Sep 26, 2014

Daughters of Darkness (1971)




In terms of ‘chic’ post-WWII European actresses, no one can touch French blonde Nord Delphine Seyrig (Last Year at Marienbad, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie), who worked with many of the greatest and most idiosyncratic filmmakers of her strikingly singular and totally unrivaled multi-era career, ranging from Spanish alpha-surrealist Luis Buñuel to French New Wave master François Truffaut to Austrian-born Hebraic Hollywood Academy Award winner Fred Zinnemann to French commie feminist Marguerite Duras to Teutonic dyke adventurer auteur Ulrike Ottinger. Indeed, what other actress can claim the distinction of starring in both Klein's Mr. Freedom (1969) and Ottinger's Freak Orlando (1981)?! Additionally, Seyrig was a sometimes filmmaker who directed socio-politically charged doc likes Sois belle et tais-toi (1981) aka Be Pretty and Shut Up where she interviewed an eclectic collection of famous actresses like Shirley MacLaine, Jenny Agutter and Jane Fonda about how they were (mis)treated in the film industry. Interestingly, despite her strikingly singular resume as an superlatively sophisticated and dignified screen diva with somewhat repugnant quasi-feminist airs, Seyrig apparently credited the neo-Gothic lesbian vampire flick Daughters of Darkness (1971) aka Les lèvres rouges aka Le rouge aux Lèvres aka Blood on the Lips aka Children of the Night aka The Promise of Red Lips aka The Redness of the Lips aka The Red Lips directed by Belgian auteur Harry Kümel (Malpertuis, De Komst van Joachim Stiller aka The Arrival of Joachim Stiller) as her absolute most favorite of all the films that she ever starred in, which is rather ironic considering she originally did not want to play the somewhat unflattering role of Countess Bathory due to her prestigious reputation as an actress and only accepted the project after being convinced by her then-boyfriend, French auteur Alain Resnais, who loved graphic novels and somewhat rightfully imagined the film would be in a graphic novel-like style. In fact, Resnais apparently like the finished film so much that he said it was better than anything he had directed, or so said auteur Kümel, who certainly did not concur with his cinematic comrade's rather flattering assessment of his film. Indeed, Kümel never wanted to make the film in the first place and has described it as “trashy,” even stating in a DVD commentary regarding the work, “I found it a bit trashy for me…it has been a long time since I have accepted it…I had this silly idea that my parents would be looking at all this pornography […] I didn’t really like it for different reasons,” though he is proud of its success, as a work that would prove to be the very first internationally successful Belgian flick (indeed, it was the only really successful film of his career and even obtained cult status in the United States shortly after it was released).



 A Belgian-French-German co-production that has the delightful ear-solacing distinction of being a rare 1970s “genre” production where all the actors spoke their lines in English as opposed to having their voices horrifically dubbed in post-production despite the fact that most of the actors were Belgian, French, and German and only spoke English as a second or third language, Daughters of Darkness is the post-WWII vampire flick at its most exceedingly elegant and refined as a beauteous baroque bloodsucker piece of the subtly yet forebodingly erotic sort. Indeed, to compare the best of Jean Rollin and Jesús Franco to Kümel’s Sapphic vampire flick would be like comparing shit to gold. In that sense, Kümel is a cinematic alchemist because, despite his resentment towards the genre (in fact, he has denied it is even a horror film, stating, “This is not a horror movie…this is a style exercise…this is not meant to frighten.”) and mixed feelings towards the film, he still managed to assemble a masterpiece of the exquisitely erotically macabre that is big on style and low on sleazy sensationalism that is typical of so-called ‘Euro-sleaze.’ Directed by a man from the same puny low country that produced Roland Lethem (La Fée sanguinaire aka The Bloodthirsty Fairy, Le Sexe Enragé aka The Crazed Sex aka The Red Cunt), Thierry Zéno (Vase de Noces aka Wedding Trough aka The Pig Fucking Movie), Rob Van Eyck (The Afterman, Blue Belgium), Benoît Poelvoorde/Rémy Belvaux/André Bonzeland (Man Bites Dog) and Fabrice Du Welz (Calvaire aka The Ordeal, Vinyan), Daughters of Darkness is a ridiculously entrancing example as to why Belgians, especially the Germanic Flemish, are arguably the foremost masters of making the most artful, cultivated, and hermetic works of superlatively sick stomach-churning celluloid sleaze.  Of course, compared to the aberrant-garde films of Lethem, Kümel's hyper-hypnotic vampire flick seems like a high-camp melodrama.



 While newlyweds Stefan (played by Polish-American Dark Shadows star John Karlen) and Valerie (played by French-Canadian actress Danielle Ouimet who, incidentally, started her acting career by playing the eponymous lead of Denis Héroux’s 1969 quasi-artsy exploitation flick Valérie) seem like the young perfect couple, at least upon a superficial glance, their relationship is based on lies, hypocrisy, resentment, and contempt. Indeed, despite marrying beauteous yet somewhat dumb virgin-like blonde Valerie, Stefan is secretly a sadomasochistic sodomite who gets aroused by violence and murder and who is the ‘kept man’ of an opulent yet odious and exceedingly effete fat middle-aged English sugar daddy with a fetish for exotic plants. Unfortunately for her, stupid little girl Valerie is hopelessly in love with Stefan and does whatever he says, no matter how degrading, even though he treats her like a contemptible little child. At the beginning of Daughters of Darkness in a scene that was rather risque and unconventional for its time, the mismatched newlyweds, who are on their honeymoon, make love on a train, and afterwards Valerie asks Stefan if he loves her, to which he replies with a firm, “no.” To go along with her bastard of a beau's rather vicious wishes, Valerie lies and also proclaims that she does not love Stefan, to which he sardonically replies, “apparently, we were made for each other” regarding their ostensible mutual unlove for one another. To Valerie’s disappointment, Stefan refuses to tell his ‘aristocratic’ mother about their unholy marriage. As Stefan confesses to Valerie regarding what his mother apparently routinely said to him when he was a young child: “Stefan, we are different. That is God’s gift to us, and we must never debase it,” hence the character's unwarranted narcissism, rampant callousness, and all around controlling nature.  Indeed, it is more than just a little bit apparent that Stefan feels superior to his new wife, but of course it is quite glaring that his sense of superiority is clearly a self-defense mechanism designed to help him cope with his seemingly split personality and ignore the ugly truth about his confused sexuality.




For their scenic honeymoon, the newlyweds stay in the royal suite of a lavish hotel located in seaside Ostend, Belgium, but unbeknownst to them, a coldblooded killer with a thirst for blood is running around loose in the local area and is responsible for the deaths of a number of blonde Nordic babes that look a lot like Valerie. When Stefan learns of the killings and walks by one of the murder scenes by accident while doing some sightseeing with Valerie, he becomes discernibly sexually aroused and even hatefully smacks his wife when she gets in the way of his view of a dead chick. A local retired police officer (played by Belgian actor Georges Jamin, who died a couple months after the film was completed) also seems somewhat 'aroused' by the deaths and he plans to discover who the killer, though it will ultimately cost him his life. Meanwhile, in a scene consciously stolen by the director from the famous scene of Marlene Dietrich making her big entrance in Ernst Lubitsch’s classic Angel (1937), ancient Hungarian lesbo vampire Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig) arrives at the Ostend hotel with her flapper-like Louise Brooks-esque muse Ilona Harczy (German actress Andrea Rau) and she immediately becomes entranced upon spotting Stefan and Valerie to the point where her ancient aristocratic sensibilities are not irked by the fact that the newlyweds have already occupied the royal suite that she hoped to stay in, even stating her girlfriend regarding the couple, “look how perfect they are.” The front desk clerk of the hotel, Pierre (played by German actor Paul Esser, who is probably best known for his roles in Wolfgang Staudte's Rotation and Der Untertan aka Man of Straw), is immediately disturbed upon seeing the Countess as he remembers seeing her at the hotel four decades ago when he was just a boy and he cannot fathom how she has not aged a day since then. Of course, poor Ilona is immediately jealous of the newlyweds, especially Valerie, and somberly confesses to the Countess, “I wish I could die.”  Luckily for Ilona, she will get her wish, but not before whoring herself out for the Countess, who has a new love interest in the form of a buxom blonde newlywed.




While Stefan and Valerie intended to leave the hotel the next morning so that they can catch the cross-channel ferry to England so the former can introduce the latter to his supposedly rather bitchy mother, they decide to make the ultimately fatal mistake of staying a couple more days after meeting Countess Bathory and her cutesy sensual-lipped lesbo lover. A perversely penetrating psychopath of the wholly sensual and incessantly sinisterly smiling sort (as the director has confessed, it was Seyrig's excellent idea to play the role smiling) who can give one an agonizing orgasm with her mere erotically-charged words, Countess Bathory is a lethal lady-licking lesbo yet she has a warm and inviting persona that would not scare a fly, though her red/black/white wardrobes tell otherwise (the director had Seyrig wear these colors to conjure up feelings of the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS), who of course wore the same colors). Indeed, on top of being a supernatural Sapphic bloodsucker, the Countess is a masterful ‘psychic vampire’ of sorts who preys on people's minds and emotions, which is certainly a trait she shares in common with crypto-homo Stefan, who will ultimately prove to be her rather weak rival in terms of vying for the affection of Valerie. In a somewhat hilarious if not equally awkward scene, Stefan makes a call to his supposed ‘mother’ in front of Valerie, but as the scene soon reveals, he is really talking to his old fag lover/sugar daddy (hilariously played by great Dutch auteur Fons Rademakers(!), who is probably best known for directing low country classics like Mira (1971) and The Assault (1986)). After telling his ‘mother’ that he has done the unthinkable by getting married to a young woman, the snide old queen responds with: “Whatever in the world will we do with her? Well, now, think of it—You working at whatever it is you can do, and that poor little, uh, Valerie, the day she hears about us—Oh, I hate to think about that. And you too! Of course, that’s why you called [clicks tongue] Surely you don’t really believe you would ever, ever do such a—such an ungrateful thing. I can’t wait for you to see our newest Laeliinae, Cattleya Violacea. And by the way, Stefan, be sure to tell that young woman…that Mother sends regards” (it should be noted that the connection between flowers and homosexuality is a subtle tribute to Marcel Proust).  Rather enraged by the conversation with his so-called ‘mommy,’ Stefan unleashes his deep-seated internal rage and sexual frustration on Valerie by brutally beating her with his leather belt and subsequently assumedly raping her. While Valerie sneaks out of the hotel the next morning and attempts to get away on the next train out of town, the Countess uses her charms to convince her to stay. To keep Stefan incapacitated, the Countess sends Ilona to his hotel room to seduce him. Of course, things do not exactly work out completely as the Countess planned.




While Ms. Bathory attempts to flatter Valerie by calling her “little Edelweiss” (a reference to dumb European blondes, especially Swiss girls) and complimenting her ravishing good looks, the now-hysterical young wife eventually freaks out on her, abruptly stating, “I despite you. You’re disgusting,” and walking away, but of course the carpet-munching Countess follows her like a stud canine shadowing a bitch in heat. When Valerie defensively remarks that her husband loves her after the Countess mocks the genuineness of their relationship, Bathory makes the stereotypical dyke feminist misandristic argument: “”Stefan loves me, whatever you may think.” Of course he does. That’s why he dreams of making out of you what every man dreams of making out of every woman—a slave, a thing, an object for pleasure.” Meanwhile, Ilona seduces Stefan and they have fairly passionate sex. Unfortunately, a freak accident involving a shaving razor leaves Ilona dead after Stefan scares her by carrying her into the shower (whether Ilona dies as a result of the razor or due to her hinted aversion to water as a vampire is never made completely clear). Right after Ilona dies, Valerie and the Countess walk in on Stefan, who is staring at the dead vamp's naked corpse while in a state of abject shock. When Valerie remarks that she will call the police, the ever quick-witted Countess says to her, “Are you out of your mind? No one will ever believe it was an accident. You are out of your mind,” and subsequently kisses her on the lips in an erotic fashion. At the Countess’ recommendation, the three head to the beach during the early A.M. hours and Stefan digs a hole and buries Ilona’s corpse in it, though he almost buries himself in the process, thus demonstrating his weakness as a man who is not match for Queen Bitch Bathory, who ironically saves his life.



 After driving back to the hotel, the Countess convinces Stefan to take a nap and uses the opportunity to seduce and ‘turn’ poor unsuspecting Valerie into a lesbo vampire.  Naturally, Stefan becomes obscenely jealous when he finds out that the Countess has turned his darling into a member of the undead, so he attempts to take Valerie away, but the scheming bitch Bathory blackmails him by threatening to go to the police about Ilona’s dubious death.  While both of them are ‘psychic vampire’ of sorts, Stefan seems like an autistic and emotionally crippled little boy compared to the ancient bloodsucking undead blueblood being that is the Countess.  Of course, it does not take long before the Countess kills Stefan and feeds on his blood with baby vamp Valerie, who enthusiastically helps her new lesbo lover murder her hubby. After wrapping Stefan's body in black plastic bags, they dump it into a polluted creek like it is trash in what amounts to, like much of the film, a strangely humorous scene that is typical of Flemish/Dutch humor. While mutually deeply infatuated with one another as a sort of figurative quasi-incestuous ‘mother-daughter’ duo, their lurid ‘lady-lickers of the night’ love affair is ultimately cut short when Valerie uses her driving skills (or lack thereof) to accidentally crash the Countess’ luxury automobile after the sun burns her pale baby vamp skin and she loses control of vehicle. Indeed, after losing control of the car, Valerie crashes into a tree, which causes the Countess to be ejected from the car via the windshield where she is ultimately impaled after he body lands on a large protruding tree branch. After taking a stake to the heart in a cruelly ironic moment of pure happenstance, the Countess is subsequently burned alive when the totaled car explodes, thus leading the viewer to suspect that Valerie also perished in the tragic crash. Flash forward a couple months later in what amounts to a bittersweet twist ending, and Valerie has developed a satanically seductive persona just like her master the Countess, even parroting her look and voice, so that she can lure in young couples, thus continuing the vicious circle of hetero-hating lesbian-based vampirism.




While Daughters of Darkness is a truly exceedingly exquisite and extra-erotic example of ‘magical realism,’ auteur Harry Kümel would fine tune his talents for his somewhat superior and obscenely overlooked subsequent arthouse efforts Malpertuis (1973) and The Arrival of Joachim Stiller (1976). Additionally, Kümel’s early avant-garde shorts Anna la Bonne (1959), which is based on a poem by Jean Cocteau, and Pandora (1960), as well as his decidedly bleak Bergman-esque debut feature Monsieur Hawarden (1969), are regarded as some of the greatest masterpieces of Flemish cinema, even if the director has always been an outsider in his native homeland, especially after Daughters of Darkness was a big international success. Indeed, despite being what is arguably the only internationally successful Belgian film in all of cinema history, at least at the time of its release, Kümel found himself marginalized by the Flemish film community for a work he really had no interest in making, or as Belgian film scholar Ernest Mathijs wrote in the book The Cinema of the Low Countries (2004): “Of all the Belgian films of the early 1970s, a boom period in Belgian cinema culture, Les lèvres rouges (Daughters of Darkness, 1971) is probably the most talked about, yet least known. Although it still stands as one of the most commercially successful and academically referenced Belgian films, it is hardly screened today, and even its DVD and video distribution has been hampered by a series of difficulties, ranging from legal to aesthetic objections. This dual status is perhaps the most typical characteristic of the film, being both a high-profile example of Belgian cinema at its most international, and a consciously ignored part of a nation’s cinema heritage.”




Somewhat light on blood and bare boobs, Daughters of Darkness is a perfect example of subtly yet elegantly executed suggestive potency in the cinematic realm, thus it is almost an absurdity to describe the film as a work of ‘exploitation’ (unquestionably, ‘artsploitation’ would certainly be a better label). On top of being one of the most eloquent European ‘genre’ films of its time, the film is also a cryptic tribute to the great auteur filmmakers of European cinema history, as a formalistic flick that pays homage to everyone from Carl Th. Dreyer to Ernst Lubitsch to Josef von Sternberg to Georg Wilhelm Pabst to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger to star Delphine Seyrig’s beau Alain Resnais. Indeed, in terms of its enthralling atmosphere, oneiric tone, nuanced pacing, lavish ‘sets,’ and hermetic eroticism, Daughters of Darkness is like the Last Year at Marienbad (1961) of vampire flicks, albeit minus the impenetrable essence, as well as the European cinematic cousin of Richard Blackburn’s criminally underrated Lovecraftian lesbo bloodsucker flick Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural (1973). The happy horror accident of a man who spitefully declared “we are going to do something nasty” and reluctantly decided to direct a film for a genre he had no interest in after his directorial debut was poorly critically received, Daughters of Darkness is indisputable proof that a pretentious ‘auteur’ will always direct better genre films than the average horror hack, even if he has little interest in directing them. As Kümel insightfully stated in the audio commentary track for the Blue Underground DVD release of the film: “I’m like Paul Verhoeven, you know…the films he doesn’t like to make are good movies and the films he likes to make are not so good.” Of course, the film also owes a great deal of its endlessly entrancing erotic magnetism and perniciously alluring atmosphere to frog diva Delphine Seyrig's singularly dignified performance as a lethally lecherous undead lady of the night. Apparently, the actress was so confident with her performance that she reassured Kümel regarding his concern that the two young leads were too old and not talented enough for playing the newlyweds by stating to him, “Don’t worry, they [the audience] will only look at me.”  Indeed, as someone that has always found female vampires, especially those of the lesbo sort, to be oftentimes hopelessly nonthreatening and a rather blatant sign that the film was made for largely pornographic reasons, Seyrig proved that middle-aged broads can pull off brutally beauteous and superlatively sensual bloodsuckers in a fashion that no male actor can compete with.  Of course, Seyrig was a vampire in the sense that she had the power to glamor any man, woman, or child that saw her on the silver screen, thus all she had to do was play herself in Daughters of Darkness.  I, for one, can certainly not think of another feminist that was so innately captivating, cultivated, and carnally beguiling.



-Ty E

14 comments:

teddy crescendo said...

At last, a well known cult-item.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Delphine Seyrig (as the bird was in 1950 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Danielle Ouimet (as the bird was in 1965 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Andrea Rau (as the bird was in 1965 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

Jennifer Croissant said...

I can never relate this to "Cagney and Lacey".

teddy crescendo said...

Delphine was 38 and admittedly still stunning at the time of principal photography. By the way, isn`t it about time for a reveiw of "Last Year at Marienbad" ! ?, it was filmed 10 years earlier in 1960 when Delphine was 28 ! ! !.

Jennifer Croissant said...

9 paragraphs ! ! !, this must be one of your all-time favourite movies Ty E.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

The two young birds were both 23 at the time of principal photography, 5 years past their prime already ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Just with regards to the faggot and the half-woofter: DEATH TO ALL PANSY QUEER BASTARDS.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

The Poles have certainly got the right idea and are moving towards perfection in their society, they believe that all faggots and queer pedo's should be systematically eradicated (and rightly so of course) where-as the heterosexual buggery of Heather O`Rourke and JonBenet Ramsey look-a-likes by heterosexual pedo's is openly encouraged and endorsed with-in Polish society (perfection of course). American society on the other hand is plagued with the opposite bull-shit because of the loathsome and odious faggots and fairys who run Hollywood and the media, we could learn so much from the Poles, DEATH TO ALL PANSY QUEER FILTH.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Danny Peary included this movie in one of his 3 volumes of Cult Movies in the early 80`s. Hey, thats an idea, you could look at the 200 movies listed in those books and then reveiw all the ones from them that you still haven`t reveiwed on this site yet (excluding the British and faggot bull-shit obviously).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

ISIS are OK because they hate faggots. Any individual or group that hates woofters must be good by definition.

Jennifer Croissant said...

I think i`ll re-read this reveiw quite a few times, 9 quite magnificent paragraphs.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

On the poster it should read Delphine Seyrig in "Daughters of Darkness", why does that tosser John Karlens name appear above the title as well ?, this is and always will be Delphines movie, the other characters in the film are superfluous, unnecessary, and almost invisible (especially that wanker Karlen).