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Blu-Ray : Give it a Rent
Ranking:
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Release Date: February 22nd, 2011 Movie Release Year: 1971

Daughters of Darkness

Overview -

International screen icon Delphine Seyrig (of LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD fame) stars as Elizabeth Bathory, an ageless Countess with a beautiful young 'companion' (Goth goddess Andrea Rau) and a legendary legacy of perversion. But when the two women seduce a troubled newlywed couple (French beauty Danielle Ouimet and John Karlen of DARK SHADOWS and CAGNEY & LACEY), they unleash a frenzy of sudden violence and depraved desire that shocked both art house audiences and grindhouse crowds worldwide.

OVERALL:
Give it a Rent
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Region Free
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Length:
100
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.66:1
Audio Formats:
French DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Subtitles/Captions:
Spanish
Special Features:
Bonus Film
Release Date:
February 22nd, 2011

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

From the start of the 1971 Belgian horror film, 'Daughters of Darkness,' there is a thick air of mystery and an uncertain ambience of the macabre. A newlywed couple, Stefan (John Karlen) and Valerie (Danielle Ouimet), travels by train that makes loud, banshee-like screeches in the middle of the night, and is stopped for no apparent reason by a man with a red lantern hiding in the uncanny darkness. They arrive at a seafront resort in Ostend which is open during the off-season. The vast and extravagant hotel is deserted of all guests except for the concierge (Paul Esser), leaving the honeymooners with the run of the place. That is, until a weird but enigmatic Hungarian countess (Delphine Seyrig) and her secretary Ilona (Andrea Rau) join the pair for nightly conversations.

Director Harry Kümel, who co-wrote the screenplay with producer Pierre Drouot, creates an intriguing and oddly fascinating film about the secrets people keep. And perhaps, how such behavior can be construed as somewhat appealing. Stefan avoids telling Valerie more about his family and a supposedly overbearing mother. In fact, we see him have issue with calling home to announce his new marriage. And we know nothing of his wife, a literal blank slate that's not all too different from the beautiful Ilona. The countess — played to perfection by Seyrig ('Last Year at Marienbad'), who is said, by filmmakers, to have channeled Marlene Dietrich — is also seductively cryptic about her origins. The film's plot comes with a kind of reserved attribute about it as well, revealing minor bits of exposition as the story moves along.

Much of this mystery is in our interest of the countess herself, a lovely and resplendent woman who quickly warms up to the newlyweds. The story never outright claims the overly-confident lady is a creature of the night, but we're clued in to the possibility by the hotel clerk, who remembers her from when he was a child looking exactly the same age. The dead giveaway is, of course, her name being Elizabeth Báthory and the suspicion that death seems to follow her. There's also something alarmingly strange about Stefan. As we watch the couple vacation, we slowly realize the couple hasn't known each other for long, their marriage was on a hasty whim, and he apparently has a violent streak. We don't like Stefan as the movie progresses, and his disturbing behavior is never fully explained.

Surrounding his characters with the gothic immenseness of the hotel, Kümel uses space as an important role in how these people interact with one another. If two people are not seen with a great emptiness separating them, looking at one another from afar, then they're intimately close, shrouded in sadistic anger or talking endlessly about nothing. One memorable scene is when Stefan and Ilona turn towards each other while in the hotel's lounge, an enormous grand room that looks like something out of a dream. While he stands in the middle of the room and she is halfway up the stairs, their stare is immediately recognizable as lustful though they've only just met. Kümel does marvelously in using the resort's unique architecture to build upon the film's atmosphere of mystery and the macabre.

'Daughters of Darkness' is considered an erotic vampire film — the sort of sexually-explicit material that suddenly became popularity in the 1970s. But the low-budget feature doesn't dwell much on the lurid details or make a big fuss about its horror elements. The story's vampire aspect is generally implied while the nudity seems a natural result of the scene, never really feeling as if intended to arouse the audience. The movie is far too focused on the characters and the somber anonymity that surrounds them. It's what makes Harry Kümel's 'Daughters of Darkness' so darn appealing and entertaining. Things are only hinted at and never disclosed, but viewers are left with an amazingly satisfying conclusion which has made the film a highly-stylized cult horror favorite.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

'Daughters of Darkness' arrives on Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc, housed in the standard blue keepcase. At startup, viewers are taken straight to the main menu selection with full-motion clips playing in the background.

Video Review

Ranking:

Blue Underground brings the 1971 vampire drama to Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that is at once beautiful and outstanding, but soon spoiled by some very noticeable and off-putting artifacts. Presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the video comes with an intentionally subdued contrast level to give the movie a gloomy appearance. Details are well-resolved and often very distinct for a forty-year-old production, showing terrific resolution and textural definition of clothing, architecture and facial complexions. Colors are accurate and bright, particularly reds, while other hues appear more natural. Blacks are generally deep with good visibility in the shadows. The image also displays a pleasing depth of field and a consistent grain structure.

Drawbacks in the transfer come by way of color fringing around the edges of some objects and some easy to detect chroma noise in the fine lines of a few scenes. There are also instances of banding in a couple fade-outs. Most troubling is the evidence of edge enhancement. From a certain distance, it may not be a glaring issue, but it's there nonetheless and observable enough to distract from enjoying the movie. If not for these anomalies, 'Daughters of Darkness' would make a remarkable presentation on Blu-ray.

Audio Review

Ranking:

The erotic vampire picture also comes with a good monaural soundtrack that nicely surpasses previous incarnations. Dialogue reproduction is intelligible and precise, where fans can enjoy each melodramatic conversation with terrific fidelity. The DTS-HD Master Audio track exhibits wonderful clarity and acoustics, allowing for the echoes of voices to travel through the halls of the empty hotel and subtle ambient effects to be clearly heard in the background. Dynamics are cleanly rendered and surprisingly expansive during scenes of loud screeching. There's really no bass to speak of, but along with the musical score playing throughout, the lossless mix shows a great deal of presence and sounding pretty much like one would expect from a low-budget horror feature of 1971.

Special Features

Ranking:

Porting over the same set of supplements from the 2-Disc Special Edition of 2006, Blue Underground unleashes 'Daughters of Darkness' with a nice collection of bonuses that fans can sink their teeth into. The only things missing are poster and still galleries.

  • Audio Commentaries — A pair of commentaries kicks things off and only accessible under the "Set Up" option in the main menu. In the first track, director Harry Kümel is joined by moderator David Gregory and talks fervently about his movie. The commentary is full of interesting information about casting, creative decisions, scene-specific remarks and various other technical aspects of the production. The filmmaker even shares some thoughts about the film, its unique visual style, and the Belgian locations. It's a great listen fans can enjoy.

    The second audio track features the former star of the 'Dark Shadows' soap opera John Karlen, along with journalist and film historian David Del Valle. The conversation is affable if not quite as entertaining as the previous talk, revealing more about the production from an actor's perspective. Some funny trivia and anecdotes is also shared between the men, discussing Kümel, performances, challenges, and the movie's cult following.

  • Locations of Darkness (SD, 22 min) — While walking around in the Belgian hotel where the film was shot, the director reminisces with co-writer and producer Pierre Drouot. The two talk extensively about the plot's origins, writing the screenplay, casting and performances, and the challenges in production.

  • Playing the Victim (SD, 15 min) — This an interview with star Danielle Ouimet sharing her thoughts and experience on the set as well as her overall career.

  • Daughter of Darkness (SD, 8 min) — Another interview, this time with Andrea Rau who talks about her previous work before joining the cast, her nude scenes and her impressions of the movie.

  • Trailers (HD) — Other than the original theatrical preview, four radio spots are included.

  • Bonus Film (SD, 101 min) — Rounding out the package is a special treat for fans of this specific genre — a bonus movie! The 1972 Spanish horror film, 'The Blood Spattered Bride' from Vicente Aranda, shows masculinity threatened by sensual lesbian vampires. Not quite as good as 'Daughters,' but it makes a wonderful companion piece as a double feature of graphic blood and explicit nudity.

Final Thoughts

'Daughters of Darkness' is a 1971 horror film from filmmaker Harry Kümel and features a memorable performance by Delphine Seyrig as the legendary Elizabeth Báthory. The highly-stylized vampire feature with strong erotica overtones offers an interesting story full of mystery and the macabre, one genre fans and cult enthusiasts can enjoy repeatedly. This Blu-ray edition from Blue Underground arrives with a lovely but troubled picture presentation and adequate audio. Supplements are the same as those seen on the 2-Disc Special Edition, making this a strong upgrade for cult aficionados and a decent rental for neophytes.