Daughters of Darkness  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Daughters of Darkness (in France, Les Lèvres Rouges, and in Belgium, Les Rouges aux Lèvres) is a 1971 German-Belgium horror film, (spoken in English), directed by Harry Kümel. It is a highly styled erotic vampire movie, based on 'Camilla', the classical story of lesbian vampirism by Sheridan le Fanu. The screenplay was written by Pierre Drouot, Jean Ferry, Manfred R. Köhler and Harry Kümel.

A recently married young couple, Stefan (John Karlen) and Valerie (Daniele Ouimet), find themselves strained at a deserted grand hotel by the Belgian shore. Newly arrivals are a glamorous Hungarian countess, Elizabeth Báthory(Delphine Seyrig, channeling superbly Marlene Dietrich, and in a very convincing turn), and her 'secretaire' Ilona (Andrea Rau). An uncomforting seduction develops among the quartet, and the atmosphere soon subdues to sadism, murder and abandonment.

The direction keeps at a good pace, while never letting cinematography and style go awry in the duration of this unusual and erotic story.

Even though the plot could be seen as a big influence on a movie with similar plot, the 1983 Tony Scott's The Hunger, (with the same ending as Daughters of Darkness), both movies are based on different novels.

The real Elizabeth Báthory was a Hungarian countess who has been dubbed as the Female Count Dracula. She supposedly killed hundreds of virgin girls in her country.

The soundtrack, composed by François de Roubaix, has Steve Reich and Philip Glass tones, that help the speed of scenes.

Plot summary

A recently married young couple, Stefan (John Karlen) and Valerie (Danielle Ouimet), are on their honeymoon. They check into a grand hotel on the Ostend seafront in Belgium, intending to catch the cross-channel ferry to England, though Stefan seems oddly unenthused at the prospect of introducing his new bride to his mother. It is off-season, so the couple are alone in the hotel. Alone, that is, until the sun sets and a mysterious Hungarian countess, Elizabeth Báthory (Delphine Seyrig) arrives in a vintage Bristol driven by her "secretary", Ilona (Andrea Rau). The middle-aged concierge at the hotel swears that he saw the Countess at the same hotel when he was a little boy. The pair may have a connection to three separate gruesome murders of young girls that occurred in Bruges the previous week. On a day trip, Stefan and Valerie witness the aftermath of a fourth. At the hotel, the Countess quickly becomes obsessed with the newlyweds and the resulting interaction of the four people leads to sadism and murder. First Ilona, then Stefan, then the Countess dies, leaving Valerie, now transformed into a creature similar to the Countess, stalking new victims.


The critic Camille Paglia writes in Sexual Personae (1990) that Daughters of Darkness is a good example of a "classy genre of vampire film" that "follows a style I call psychological high Gothic." Paglia sees this "abstract and ceremonious" style, which depicts evil as "hierarchical glamour" and deals with "eroticized western power", as beginning in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Christabel, Edgar Allan Poe's short story "Ligeia", and Henry James's novella The Turn of the Screw.

According to the critic Geoffrey O'Brien:

Lesbian vampires made frequent incursions in the early 1970’s—in movies ranging from hardcore pornographic to dreamily aesthetic — as the Gothic horror movie took to flaunting its psychosexual subtexts. Daughters of Darkness leans flamboyantly toward the artistic end of the spectrum, with Delphine Seyrig sporting Marienbad-like costumes and the Belgian director conjuring up images of luxurious decadence replete with feathers, mirrors, and long, winding hotel corridors. At the film’s core, however, is a deeply unpleasant evocation of a war of nerves between Seyrig’s vampire and the bourgeois newlyweds into whose honeymoon she insinuates herself. Jaded age preys cunningly on narcissistic youth, and seductiveness and cruelty become indistinguishable as Seyrig forces the innocents to become aware of their own capacity for monstrous behavior. If Fassbinder had made a vampire movie it might have looked something like this.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Daughters of Darkness" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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