Daughters of Darkness

Daughters of Darkness (1971)
Blue Underground
Cast: John Karlen, Danielle Ouimet, Delphine Seyrig
Extras: Commentary Track, Second Feature Film

Stefan (John Karlen) and his beautiful new bride Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) are about to find out that the honeymoon doesn't last long for some couples. While vacationing and celebrating their new lives together, the two lovebirds cross paths with Countess Bathory (Delphine Seyrig) and her companion Ilona (Andrea Rau). The Countess takes more than a passing interest in the couple, confessing to Ilona how "perfect" and "beautiful" they are before finally approaching the couple. Tucked away in a resort while gristly murders seem to be the talk of the town, the Countess appears to have more up her sleeve than she lets on.

"Daughter of Darkness" will no doubt divide viewers – even those who are fans of the Blue Underground catalog. Being advertised as "one of the finest vampire films ever produced" (All Movie Guide) on the back cover certainly raises the bar and may lead curious viewers to higher expectations given their individual experience with vampire movies. My advice for these viewers is to know what you are getting into. "Daughters of Darkness" would best be described as a sensual thriller with a pacing similar to Nicolas Roeg's outstanding "Don't Look Now." "Daughters of Darkness" doesn't hang its hat on vicious kills or a slasher-like pace. The exquisite backgrounds are complimented by seduction along with a cat and mouse game fueled by lust and greed. The dialogue heavy film will please fans with nudity more than gore, progressing towards an ending that highlights the film. This is a vampire movie for refined tastes with a unique pallet.

Naturally, the 1.66:1 AVC Encoded 1080p transfer is a step above the DVD released by Blue Underground in 2006. In comparing the DVD and Blu-Ray Disc, backgrounds are now more vivid and defined, while some of the darker scenes have more clarity under the blue moonlight. This certainly isn't a slight against that release, but the high definition transfer certainly showcases the reds and overall background beauty the film has to offer. There is a fairly heavy amount of grain throughout the movie, which provides a soft, film like presentation. Fleshtones are fine throughout and the black levels are great.

Films like "Daughter of Darkness" are going to have limitations. Blue Underground is known for giving these types of releases multi-channel upgrades, but I'm not sure "Daughters of Darkness" would benefit from the additional sound fields. Upgraded from a Dolby Digital Mono track found on DVD, the DTS-HD Lossless 1.0 track does all it can to deliver high quality sound, but the source material seems to hinder it.

The film is very dialogue heavy and has little use for a multi-channel soundtrack other than music and minor sound effects. Dialogue levels are good, yet seem to be a bit restricted. Those headed into the film with the knowledge that "Daughters of Darkness" didn't set out to win awards for sound will be pleased with what is obviously the best audio this movie has ever had.

Kicking things off in the extras department is a feature length commentary with Co-Writer/Director Harry Kümel. Presented in a thick French accent, Kümel provides the film with a stripped down track, seamlessly bouncing back and forth from stories, memories of the cast, technical banter, Hammer Films and an admiration for his final product. Prompted with questions, Kümel will sometimes interrupt his stories to mention that he didn't get a particular shot right and mention how beautiful a sunset was that particular evening. He is an obvious lover of film. A second commentary also comes across as a feature length interview. This track is moderated by Journalist David Del Valle who questions John Karlen, who played Stefan in the film. Karlen's raspy voice provides a fun, informative track that really adds substance to the film. He is enthusiastic and provides great memories of his time on the project. Showcasing his sense of humor, John is able to laugh at how he was a bit miscast (too old) and chuckle while watching some of the more erotic scenes in the film after so many years.

The remaining features are all presented in 480p (with the exception of the film's theatrical trailer, which is 1080p). 'Locations of Darkness' (21:37) is a modern tour of the two locations used for 'Daughters of Darkness' with Co-Writer/Director Harry Kümel and Co-Writer/Co-Producer Pierre Drouot. The men walk through and explain why The Astoria in Brussels was used for its exquisite interior design. Scenes from the film are shown as the men discuss the movie and show how the hotel has changed a bit, yet maintained its beauty over the past few decades. The Hotel Des Thermes takes a bit of a backseat in the featurette as Harry flies solo to showcase a few of the exterior shots and one of the great interior dining scenes in the movie. This featurette could easily have been a 'Then and Now' filled with stills, but the walkthrough and additional material certainly give this value and a personal touch. 'Playing The Victim – An Interview With Star Danielle Ouimet' (15:29) is more of a running commentary by the blonde star. She reveals that the casting call required an actress with no experience and gives the impression that she is into the same odd films that Blue Underground is famous for. 'Daughter of Darkness – Interview With Star Andrea Rau' (7:59) shows that this beauty has aged well and has a great deal to say despite being a bit of a secondary character in the film. Speaking in her native French with English subtitles, Andrea talks about her nudity in the film and the 'spider' theme that pops up in the film for her character. Some may be interested in her take on the chemistry between herself and Delphine Seyrig.

I love how both interviews feel natural. Many interviews with today's stars feel staged and scripted. These ladies loved working on "Daughters of Darkness" and it is obvious by the way their eyes light up as they reminisce. Also included on the disc are the theatrical trailer and four, thirty second Radio Spots.

Since she passed away in 1990, it is well understood why Delphine Seyrig is absent from the special features. Her performance as Countess Bathory was splendid and deserves a mention separate from the rest of the film. Seyrig's role is to seduce Stefan and Valerie, yet she manages to do the same with viewers throughout the film. Her smooth voice and calm demeanor allow her lines to roll off the tongue, demanding the attention of anyone who listens. Known more for her stage acting and multiple entries in Criterion's catalogue, Seyrig brings an elegance and class to "Daughters of Darkness" that few films in the genre manage to achieve. Being a lover of film, there is no doubt why Kümel had to add this beauty to his film.

An additional extra feature is the full length film, "The Blood Spattered Bride." As it was on the double disc DVD release of "Daughters of Darkness," Blue Underground has hooked fans up with two films for the price of one. Being this is a movie that certainly deserves its own review; I will only mention that the film is presented in 480p and is a welcome feature on this release.

"Daughters of Darkness" is not for everyone. The film has a slow pace that may turn off some genre fans looking for a bit more bite in their vampire films. That being said, it is certainly worth a watch, especially for fans of odd sensual cinema and those who sing the praises of 'Don't Look Now'. The audio and video presentation are both outstanding and the special features are highlighted by a second feature length film – 'The Blood Spattered Bride'. Fans who picked up the two disc DVD set in 2006, only have a high definition presentation as reason to upgrade since the extra features are the same (minus the poster and still gallery), but genre fans who have yet to add this strange film to their collection may want to order this Blu-Ray Disc.