Daughters Of Darkness

When the DVD first came to the public's attention last year, it was marketed as the format of the future for movie lovers. In addition to having a sharper picture and better sound than videotapes, the CD-sized discs can hold hours of information, including audio commentaries, multiple languages, deleted scenes, essays, and much more. Unfortunately, the more popular DVDs become, the more companies seem content to release them without the frills that made the format so attractive in the first place. While the Boogie Nights and L.A. Confidential discs are near-perfect, some, like Babe, are being released without even the option to view the film in its proper widescreen format. So far, it's the smaller companies that are demonstrating just how powerful the format can be. Criterion has set an excellent example—the DVD of This Is Spinal Tap has a whopping two hours of extra footage on the flipside—as have two other companies releasing vampire films from the early '70s. When Daughters Of Darkness (a.k.a. La Rouge Aux Lèvres, Blood On The Lips, and about a half-dozen other titles) came out in America, it played the arthouse/grindhouse circuit in a version cut by about 12 minutes. That's been corrected here, making it that much easier to appreciate this artfully rendered example of decadent European horror filmmaking. John Karlen, of Dark Shadows and Cagney & Lacey fame, plays half of a newlywed couple who find themselves staying at an abandoned Belgian coastal hotel in the off-season. Once there, Karlen's dark side comes to the surface when the couple encounters two mysterious women (Andrea Rau and Delphine Seyrig) who seem to be both lesbians and vampires. Strikingly shot and notable for Seyrig's monstrous, Dietrich-like character, Daughters is a psychosexual horror film that's gripping almost up to the very end. It's supplemented by an amusing audio commentary from Karlen. More interesting still is the 1973 film Ganja & Hess. Though he tells the story of a black vampire, playwright-filmmaker-actor Bill Gunn (he was one of Bill Cosby's poker buddies on The Cosby Show before his death in 1989) never comes close to entering the then-peaking blaxploitation genre. Instead, he crafts a dreamlike meditation on addiction and spirituality that makes up for its lack of narrative thrust with fine acting, lyricism, and atmosphere. Duane Jones (Night Of The Living Dead) plays an anthropologist who, after researching an African society, finds himself with a thirst for blood. Ganja & Hess is a fascinating film, one of the most original and challenging black movies of the '70s, but it met with indifference even after receiving a standing ovation at Cannes. Cut drastically and re-released under a number of different titles, Ganja & Hess was presumed lost until an original print kept secret by the film's editor resurfaced. This DVD, from a company with the announced mission of releasing "films that fell through the cracks," offers the first opportunity in 25 years for most people to see the film. It's fleshed out, as all good movies deserve to be, with an essay, production stills, audio commentary by most of the major surviving participants, and other extras. With any luck, it will find an audience while serving as an example of how films deserve to be treated.

More DVD Review