Daughters of Darkness (Harry Kümel / Belgium-France-West Germany, 1971):
(Les Lèvres Rouges; Children of the Night; Blood on the Lips)

Delphine Seyrig drifts gracefully into the lobby, and the Resnais note is adduced: "It seems Madam may have already stayed in this hotel," the concierge says, jogging his memory to earlier decades (and to Marienbad). Harry Kümel takes the lead from Nosferatu and establishes the vampiric element as the unbalancing of the heterosexual couple, though less as an outside threat than as a beguiling force that heightens the couple's inner conflict. The setting is Belgium, painted crimson, blue and gold; John Karlen and Danielle Ouimet are the young newlyweds whose honeymoon in Ostend is already tense with the husband's odd refusal to break the news to his mother (possibly because "Mother" is actually Fons Rademakers, a rouged, perfumed mark of Old World faggotry). Their hotel is empty until Seyrig's Countess Bathory arrives in satiny '30s gowns along with her Lulu-coiffed "secretary" (Andrea Rau), one exquisitely soigné and the other exquisitely doleful. The slew of slaughtered women (slashed wrists, drained bodies) taking place in Bruges rouses Karlen's fascination with death -- the couple's formal drawing-room chat with the Countess (her recipe for eternal beauty: "A very strict diet, lots of sleep") climaxes with the husband writhing in ecstasy to her graphic description of medieval atrocities. Kümel understands his Le Fanu antecedents (Dracula's Daughter, Blood and Roses) and contemporaries (Vampyros Lesbos, The Velvet Vampire), and makes his decadence drolly enchanted, building insinuating mood until blood comes in Psycho's shower-sex-blade equation to grant Rau's request ("I wish I could die"). Ouimet's soul lies at the center of the somnambulist tug of war between bloodsucker and asshole hubby -- both sides are vanquished (Karlen in a set-piece that rhymes a distressed ocular iris with a deadly glass bowl, Seyrig in a baroque reworking of Lana Turner's breakdown in The Bad and the Beautiful), the heroine is left to begin a new decade with expanded appetites. With Paul Esser, Georges Jamin, and Joris Collet.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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