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[Guest Post] The Countess Is Waiting For You: Daughters of Darkness

2013 February 27


Vampires have appeared in various incarnations throughout the history of cinema. From lonely Nosferatu, to Dracula, to vampire cowboys, vampire teenagers1 and, erm, vampire motorcycles.2

daughters-of-darkness-dvdFor a stylish, slinky and subversive depiction of a bloodsucker, Daughters of Darkness (directed by Harry Kümel, 1971) is well worth a look. It’s a hypnotic cocktail of horror and arthouse. The DVD has a campy Hammer-style cover and the tag line, ‘An erotic nightmare of vampire lust!’ Subtle. For some reason, there were a lot of lesbian vampire movies released in the 70s. However anyone looking for straight-up naughtiness will be disappointed with Daughters of Darkness. The vampires are beautiful women, but it’s not about titillation. It’s a lot weirder than that.

The story: a pair of newlyweds arrive at an out-of-season hotel in chilly Ostend. The bride – Valerie – is dressed all in white and appears to be the picture of naïve innocence. The groom – Stefan – has a handsome face, but there’s something not quite right about his smile. It almost looks like a sneer.

Their relationship appears to be a bit, well, peculiar. She’s concerned that he hasn’t told his mother about their marriage. He seems to be in no hurry to do so. Prior to their unscheduled stop-in at this beautiful but lonely place, they have both confessed that they don’t love one another and both seem okay with this. And then, during dinner, the sapphic vampire aristocrat arrives with her assistant/lover.

The Countess Bathory, played with otherworldly grace and just a hint of vulnerability by Delphine Seyrig, tells the couple that she is a descendant of the infamously murderous Hungarian countess. (A real historical character and template for the ‘glamorous female vampire’ archetype, Elizabeth Bathory was supposed to have been a serial killer but apparently wasn’t really into drinking virgins’ blood. That was a rumour that came about years after her death. The real Countess was never a vampire, just as Catherine the Great probably never even got to first base with any horses.)

Her loving description of the horrors her ancestor inflicted on young ladies gets Stefan a bit excited. Valerie is horrified. At first. And then the couple are drawn into the vampire’s world. In which the notions of victim and monster get turned sideways. And then the film briefly shows us Stefan’s ‘Mother’. (As the the none-more-seventies voiceover man enthuses in the film’s trailer, ‘She’s something else!’).

And there are some deaths. Including death by bowl.

Yes, bowl. And a lovely crystal bowl it is too. And someone knocks an entire lobster on the floor in the act. Such decadence! The film could be read as a mediation on power and relationships. (In their own ways, Countess Bathory and Stefan are both bullies.) Or an exercise in playing around with genre tropes. Or a daft-but-enjoyable confection of crazy featuring some splendid outfits (sequins, feathers, PVC capes!).

Actually, it’s probably a bit of all of these. It’s a strange and beautiful work. Even the bits that make you snigger might crop up in your dreams a long time after you’ve seen it.

  • Emily McQuade is the co-author of Film Burble, where she likes to discuss all things cinematic. She’d like to live in a world where action figures are manufactured for all Mike Leigh characters. When not thinking about films, she likes to skulk around London in search of books, comedy and mandrills. She can also be founding loafing about on Twitter: @missmcq.
  1. I once had to walk through a cinema foyer full of Twilight fans and had to restrain myself from bellowing, ‘It’s not as good as The Lost Boys.’ In a couple of decades hence, they’ll probably have to resist the urge to be similarly snarky about some future vampire boy-fest. []
  2. Yes really. I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle is a British horror/comedy from the late 80s. I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it, so can’t comment on its quality. []

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