: three young girls, all virgins, and all patently beautiful, have been murdered by way of blood drainage in close by towns, leaving not a shred of evidence in order to begin looking for a perpetrator. Stefan, too, begins to act warily different, and even more so when the two mystifying women are present, expressing a deeper interest in the dead, and especially for those of the recent corpses.

It is increasingly obvious that the Countess and her assistant are up to no good, but are noticeably skilled in covering their tracks. However, when Elizabeth gets carried away one night in an oddly pleasurable description of her ancestors’ means of claiming eternal youth via killing and drinking the blood of copious virgins, there is no doubt who the true slayer is. The question is, will Stefan and Valerie live to enjoy a lengthy married life together, or will they be the next victims of the ferocious Countess and her partner in crime Ilona?

The performances are well delivered, despite one or two slightly over dramatic scenes from Valerie, and a few unclear audio moments, helping us feel a part of the action. It is possible to feel afraid for the fated couple, but, simultaneously, feel empowered at the idea of holding the control and beauty of Elizabeth.

An interesting element of cinematography is used between scenes, where the screen is filled with the colour red, whilst an accompaniment of horror harmonies is played before the next scene is quickly cut to - indicating the vast bloodshed to be expected. However, despite a couple of nice scenes in Bruges, there aren’t many interesting landscape shots or captivating screen fillers, as most of the film is shot inside the hotel or outside in the dark of night. Besides the pretty faces, there’s little beauty on screen.

The idea of sexual yearning is present throughout, and portrayed between Valerie and Stefan, as well as Ilona and Stefan, but there is an emphasis upon lesbianism, too, with a seemingly sexual relationship portrayed between the Countess and Ilona, and also amid Countess and Valerie nearing the end: “Did you see her skin, her lips?”

It must be said that although the film is a fine piece of cinema for its time, and would certainly have made an impact in the 1970s, it reveals its age in certain scenes with the predictable lines and plot developments - for example, a vampire’s struggle for eternal youth and what this leads them to do to mere humans, and the sexualisation of such characters and their prey. In saying this, the film does hold surprising plot twists, which are admirable and add to the intriguing quality Kümel has acquired and displayed. The ending, in particular, deserves credit for the way in which it is shot and revealed.

Vampires, virgins and violence: the perfect recipe for a fierce and haunting piece of terror fuelled cinema. For a 1970s horror film, Harry Kümel comes out on top, but in comparison to a horror film of today’s standards, Daughters Of Darkness simply doesn’t measures up. VMF

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