One of a handful early of 1970s films dealing with the true-life exploits of Countess Elisabeth Bathory (Peter Sasdy's COUNTESS DRACULA and Jorge Grau's THE FEMALE BUTCHER being other prime examples), DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS is a Belgium production directed by film teacher Harry Kümel, and his only one shot in English. This is the second time the film has appeared on DVD, and Blue Underground's edition is definitely worth purchasing even if you still own the older Anchor Bay one.
Young couple Valerie and Stefan (Canadian actress Danielle Ouimet and John Karlen of "Dark Shadows" and "Cagney & Lacey" fame) are a young honeymooning couple staying at a seaside hotel during the off season. It is there that they encounter the Hungarian Countess Bathory (Delphine Seyrig) and her companion Ilona (beautiful Andrea Rau) who become the only other visitors to the hotel. The Countess tells the couple of her ancestor's blood-soaked activities, but she is actually the perpetuator in question, living on through the ages and retaining a youthful appearance. The Countess becomes passionately obsessed with Valerie, and slowly woos her away from her husband who in turn is seduced by Ilona. The couple appears unstable to begin with, but having a third party interfering leads to accidental death, followed by further deviance and doomed sexual ecstasy.
Kümel's dreamlike erotic vampire film is a alluring piece of art with a slight camp edge to it. Not as bizarre as Jean Rollin's vampiric indulgences, and not nearly as commercial as the Hammer films of the period, its atypical style is nonetheless triumphant. Seyrig's smiling but fangless baroness is played to perfection, looking like a 30s movie queen, and quite credible as being immortal. The acting and dialog is sharp throughout, as Kümel lets the film focus on four main quirky characters, with several outside eccentrics to frequently lend to the scheme of things. The Hotel Astoria in Brussels provides a landscape of isolation and death, and the camerawork is remarkable throughout. Not the traditional lesbian vampire movie in the over exploitive sense, the film still has enough nudity and sexual tension to classify it as such. Slowly paced and thinly plotted, this one is not for gorehounds, but it does boast three of the most unique death scenes on celluloid, laced with comic book violence.
As stated before, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS was previously available as a DVD release from Anchor Bay, one of their earliest in fact. Blue Underground's transfer is culled from the same source material, but the results here are better. The 1.66:1 image is now Anamorphic, there seems to have been some digital clean up done, and the BU disc has better compression. Colors schemes are quite vivid for the most part and detail is sharp. The film has many low lit scenes, so some of it appears a bit dark, and there is minor damage present on the negative, but it's still a very attractive transfer as a whole. The Dolby Digital mono track is satisfactory and works fine for this film.
Blue Underground includes a number nice extras, including a new commentary with director Kümel moderated by David Gregory. Kümel has a great memory for details, analyzing some of the better shots in the film and discussing the locations and working with the actors, and his true love of cinema is evident. A second audio commentary track has star Karlen and writer David Del Valle. This was originally recorded for the Roan laserdisc, and was then included on the Anchor Bay DVD as well. If you haven't heard this track yet, it's well worth a listen, being entertaining and full of the good-humored actor's great reminisces about making the film.
A great surprise is an 8-minute
video interview with star Andrea Rau. The German actress speaks in her native
tongue (with English subtitles of course) and discusses her early days as a
model, acting in DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS and her working relationship with Kümel
and Seyrig, as well as what she's been up to in the years since making it. There
is also an impressive poster and still gallery, an original trailer, and some
American theatrical radio spots that make the film sound like a drive-in/AIP-type
release! (George R. Reis)
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