Daughters of Darkness is one of two lesbian-themed vintage vampire flicks being released by Blue Underground on May 27th. Like its sister release, Vampyres, Daughters of Darkness had previously been released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment, a company over which Bill Lustig reined before moving shop to Blue Underground. Rather than merely repackage the previous releases under a new label, Blue Underground has provided new transfers and supplements for both titles.
The 1971 film follows newlyweds Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) and Stefan (John Karlen;
Cagney and Lacey) in their trek across Europe. Stefan, determined to seize any possible opportunity to delay
reporting the news of his marriage to his family, opts for an extended stay in a luxurious Belgian hotel. While there, he and
his wife encounter the Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig). The concierge is convinced that the
Countess is some sort of immortal creature, a theory somewhat substantiated by her familiarity with the legendary murderess
whose name she shares and the unusual series of unsolved murders throughout the area. She and her bloodthirsty companion Ilona
(Andrea Rau) take a shining to Valerie, who's disconcerted by the Countess' presence as well as her husband's
escalating violence. The body count continues to rise, and their attempts to mask one inadvertently grisly death attracts the attention of
a retired police officer who's hunted Bathory in the past.
Daughters of Darkness appears to be widely considered among the best Eurohorror has to offer. Perhaps I set my expectations too high or maybe my tastes have been dulled from one Leprechaun movie too many, but I didn't find that the film lived up to the praise that is so frequently lavished upon it. The more lurid sequences haven't aged well -- content that may have elicited a collective gasp from an audience thirty-two years ago isn't assured to have the same effect decades later. Daughters of Darkness is often mentioned in the same breath as lesbian vampire flicks like Vampyres, and though there's quite a bit of subtext, the only imagery expressly seen on-screen is tame and exceedingly brief. The erotic horror label, or at least its first half, inspires considerably less debate, thanks to a handful of steamy sex scenes and the ample nudity from two of its female leads. Those picking up Daughters of Darkness simply for vampriric lesbianism will probably go away disappointed.
Daughters of Darkness isn't a particularly terrifying film either, lacking anything resembling suspense and featuring minimal gore. Still, the handful of on-screen deaths marked my favorite moments of the film, entertainingly silly and almost over-the-top in their ruddy execution. I can't think of another movie offhand that offers both death-by-punchbowl and harmless vampiric knitting. Daughters of Darkness is another fang-less vampire flick, though unlike Vampyres, there are supernatural underpinnings. Sunlight is more than just a mild inconvenience, and Bathory is shown to have no reflection. The rarely-coherent plot moves at an excruciatingly slow pace, culminating in a predictable finale of the Manos variety. The emphasis is on the imagery and little else, which may work well for those who dote over artful photography. Although seemingly everyone who's written about Daughters of Darkness gushes with praise, I found the film to be an interminable bore.
Video: Daughters of Darkness is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, improving upon its previous release on DVD from Anchor Bay with the addition of 16x9-enhancement. Unlike Vampyres, however, this new transfer fails to impress. Fine detail is lacking, and the more dimly-lit portions are murky and almost entirely indiscernable. That Daughters of Darkness is an extremely grainy film doesn't help matters any. Below is a shot from the film, admittedly somewhat of an extreme example. It has been cropped to fit the limited area for this review, but not zoomed, resized, or in any other way altered.
Colors are all over the map, varying greatly even within the confines of a single scene. Two examples are provided below, and in the first, some rather nasty bleeding can be spotted as well. Whether it's just poor color-timing, inconsistent lighting on the set, the use of multiple film stocks throughout, the varying materials that may have been used to assemble this transfer, or something else entirely, I have no idea.
Light speckling and thin vertical lines are visible throughout, particularly in the early moments of the film. Haloing and slight vertical jitter are also an intermittent nuisance, and tiny MPEG 'rainbows' appear infrequently. Though not a persistent problem, a couple of seconds suffer from moderate visual distortion around 37 minutes into the film.
Not having seen Daughters of Darkness before, for all I know, this presentation could mark the best the movie has ever looked on home video. Viewed outside of such context and taken on its own, Daughters of Darkness is a disappointment, especially compared to the stellar quality of so much of Blue Underground's other work.
Audio: Like Vampyres, Daughters of Darkness features a perfectly adequate Dolby Digital mono soundtrack. There are no pops, crackles, or related background noise to distract, and the film's dialogue remains intelligible for the duration. Commentaries aside, there are no alternate soundtracks, and subtitles and closed captions have not been provided.
Supplements: Daughters of Darkness includes a pair of audio commentaries. The first, newly produced for this DVD, features director Harry Kümel and is moderated by David Gregory. Given Kümel's vivid recollections of particular shots, camera setups, and assorted technical notes, one would hardly known from a casual listen that more than three decades have passed since filming wrapped. There is an onslaught of information, with very few pauses of note in between. Among the topics covered are the physical impossibilities of one sex scene, the differences in approaches to lighting in various countries, how Kümel became attached to the project by commercial-minded producers, the variety of international actors collected by the various countries that were responsible for the film's production, the movie's popularity with pot-smokers, the director's thoughts on horror films from the era and the lesbian vampire flicks that followed in Daughters' wake, and...hell, Kümel even makes a hotel recommendation for travelers in Belgium. Excellent all the way around.
The disc's second commentary is a carryover from the Anchor Bay release, featuring actor John Karlen and moderated by David Del Valle. From the non-stop discussion and laughter, the passion these two men have for the film really comes across in this commentary. Karlen notes that certain secrets related to Daughters of Darkness were kept from him during filming, such as the transgender phone call home. He provides some explanations for the odder bits of the film whenever possible, though sometimes Karlen is at a loss. His response to the movie's most famous shot, Andrea Rau's unusual pose on a balcony, is "I don't know what it means except it's great." Karlen provides extensive praise for the cast and crew, discusses how he was frequently mistaken as a European actor from his performance in the film, how the thought of exposing himself brought him on-board, and that certain shots from the movie made unexpected appearances in gay magazines.
"Daughter of Darkness" is an eight-minute interview with star Andrea Rau. The interview is conducted in German and includes optional English subtitles. Rau speaks about the nudity in Daughters of Darkness, working with director Harry Kümel and co-star Delphine Seyrig, and even the composition of shots in the film. The interview, like most Blue Underground product, is enhanced for widescreen televisions.
The "Poster and Still Gallery", like the other Blue Underground releases I've caught, is neatly divided into various sections. There are nine shots from a UK press book, six behind the scenes stills, thirty-three assorted stills, eighteen shots of marketing from various countries, and five shots from a film festival pamphlet. On the promotional end of things are a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen theatrical trailer (2:10) and four echo-echo-echo-riddled thirty-second radio spots.
Daughters of Darkness sports a set of 16x9-enhanced animated menus. The insert card offers artwork from an Italian one-sheet, with the disc's twenty-five chapter stops listed on the flipside.
Conclusion: Seemingly everyone speaks reverently of Daughters of Darkness. I found the movie to be a total bore, so much so that it took a concerted effort to keep from nodding off. Established fans of the film may be interested in the anamorphic widescreen enhancement as well as the new supplements, but I wouldn't recommend it as a blind purchase to the uninitiated. Rent It.
Related Links: Blue Underground's Daughters of Darkness page includes a theatrical trailer in Quicktime format. There are a variety of web pages dedicated to the real-life Elizabeth Bathory, including this biography.