Daughters of Darkness
Eurotrash, with teeth.
Reviewed by Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 1, 2002
DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971)
D: Harry Kümel; with John Karlen, Delphine Seyrig, Danielle Ouimet, Andrea Rau, Paul Esser.
1971 was a very good year for lesbian vampires. The year bore both Stephanie Rothman's Velvet Vampire, an exploitation delight for Roger Corman, and Harry Kümel's Daughters of Darkness, a Belgian/Italian/French/West German co-production that sounds more alluring in its European title Les Lèvres Rouges or its English translation Blood on the Lips. It's probably more accurate to describe Daughters of Darkness as an erotically charged bloodsucker tale than a lesbian vampire picture since its sex, like its bloodshed, is often more implied than shown. But, my oh my, the film is drenched in vivid shades of red, a color that washes the screen between sequences. Daughters of Darkness is elegant and stately as might befit a vampire countess played by Delphine Seyrig, the enigmatic female star at the heart of Last Year at Marienbad and dozens of other prominent French films of the period. In appearance, her Countess Elizabeth Bathory (based on a real figure from the 17th century) is a vampy tribute to Marlene Dietrich. The character's flamboyant wardrobe and stylized gestures are pure sensory delights. Her mysterious assistant and traveling companion Ilona -- she of even more red, red lips and pixie bob -- assumes the passive-aggressive poses of a tortured Fassbinder heroine. The Countess and Ilona come to lust for the newlyweds Stefan and Valerie, who, in their own somewhat muddled subplot, married after knowing each other for only three days and are arguing about a visit to his tightly wound mother. Stefan is played by a pre-Cagney & Lacey John Karlen, who is much slimmer, meaner, and something of a closet sadist in this incarnation. Daughters of Darkness is infused with moody atmosphere rather than action moments. Although slowly paced, it is always stunning to look at -- decadent and perverse in that certain Eurotrashy way.