Monday, October 05, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: Daughters of Darkness

#18 (Tie) - 4 Votes

No survey of '70s horror movies would be complete without a few lesbian vampires. While Dracula has been a perennial influence on the genre, the 1970s saw a wave of movies that drew inspiration Sheridan Le Fanu, whose short story Carmilla, about a young woman preyed upon by a female bloodsucker. Of all the movies of varying quality indebted to Carmilla and Le Fanu's real-life inspiration, 18th century serial killer Countess Elizabeth Báthory - whose beauty regime, it was rumored, included bathing in the blood of virgins - Daughters of Darkness is notable for actually featuring an immortal Báthory as its baddie. As played by Delphine Seyrig, Báthory arrives for a stay at a seaside resort in Belgium with her "secretary," Ilona (Andrea Rau), when she targets a newly married couple as her next prey. The Countess and her "secretary's" attempts to seduce and destroy the hip young marrieds almost plays as subversive - a queer triumph over bourgeois heteronormativity - though the movie's leering, porn-y vibe discourages that reading. Not that I'm complaining about the porniness, mind you.

I hadn't seen Daughters of Darkness before checking it out for this list, and my first impression is that it's a hysterical clash of the most highbrow and lowbrow trends in '70s cinema. The stylish art direction and costume design, evocative lighting, portentous dialogue and the casting of Delphine Seyrig - who'd worked with directors like Resnais, Buñuel and Truffaut - all suggest a horror movie that could have easily played in art houses. At the same time, the movie's frequent nudity and sex have a distinctly softcore Europorn vibe. The contrast between the high-minded approach to genre and gratuitous T&A are a reminder that flashes of nudity were one of the main selling points for European art house fare in the '60s, and that art films and smut weren't all that far apart.

In any case, as a vampire movie, Daughters of Darkness is a slow burn with a payoff that I found not entirely rewarding. As far as vampire movies with Sapphic overtones go, I remain partial to Hammer's Karnstein trilogy. Still, it's beautiful to look at, and I can see why director Harry Kumel's uniquely atmospheric approach to the genre has its fans. Also, cast members are naked and/or screwing around in full frontal, unshaven '70s glory every other scene, although, it must be noted, sex of the Sapphic variety is limited to a few tight-lipped kisses.

U.S. Release Date: May 28, 1971 (Also released that day: Big Jake, The Grissom Gang, Kuroneko)

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