One of numerous films based on the legend of Countess Bathory (who has also inspired numerous musical tributes – think Venom! - and comic book series as well), Harry Kumel's Daughters Of Darkness (also known as Les Levres Rouge or The Red Lips) is definitely one of the more unique entries. While it plays with a lot of the same themes and ideas as other 'lesbian vampire' films such as those made by Jean Rollin and Jess Franco, Kumel's film distinguishes itself thanks to its Belgian locations, its casting and its cinematography (it's also one of the rare European genre imports of the era that was shot in English).
Valerie (lovely French-Canadian actress, Danielle Ouimet) and her brand new husband Stefan (John Karlen of Dark Shadows) have just been wed and they're off to celebrate at a picturesque seaside town where they hope to catch some rest and relaxation. The summer is over and the tourism has died down but while they're there they meet another couple, two women – a Hungarian Countess named Elizabeth (Delphine Seyrig of Luis Bunuel's The Discrete Charm Of The Bourgeoisie) and her servant, Ilona (German sex pot Andrea Rau).
As time passes on the trip, Valerie comes to learn the hard way that Stefan is actually a bit of an ass and that he's into slapping girls around. After this happens, it leaves Valerie wide open and Elizabeth, sensing this, moves in to seduce her. As Valerie's relationship with Elizabeth intensifies she learns of her family's history and later finds out that Stefan, who has been hesitant to bring his lovely new bride home to meet his mother, has been hiding some rather dubious history from her. Meanwhile, Ilona has been making eyes at Stefan, who is finding her increasingly hard to resist or even ignore. Soon enough, someone winds up dead and it all hits the proverbial fan so to speak.
While the storyline here isn't going to wow anyone with its originality (it's little different from countless other lesbian vampire films), it is so well directed and unfolds with such dreamlike pacing and atmosphere that it's hard not to get sucked into the strange world that Daughters Of Darkness lies open in front of us. Danielle Seyrig steals the show as Countess Bathory and despite the fact that she doesn't have long protruding fangs we know who she is long before poor Valerie does. She has a very glamorous and rather timeless look to her that makes her perfect for the part and she contrasts nicely against the raw sensuality that Andrea Rau brings to her part and the naive charm that Ouimet offers the film. Karlen is quite good as the bastard of a husband and he too does a fine job with what is really not all that remarkable a script. The four main participants have got great chemistry together and when you couple this with the extremely stylish direction and lush European locations used for the film you've got a really interesting movie.
What might put some off is the pacing of the film. While it works perfectly in the context of the film and the atmosphere that it creates much of the movie is pretty weird and it might not work for those unaccustomed to films from the genre. That being said, for seasoned Euro-cult fans, it's already been well established that this film is a bit of a classic of its kind and it still maintains that eerie, other worldly quality even after repeat viewings.
As with the previous DVD release from Blue Underground (and Anchor Bay before them), this is the full strength uncut version of the film which runs approximately ten minutes longer than butchered counterpart which contained a lot less nudity.The DVD
The 1.66.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this new DVD blows the old release out of the water. Down converted from a new high definition master it has much more detail and much better color definition than the previous incarnations and the image is much sharper and appears to have better contrast as well. Some of the filtered shots still look a little on the muddy side and aren't quite as detailed as the rest of the film but even these do look better than they have before. Print damage has been all but completely eliminated save for some mild grain in scenes and things come up looking really, really nice on this release.Sound:
The English language Dolby Digital Mono sound mix isn't reference quality but it does sound quite good for an older low budget exploitation import. There aren't any problems with hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced from start to finish. Don't expect much in the way of range but there aren't any issues here worth complaining about. No alternate language options, subtitles or closed captions have been provided.Extras:
First up, in terms of extra features, are two commentaries both of which may be familiar to long time fans of the film. The first track is with director Harry Kumel moderated by David Gregory and it appeared on the previous Blue Underground release of the film. This is a great discussion as Gregory obviously knows the film well enough to ask the right questions and Kumel seems only too happy to oblige him as he talks about shooting the movie in Belgium, his personal asthetic as a filmmaker and why he chose to shoot some of the scenes the way that he did. He covers casting and talks about his working relationships with most of the cast members and he even covers some of the editing briefly. It's a pretty active talk with a lot of good information that fans of the film will definitely want to take the time to listen to if they haven't already heard it from the previous release.
The second commentary features actor John Karlen and writer David DelValle and it was included on the Anchor Bay DVD release from some years back. There's a really pleasant sense of humor present throughout this talk and both participants seem to be having a blast examining and discussing Karlen's involvement in this movie and his career in general. We hear about his scenes with a few of the other performers and how certain issues cropped up on set and what it was like working with the film's director. It's not quite as flat out informative as the first track but it's just as enjoyable.
In addition to the commentary tracks, Blue Underground has included two featurettes, the first of which is the twenty-minute Locations Of Darkness where Kumel and his producer, Pierre Drouot, return to the two hotels that were used as the location for the feature. Spread out in here too are some interview clips where the two men discuss their roles in the film and how they feel about the picture. This is a pretty interesting segment as we learn why certain spots were chosen for certain scenes and how the two different hotels were made into one singular hotel for the film.
The second featurette is the fifteen-minute Playing The Victim which is, as one might guess from the title, an interview with Danielle Ouimet who has absolutely no problem at all reliving her experiences on set for the camera. She talks frankly and honestly about working with the cast and crew and about shooting in Belgium in addition to how she got her start in the movie industry and how she feels about Daughters Of Darkness.
Carried over from Blue Underground's previous DVD release is an eight-minute interview with Andrea Rau entitled Daughter Of Darkness she speaks in subtitled German about working on the movie and about her character as well as what it was like working on some of the more unusual and erotic scenes in the film.
Rounding out the extra features on this disc are the American theatrical trailer, four radio spots, and a nice still gallery in addition to menus and chapter stops for the feature itself.
Included for a limited time only as a second disc with this release is Vicente Aranda's The Blood Spattered Bride. First things first – despite the fact that the art on the disc is different, the contents of this disc are completely identical to the out of print Anchor Bay release of this film. That means the transfer is the same as are the extra features as is the audio mix.
The film tells the tale of a young, recently married woman named Susan (Maribel Martin) who tends to have strange fever dreams where she's raped while her new husband (Simon Andreu) isn't around. She figures that it's got something to do with the hotel that the pair are calling home during their trip and so he pulls a few strings and before you know it they're off to stay at the home of a distant relative of his. After their arrival they notice some odd things around the house and soon enough Susan starts having strange dreams though this time they're about a woman clad in a long white gown.
When her husband goes for a walk along the beach he comes across, completely by chance one would assume, a nude woman who is buried in the sand and breathing out of a snorkel. When he digs her up and takes her back to the house it comes out that she's a relative of his, Mircalla Karnstein (Alexandra Bastedo). Oddly enough, Susan recognizes her as the woman that she's been dreaming about and soon she finds herself under Mircalla's control and embarking on a killing spree!
The Blood Spattered Bride is a pretty twisted film with a lot of nice atmosphere and a considerable amount of weirdness going on. It makes for a great double feature with Daughters Of Darkness as it has a similarly dream like atmosphere and a really weird vibe going on throughout it's running time. It's got style to spare and a few grisly murder set pieces keep things moving along nicely. This is the full length restored version of the movie and it contains significantly more violence and nudity than the eighty minute domestic version that was released on VHS by MPI before the Anchor Bay restoration. The film is presented in a nice 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that shows some wear and doesn't look quite so hot in the darker scenes but is otherwise quite good. The only extra feature, aside from the menu screens and the chapter selection option, is the film's double feature trailer where it's been paired with Paul Leder's 1974 film, I Dismember Mama.Final Thoughts:
Daughters Of Darkness is a fantastic blend of horror and eroticism all wrapped up in some stylish photography and enhanced by a really great cast. Blue Underground's re-release looks better than any previous release the film has received to date and the wealth of extra features both old and new (not to mention the included second feature) make this one highly recommended.