DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS
One of the great
vampire films, a dreamy, seductive evocation of undead sensuality. It was made
back in 1971 and has lost none of its power to startle and provoke.
The stated inspiration for this film is
Erzbet Bathory, the notorious
Hungarian Countess who bathed in the blood of virgins to retain her youth, but
its true antecedent is J. Sheridan LeFanuís 1872 novella CARMILLA, an
ahead-of-its-time shocker about the amorous doings of a lesbian vampire. Its
influence can be seen in many early-seventies genre films, including VAMPYRES,
LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, THE BLOOD-SPATTERED BRIDE and THE VELVET VAMPIRE. DAUGHTERS
OF DARKNESS (LE ROUGE AUX LEVRES) is the best of the bunch by far.
Co-written and directed by Belgian filmmaker
Harry Kumel, it was
an extremely low budget work that featured the legendary French starlet Delphine
Seyrig (LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD) and American actor John Karlen (DARK SHADOWS).
The result of their labors was the most successful Belgian movie of its
time--and a classic for all time.
A young couple, Stefan and Valerie, are glimpsed aboard a speeding train
having sex. They disembark at a luxurious seaside hotel that is completely
empty of guests, apparently because itís off-season.
Another couple arrives: the glamorous Countess Bathory
and her gorgeous young companion Ilona. They strike up an acquaintanceship with
Stefan and Valerie, much to the consternation of the hotel porter, who tells
Stefan that the Countess last checked into the hotel 40 years earlier and that
she looked exactly the same then as she does now--which makes sense, as the
countess is a vampire.
But the Countess has her eye on Valerie and wonít be denied. She takes to
seducing her while Ilona goes to work on Stefan; but he accidentally kills Ilona
during the tryst, leading to a nightmarish body dumping in which the Countess
cements her hold on the now-vampirized Valerie. The following night Stefan
decides heís ready to leave, but the Countess has other ideas. She and Valerie
succeed in subduing and then killing Stefan, leading to another nighttime corpse
disposal--but getting home before dawn wonít be easy, and will have deadly
consequences for these undead babes, who, being vampires, canít stand the light
The hypnotic power this film exerts is palpable and unprecedented. I defy
you to find another vampire movie which so brilliantly conveys both the horror
and allure of vampirism. The painfully low budget isnít exactly hard to
spot--in the extremely sparse locations (all four of them) and grainy
photography--but Harry Kumel is a resourceful filmmaker who makes his
limitations work for rather than against him by concentrating on his central
characters and their interrelationships.
From a plot standpoint it may not make much sense that
the hotel where most of the action takes place is deserted except for the
principals, but it allows Kumel a focus he couldnít otherwise have achieved.
His low budget ingenuity is evident elsewhere in the film, or so it might seem:
note the way the color of a shot near the end flares three times, each
accompanied by a sound effect. The flares fit right in with the filmís
surrealistic atmosphere, yet Kumel has claimed they were in actuality simple lab
The narrative is languid and meandering, yet the film is as arresting as an
action thriller. This is a testament not only to Harry Kumelís total command of
the medium, but also the four lead performances. The standout is Delphine
Seyrig, who creates possibly the most glamorous and seductive screen vampiress
ever, garbed in appropriately glitzy outfits. Soft-core sex goddess Andrea Rau
is nearly as alluring as Seyrigís pasty, dark-haired partner in crime, perhaps
the cinemaís first true Goth babe.
DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (LE
ROUGE AUX LEVRES)
Director: Harry Kumel
Producers: Henry Lange, Paul Collet
Screenplay: Pierre Drouot, Jean Ferry, Harry Kumel
Cinematography: Eduard Van Der Enden
Editing: Gust Vershueren, Denis Bonan, Fima Noveck
Cast: Delphine Seyrig, John Karlen, Danielle Ouimet, Andrea Rau, Paul Esser