Horror Review: Daughters of Darkness (1971)
This post contains spoilers!
If you’re looking for a disturbing, erotic thriller take on Vampires then look no further. Daughters of Darkness was released in 1971 and remains a cult classic. The film was directed by Harry Kümel and stars Delphine Seyrig, John Karlen, Andrea Rau and Danielle Ouimet. Despite being a Belgium film, it’s English-language. Daughters of Darkness often graces Best Queer Horror Films and Best Erotic Vampire Films lists, and with good reason.
Daughters of Darkness feels like a strangely aesthetic fever dream. At its core, it calls back to the real historical accounts of Elizabeth Bathory. A Hungarian noblewoman and alleged serial killer. In fact, Delphine Seyrig’s character is named Countess Elizabeth Bathory. The reference to Bathory is important. Bathory’s legacy (at least her rumored legacy) is the murder of upwards of 600 girls in order to bathe in their virgin blood and perserve their youth.
Seyrig is meant to be Bathory, after having survived since the 1500s and never aged. The plot of Daughters of Darkness places Bathory in a nearly empty hotel, mid-Winter. The only other guests are a newly wed couple who she becomes fixated on. Seyrig’s performance is sedative and hypnotic. As she seduces her fellow hotel guests, she seduces the audience.
The film is highly stylized and shot in a haunting and beautiful way. Between dramatic moments the filmmakers fade to red, instead of the usual black. The filmmakers cut between shots of violence and thrashing waves or lighting. It’s poetic and horrifying at the same time.
There are overarching themes of abuse and sexual freedom and feminism. Bathory and her companion murder for blood but also for lust. As a modern viewer, much of the film feels over-dramatic or dare I say…cheesy. But it still works.
I am lucky enough to have been gifted the soundtrack to Daughters of Darkness on vinyl as a birthday present. The music was composed by famed French film composer François De Roubaix. It’s largely thought of as one of his best pieces of work. It’s often sampled, even to this day by hip-hop artists. Because of its success, you can find vinyl versions readily if you’re in the market. As with any horror movie, the soundtrack and sound design are so important to the film.
Though, the atmosphere on set during production wasn’t without its issues. Director Harry Kümel actually hit Danielle Ouimet during an altercation, causing actor John Karlen to punch the director in the face. This bit of information is not only important, but it strikes me as incredibly ironic given some of the abuse we do see on screen. And the commentary I feel the film is making on that behavior.
Regardless, Daughters of Darkness is incredibly well rated and loved by fans. It's available currently on mainstream streaming platforms if you're interested in seeing what the fuss is all about.