One for the goths Daughters of Darkness just oozes an understated gothic charm which instantly captured my heart. In a movie which my co-blogger described as ‘too arty’ for his tastes, I found that the stylistic quality of this film really made it for me, and I can see why it has become a cult favourite in recent times. Directed by Harry Kumel this is a Belgium horror affair with a strong European cast. The film was originally released in France under the title Les Lèvres rouges, and in Belgium as Le Rouge aux lèvres, both which translate to ‘Red Lips’, titles befitting the erotic nature of this film.
The story follows honeymooning couple Stefan and Valerie, who miss their connection train to England and decide to stay the night in a seafront Grand Hotel on the Belgium coast. The hotel has no other patrons apart from the Countess Elizabeth Bathory and her delightfully gothic looking companion IIona who on arrival shortly after the couple immediately take a shine to the newly-weds. What follows is a stunning depiction of a tale of obsession and self-destruction. Stefan is not all that he seems, carrying a dark nature which the naive Valerie has missed up until now, and the Countess sees something in the couple that she would like to take as her own. Valerie is desperate to meet Stefan’s mother in England but it seems that Stefan has not been exactly truthful about his family background, and while Valerie pushes to continue with their journey Stefan finds ways to stall them thus keeping them in the hotel. As Stefan and Valerie struggle with their new relationship and the unwanted attentions of the Countess matters start to build and it becomes apparent that nothing good can come out of the couples stay at this beautiful seafront resort. Desperate to get away Valerie is trapped like a fly in the web of a black widow spider.
The casting in this film is spot on, with all of the main characters being as glamorous and visually appealing as one another. Delphine Seyrig as the Countess looks as if she has stepped out of 1940’s Hollywood, carrying a rare sense of timeless appeal. Her depiction of the obsessed Countess Bathory is fabulously suffocating. Seyrig plays the role effortlessly, exuding her female power all the way to the movies inevitable dark climax, you know that anyone who gets into this woman’s clutches hasn’t got a chance in hell of escape. Yet the role is played out in a fantastically understated way, which makes it all the more effective. John Karlen as Stefan, better known for his work in the tv series Dark Shadows, carries a dreadful and foreboding air which makes him brilliantly detestable. The moody undercurrent he portrays ensures he is perfectly revolting in every way. Unknown Danielle Ouimet as Valerie gives a solid depiction of a misguided and vulnerable young woman on the verge of crisis, very blonde, very pretty in a 70’s French model sort of way you cannot help feel sorry for her and the predicament she has found herself in as she floats around like a pawn in the evil game which plays out. While German actress Andrea Rau as IIona is beautifully gothic in her portrayal of the fragile and desperate secretary to the Countess Bathory both a predator and a victim. There is not an extensive cast in this movie, which adds to its claustrophobic nature perfectly, with a large portion of scenes playing out in the form of intense dialogue between the various protagonists.
One thing I loved about this movie was it was so moody and dark, slow burning, erotic without being tasteless and building perfectly to its chilling climax. If you are looking for some all out fang action here you will not find it. In fact the Countess does not get her fangs out once, her nature being given away by the hotel concierge who remembers her from years ago and comments on her lack of aging. Neither is it particularly gory, or kill based, building more like a drama with a distinctly dark edge. I found it a worthwhile investment but others may not be so patient. I think it will be one of those films that either grabs you or doesn’t but if you allow yourself to be wrapped up in it it certainly pays off.
In contrast to the foreboding nature of this film the sets are filled with light and air. The hotel looks spectacular and there is a lot of interplay of colours, red and white to be precise to depict certain intentions of the characters. While the rooms are spacious and airy the characters still manage to capture the sense that the walls are closing in during their interactions as the plot unfolds. The outdoor scenes intersect perfectly with this being shot to portray dark foggy nights, a far cry away from the brightly lit reception and rooms of the Grand Hotel. I found this highly stylized way of shooting gave the film a sense of true class which fitted perfectly with the portrayal of the respective characters. Even in the white interiors of the Grand Hotel the movie upheld its obvious gothic subtext while the choice of sets brought an edge of lavish glamour to the proceedings.
Daughters of Darkness is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea that is for sure. But if you are a lover of the vampire as the erotic there is going to be some appeal. The film had a strong feminine feel to it with the female cast outnumbering the male, and the distinctly feminist portrayal of the Countess. To quote from Wikipedia Camille Paglia writes that,
“A classy genre of vampire film follows a style I call psychological high Gothic. It begins in Coleridge‘s medieval Christabel and its descendants, Poe‘s Ligeia and James‘s The Turn of the Screw. A good example is Daughters of Darkness, starring Delphine Seyrig as an elegant lesbian vampire. High gothic is abstract and ceremonious’.
I would have to say I agree as one thing this movie does emanate is class, high gothic seems the perfect way to describe it. There is horror to be found here but mostly on a psychological level with a strong sense of dread building as the plot develops. I must say this title has gone into my list of personal favourites in the vampire genre, but for anyone looking for a quick horror fix it will not come from this film. Certainly one for when you are looking for something a bit more challenging.