DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (Lèvres rouges, Les)(

director/writer: Harry Kümel; screenwriters: Pierre Druot/Jean Ferry; cinematographer: Eduard van der Enden; editors: Denis & Denise Bonan/August Verschueren/Hans Zeiler ; music: Francois de Robaix; cast: Delphine Seyrig (Countess Elizabeth Bathory), John Karlen (Stefan Chilton), Danielle Ouimet (Valerie Chilton), Andrea Rau (Ilona Harczy), Paul Esser (Pierre, concierge), Georges Jamin (Retired Policeman), Fons Rademakers Mother); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Paul Collett/Henry Lange; Blue Underground; 1971-Belgium/France/West Germany-in English)
“Lesbian-themed vintage vampire flick.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Belgium’s premier horror filmmaker Harry Kümel (“Malpertuis”/”Eline Vere”), mostly working in television, helms and co-writes with Pierre Druot and Jean Ferry this lesbian-themed vintage vampire flick in this Blue Underground uncut version (adds the cut 13 minutes). It blends a glossy looking and kinky exploitation vampire tale, without showing its fangs, with a Euro art film, and if it had a more inspiring narrative and more vitality it would have pulled it off much better. Delphine Seyrig, last seen in “Last Year at Marienbad,” adds class by playing a vampire who’s never actually mentioned as one but certainly hints at it.

Newlyweds, the handsome upper-class Englishman Stefan Chilton (John Karlen) and the middle-class Swiss beauty Valerie (Daniele Ouimet), delay returning to England and stopover at the seaside luxury hotel in Ostend where they are befriended by the only other guests (the hotel is empty because it’s winter and out-of-season), the seemingly ageless thirtysomething looking Hungarian Countess Elisabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig) and her lesbian companion Ilona (Andrea Rau).

Stefan is worried his mother won’t accept this surprise sudden marriage and Valerie is anxious to clear things up with his mother before arriving in England, and insists he call and tell her. The couple hardly know one another, but married out of lust. But Stefan can’t face mother just yet and bribes the concierge (Paul Esser) not to put through the calls.

In nearby Bruges, there were four recent mutilation murders of young women who all had their blood drained. Also, the concierge can’t get over that the countess stayed at the hotel 40 years ago and still looks exactly the same. She replies she keeps youthful because of “Diet … and plenty of rest.” And, so the scene for a vampire flick is set.

The two vampires seduce the young couple, and that leads to depravity and murder. The Countess has her eyes on replacing Ilona with his wife, which becomes easier when it becomes evident that Stefan is an abusive husband. This attention to Valerie makes Ilona jealous, but she’s completely enslaved by the Countess and obediently follows her orders to seduce Stefan.

The Countess tells Valerie that “Men want women to be their slaves, so are only good for sucking the blood from.” Later on the Countess finds another use for Stefan and has him digging a grave for one of the dead. Under the Countess’s sway, Valerie trades in one abusive relationship for one that has all the signs of even being more abusive.

There were some wonderful kitsch scenes such as the surprise of seeing Stefan’s mother (Fons Rademakers, Dutch director), the Countess vampire killing time by knitting, the nude wrist-slashing shower death scene, and the fantastic shot of the Countess making like a bat as she wraps her 1930s styled cloak around Valerie while standing near a sand dune after burying one of their own.

Kümel proves to be a master of the mise-en-scène, conveying sexual tension, and getting to the heart of character relationships. All the death scenes are filled with much blood, but have a comical look. This is far from the traditional vampire movie, but still has enough elements in it to keep the genre fans on their toes watching for the usual vampire ploys. It’s a moody piece that becomes at time ludicrous (Like, what do you expect!), but as a curiosity type of horror film it’s original and far more intelligent than what you might have thought possible.