Daughters of Darkness – 1971

Director Harry Kümel
Screenplay Harry Kümel, J.J. Amiel, Pierre Drouot
Starring Delphine Seyrig, Danielle Ouimet, John Karlen, Andrea Rau

A young couple on their honeymoon check into a nice hotel in Ostend, Belgium during the offseason. Stefan (Karlen) is reluctant to tell his mother about the marriage. Valerie (Ouimet) wonders why. Next door in the hotel, during the middle of the night, Elizabeth Báthory (Seyrig) checks in and immediately takes interest in the young couple. Elizabeth is exotic and seemingly hasn’t aged in 40 year; or maybe closer to 360 years.

Coincidentally, there are a series of murders happening in Belgium at the same time. Who is committing these murders? If you don’t know this, take a closer look at the title.

This is another in the long line of titillating vampire horror films of the early ’70’s. This one attempts to put a little bit of a sheen on all of the debauchery. Every line and every off hours meeting in the hotel lobby is laden with double-meaning in some debased dance of sex and death. For the viewer, it is a chance to witness a naked tryst, even if each line of dialogue is delivered with all of the grace of pornography.

The problem is that none of this is interesting in the slightest. Sure, I would love to see evidence of Báthory, her connection to vampire lore and what it means that she’s slumming outside of her native Hungary. Instead, we’re given a story similar to Indecent Proposal, someone old wants to feed off of a young couple in an awkward dance of death.

If there was something about Báthory, it’s disguised with broken English, costumes from Nazi Era Germany and a couple too stupid to deserve to live hanging on her every word. If there is something positive to say, Ouimet is as gorgeous as she is insipid. It’s not clear what she sees in her newlywed husband who looks like Benny and Björn from ABBA.

The story unfolds painfully. There is absolutely no charisma to be found anywhere on screen. This is something essential when telling the story of a vampire. Sequins and candlelight dinners in an empty hotel are not enough to bring the lambs to a willing sacrifice. We have to understand what it is that draws the innocent to their own slaughter.

The best one can say about Daughters of Darkness is the actors are doing what the script tells them to do even when it makes no sense.

One can understand why Criterion would show these films during the month of October. They do at least have historical value as a representation of how the X-Rating pushed mainstream films to a new level of what it conceived as eroticism. Still the time period represents a low period of cinematic achievement, even if its darkness gave way to the dawn of a wonderful new world of film.

For this viewer, it will be remembered as representative of the time when teenagers looked at TV Guide for what was playing on basic cable at 3am. If it had nudity, violence, gore and strong sexual content, then figured it might be worth a shot.

(* out of *****)

From Ebert’s original review:

“The moral is, never take on a vampire with a car if all you’ve got is a bicycle.”

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