Is there any subgenre of horror that is as deliciously European as the lesbian vampire film? It’s tough to beat because this subgenre offers everything that makes Euro-horror worthwhile: sexuality, blood, artsiness of the most fetishistic variety and all manner of transgressive behaviors in lush surroundings.
There are many ways to get acquainted with the genre – one can go the old-school English bodice-ripper route of The Vampire Lovers, trip out on the psychedelic artsiness of Vampyros Lesbos or dive head-first into the oversexed art-raunch of Vampyres. That said, the best introduction to this subgenre for the neophytes – and a great way to get into Euro-horror in general – is Daughters Of Darkness.
This film utilizes a spare storyline that leaves plenty of room for Euro-horror moodiness. It starts with young newlyweds Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) and Stefan (John Karlen) making their way to an out-of-season hotel for their honeymoon. The only problem is that Valerie has not yet met – or been approved by – his mother and Stefan acts in a shifty, nervous way that suggests he’s got a few skeletons in the closet.
The couple’s problems intensify when the mysterious, alluring Countess Bathory (Delphine Seyrig) shows up at the hotel with her companion Ilona (Andrea Rau). This sinister yet seductive duo engages the couple in a series of psycho-sexual head games that culminate in sex, death, the revelation of hidden secrets and bloodshed of the most chic variety.
Atmosphere is a defining component of quality Euro-horror and Daughters Of Darkness delivers it in spades: the ghostly seascapes, decadent hotel furnishings and the chic couture of the Countess are filtered through the rich cinematography of Eduard van der Enden to create a dark, sexy mood that envelops the viewer.
Better yet, director and co-writer Harry Kumel handles his story with a decisive yet delicate touch. He has an eye for arresting images (like the Countess’s first onscreen appearance) and knows how to craft a setpiece but never lets his style become overblown. As a result, the film’s handful of shocking moments pack a punch yet do so with an elegant style: the time-honored “iron fist in a velvet glove” approach.
Best of all, Daughters Of Darkness features some impressive performances. The defining performance comes from European arthouse film legend Delphine Seyrig as the Countess: she’s classy, gorgeous and emphasizes the seductive nature of the character by adding an unexpected amount of warmth to the expected sexiness. The end result is quite possibly the most likeable vampire in screen history.
Equally worthy of note is fine work from John Karlen, who brings enough charm and humanity to his role that it allows the viewer to see him as someone driven by forces beyond his control instead of a simple one-note villain. Danielle Ouimet seems a bit tentative in spots but this actually aids her role, making her character’s naivete and vulnerability all the more believable. Finally, Andrea Rau acquits herself well as the companion, fitting nicely into that tradition of the ‘mysterious, frequently unclothed femme fatale’ that makes Euro-horror so much fun.
In short, Daughters Of Darkness turns on the Euro-horror magic in a way that will please the already-converted while remaining accessible enough to bring in new, arthouse-minded fans who would normally shrug off horror films. It’s the best of both worlds… going to the dark side rarely feels this good.
Blu-Ray Notes: available on blu-ray in the U.S. via Blue Underground. Check out the last paragraph of this review at Mondo Digital for more information.