Daughters of Darkness

04/11/2019 07:25

Film: Daughters of Darkness (Les lèvres rouges)

Year: 1971

Director: Harry Kümel

Writer: Pierre Drouot and Harry Kümel

Starring: Delphine Seyrig, John Karlen and Danielle Ouimet

 

Review:

This was a film I heard about on a podcast series that was looking for the best horror films of the 1970’s. I heard their thoughts on it, but didn’t know a lot beyond that. I got the opportunity to see it on the big screen at my theater when a local podcast did a recording and showed this afterwards. The synopsis is a newlywed couple is passing through a vacation resort. Their paths cross with a mysterious, strikingly beautiful countess and her aide.

We kick off immediately with a couple making love on a train. They are just married that day. The male is Stefan (John Karlen) and his wife is Valerie (Danielle Ouimet). The train stops and they check to see what the reason for this is. We actually learn a little bit later that they really don’t know each other and this was kind of spur of the moment.

Stefan reveals to Valerie that his mother doesn’t know that they’ve been married. He states to her that she is not going to accept her and that they shouldn’t go visit. She is adamant that as his wife, they should at least try and go see her. He does relent, but they stay at a resort in its off-season before getting on a ship.

Their world is turned upside down when a countess, Elizabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig), arrives there as well. She comes with her secretary Ilona (Andrea Rau). They learn that the suite they normally take is occupied and they aren’t sure for how long. The Countess sees the couple and she immediately entranced. The same can be said as well when the couple sees her.

The Countess really tries to interject herself into the lives of the two before they leave. She is really enamored with Valerie while Stefan is intrigued by Ilona. Things take a turn as murders are revealed in a near by city and the Countess is out to seduce the new bride.

Now I should lead off here and state that I wanted to go a little bit vague as the story isn’t all that complex. What I did really like though was the deeper social commentary that comes with this film that is still relevant today. Stefan is very controlling. He doesn’t want to visit his mother, which is an odd situation to begin with when we see ‘mother’ while they talk on the phone. Valerie has legit concerns that you would expect your husband to work through, but he doesn’t. He tries to boss her around and things that happen at the end, he really doesn’t respect or honor anything she says to him. We definitely see this today and I know a couple of people who think like this as well. It is interesting that this film 40+ years old and it is still relevant here.

Something else that I really enjoyed was the Countess Bathory. This is a character that I find to be fascinating. I’m not entirely sure if she is based in real life, but the concept of her is fantastic. She is considered to be a vampire. To keep her skin youthful, she would bath in the blood of virgins. She normally appears in films like this because she was also a lesbian and would come on to women. The moment I found out that was the name of the character; I knew exactly what we were getting into.

There is also the concept of the setting. They are only 5 people staying in the hotel as it is during the winter and being located on the water, no one is staying there at the moment. We have both of these couples and the hotel clerk, Paul Esser. This feeling of isolation and being in a foreign place really makes it that much more eerie as well.

Something I had an issue with would be the pacing of the film. I think we get a decent set up and kind of introduce things. The problem after that is the film really just kind of meanders and I will admit that I was a bit bored for a stretch. It wasn’t until about the half way mark that my interest got peaked and it sucked me in. This is interesting though as the film only runs 87 minutes. I also thought the ending was a bit forced and one of the final scenes was a bit outrageous. I did like the implications of the last sequence we get though.

What I did enjoy about this film was the acting. Seyring is really good as the Countess. She is a woman that is rich and is used to getting her way. She is actually empowering, even though she is using otherworldly abilities to influence Valerie. Karlen is kind of a scumbag. I don’t like how he is treating his new wife and it really seems they rushed into this marriage without really knowing each other. Ouimet I thought was solid as well. She is somewhat weak in the beginning to Stefan’s demands. I like as the film progresses, she really stands firm in what she wants done and makes decision for herself. Part of this is what happens with the Countess, but it still works. We do get to see her topless a few times which was also nice. Rau was solid as well, even though she really doesn’t have much screen time. She was quite attractive as well and we see her completely naked, which I didn’t have issue with. The rest of the cast really rounded out the film for what was needed.

On to the effects, there weren’t really a lot of them to be honest. I did like the effect that when they were ending certain scenes, they would fade to red, which is a color that is used prominently throughout for good reason. The little bit of blood we get looked good. I thought the color was fine and the consistently was solid. I do have to say that I also liked the color choices of some outfits. Countess is wearing white when trying to convince Valerie to stay while Ilona is wearing black when she is going to seduce Stefan. I really enjoyed this stylistic choice to match what they are doing. The film was also shot well in my opinion.

The final thing to touch on was the soundtrack. I noticed some scenes were just completely quiet and it was unnerving. What was happening in them was mundane, but I just noticed how quiet and it makes it awkward. It was a solid choice. We do get also get music that really helps what we are seeing on the screen as well. This I would say was well done overall.

Now with that said, this film I really think has its placed even though it is slightly flawed. I thought the concept of the film is solid, but the deeper allegory of what we are seeing was interesting. The acting really helps to bring this life as well. There was a bit of a pacing issue for me and I really didn’t care for the ending as I thought it was a bit cheesy. The effects were solid and the soundtrack really helps to enhance the scenes. I do think that this film is above average and would recommend giving this a viewing if it sounds good. I will warn you that this is Belgium, France and West Germany production from the 1970’s if that is an issue.

 

My Rating: 7 out of 10