No one ever said art had to be in good taste – Roger Ebert
In case you haven’t noticed, one of my categories is devoted to B-Movies and Cult films. Lately, I have been ignoring this aspect of film. Well, that ends now.
I do not know why I enjoy those types of films. But I do – some of these films have something truly special in them. However, I am hard pressed to explain why. I think it is because that passion is a lot easier to see in films that were made. Usually, they are the results of a small team that is desperate to tell a story. The studio gatekeepers are practically non-existent, meaning that these filmmakers are free to experiment in a variety of ways. That passion also is what inspires generations of filmmakers – George Lucas was not inspired by Gone with the Wind, but by Flash Gordon serials. Robert Rodriguez has said he was inspired by Escape From New York more than anything else. Most people ignore B-movies, but this is a mistake.
In addition, most B-movies are unrealistic and downright silly in the way they treat the world. But in some cases, that is part of the point. Films are not always supposed to be realistic. Some B-movies approach a level of surrealism that Dali could envy. They can also be better at building their atmospheres. To me, Carnival of Souls is a much more frightening film than The Grudge, because it can create a far better atmosphere. My whole inspiration for doing this to find art anywhere I can. And right now, I realize I desperately need to broaden my horizons.
So, here I look at a Eurotrash vampire B-movie called Daughters of Darkness. And you know what? It does a better job at creating a sense of macabre dread than many other vampire films I have seen.
The film involves two newlyweds, Stefan (John Karlen) and Valerie (Daniele Ouimet) on their honeymoon. They check into a hotel in Belgium, where a countess named Bathory (Delphine Seyrig) takes an interest in the couple and decides to stay at the hotel with them. Yet Bathory never seems to age, and her interest in the couple threatens them.
First, I should point out what the film does not have – vampires in the traditional sense. There are no scenes of vampires drinking blood (although the countess discuss doing so), there are no scenes of vampires fleeing from sunlight, there are no scenes with insanely over developed canine teeth.
Why call it a vampire film then? Because it deals with the same sort of themes that Anne Rice built his career on. It is an erotic film in many ways – especially when it comes to the newlyweds.
The film is basically about the devolution that is associated with the search for pleasure. Stefan becomes obsessed with murder and trying new things, to the point where he can no longer view his wife as a person. The countess encourages all of it, but she is not a traditional villainous figure. The true villain is human nature – and the fact that it is closer to animal nature then we ever care to think about.
What makes the film work is Seyrig’s performance. Even Wikipedia describes her as “channeling Marlene Dietrich.” This is actually quite accurate – she is eternally seductive to everyone that she encounters (male or female) and it is easy to see how she has been successful with her immortality. She also is channeling a predator who is toying with her prey. But unlike those predators who use these tactics for survival, Seyrig clearly gains pleasure from what she does. It is a very effective performance, especially for this kind of film.
Now, the film is certainly not among the best ever made. The effects are shabby (even by B-movie standards…watch the scene were a bowl breaks exactly in half and then slices wrists without actually touching them) and the final act does drag quite a bit, to the point where it almost possesses false ending syndrome. Still, by the time these become problems, the film has already made its point and these scenes are almost not worth mentioning.
I highly doubt that Daughters of Darkness could have been made by any traditional studio. It is almost too daring in its convictions. I know there are many who will condemn the film outright based on its content. But I admire how the film was not afraid to explore those themes. This is a B-film worth seeking out.