Existing in some uncomfortable no-man's land between the arthouse and the grindhouse, Harry Kümel's 1971 cult classic Daughters Of Darkness appeals to that narrow subset of viewers who want their lesbian vampire movies classed up a bit. Considered next to other Eurotrash imports flooding into the States during that newly permissive era, the film likely bored drive-in audiences lusting for a little blood and T&A, while buttoned-up viewers weaned on Ingmar Bergman or Michelangelo Antonioni probably wouldn't acknowledge its artistry. The film actually offers plenty of sustenance for both camps, but it isn't so easily pigeonholed, which is a key reason cultists have kept this curiosity alive all these years. Now lovingly preserved in a two-disc set, the film looks better than ever; this psychologically dense, genuinely erotic vampire thriller lacks fangs, but it has plenty of bite.
The setting presages The Shining: Daughters Of Darkness takes place mostly in an ornate Belgian resort hotel during the off-season, when the one-man clerk/concierge/waiter is generally left alone with his thoughts. In no rush to introduce Swedish bride Danielle Ouimet to his mother, John Karlen books an indefinite stay at the hotel, mainly for a chance to assault her with every sadistic sexual fantasy that swims in his perverted head. The guests are joined by the impossibly glamorous Delphine Seyrig, a 300-year-old vampire countess whose ageless beauty comes from a lifetime of bathing in virgins' blood. Seyrig and her goth companion (the bewitching Andrea Rau) take a special interest in the couple while quietly feasting on the townspeople after hours.
Having appeared in respectable arthouse fare, including Alain Resnais' Last Year At Marienbad and Muriel, Seyrig lent the project instant credibility, but her presence leaves a lasting impression—sexy, imperious, and completely self-assured, as a 300-year-old vampire queen should be. Kümel, who lists several high-minded influences on an amusingly frisky commentary track, excels more at the brush strokes of atmosphere and psychosexuality than the broad demands of plotting and action. In lieu of teeth marks, what ultimately leaves an impression is the film's trance-like beauty and wild inhibition, like a fever dream in red.
Key features: Kümel's commentary track, plus another with Karlen and journalist David Del Valle. Also, several short interviews and another movie, 1972's The Blood Spattered Bride, which is less-artful trash of the same order.