Time once again for the monthly Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Movie Challenge, in which blog buddy Mike’s Take on the Movies assigns me one of his favourite movies that I’ve never seen, and vice versa.
In the moody, arty, stylish and very creepy Daughters of Darkness (1971), young newlyweds become the prey of legendary killer and possible vampire Countess Elizabeth Bathory. The couple, Stefan and Valerie (John Karlen from Dark Shadows and Cagney & Lacey, and Danielle Ouimet) are already having relationship problems when they check into a gorgeous deserted seaside hotel in the stormy off-season. Their blissful union turns just as turbulent as they bicker over when to inform Stefan’s fragile mother about their marriage. The issue triggers violent rage in Stefan, who understandably delays since his “mother” is a dandy (played by director Fons Rademakers).
Soon another couple arrives: the ultra-glam Hungarian Countess (Delphine Seyrig) and her girlfriend Ilona (Andrea Rau). The concierge turns white when he recognizes the Countess from 40 years ago and sees that she hasn’t aged a day. As soon as the Countess lays eyes on Valerie, she’s in love and spends the rest of the film trying to lure her away from Stefan. Stefan has morbid preoccupations and is increasingly abusive of Valerie, so he’s easily distracted by Ilona and the Countess somewhat easily brainwashes Valerie against men and talks her to into becoming an immortal companion.
Even with the nudity and blood, this is less an exploitation and more an art-house vampire film. There are no fangs and biting, but The Countess has no mirror reflection, drinks blood, and tells “tales” about centuries of Bathory murder, debauchery and torture which are unmistakably her acts and memories. One great image has her standing on a sand dune (where they’re burying Ilona) and wrapping her long black cape around Valerie’s shoulders in the best Dracula style. Bathory lore has it that the Countess bathed in virgin blood to preserve her youthful beauty and that isn’t shown, but director Harry Kumel uses red tint to depict her hunger for, and enjoyment of blood.
There’s a mysterious retired policeman (Georges Jamin) snooping into a series of baffling bloodless murders in nearby Bruges. He recognizes the Countess from years ago and follows everywhere on his bicycle. His constant surprise appearances and comical demise are amusingly odd. I assumed he was being set up as a vampire hunter but not everything in this movie is that obvious.
It’s a slowly paced and mystifying dream full of creepy imagery, beautifully photographed. A ship repeatedly passes in the stormy sea, the town is abandoned and Seyrig slinks and glides around that vast, empty hotel. She passes time knitting and does a great job working Marlene Dietrich 1930s glamour into her predatory, cold-blooded performance. Racing to beat the sunrise, the Countess meets with a very dramatic but appropriate end, but not before she passes on her evil cravings to her final victim.