Daughters of Darkness 💅


My relationship status with vampires is complicated. They manipulate people to satiate their carnal desires by literally feeding on them. I don't eat meat. Yet I can't help but be transfixed by they're onscreen presence. Seduction is one of their great powers after all, but their cool confidence and elegant beauty also serves to inspire. When a marvelous person walks into your life, do you want to be with them or be them? The answer gets murkier if you're queer. It's no surprise that vampires are often coded as, if not, queer themselves.

The problem with 20th century vampires is that they're typically romanticized symbols of white western power. Look at the antagonist in Daughters of Darkness (1971), an undead version of Elizabeth Báthory, the real life 14th century countess, sadist, and serial-killer. Feminist figure Delphine Seyrig plays Elizabeth with more than enough glamour to command the screen. She can speak as if on the verge of a sleepy hunger but with focus. Every move she makes tingles with small ecstasy. It's the kind of sensual performance that might have inspired the writings of Anne Rice. The aristocrat Elizabeth has been using these devilish wiles for blood... for centuries. I shouldn't be fond of her, but the other thing about vampires is that they're vehicles to explore vilified identities within the mainstream. 

*** beware: spoilers and sexual violence ahead ***

Elizabeth takes interest in the film's central hetero newlywed couple, Valerie and Stefan, but really eyes the wife. This leads to tension with her then lover/thrall Illona (Andrea Rau). After Valerie has been successfully mesmerized, Elizabeth shows no grief when Illona ends up dead (as a naked female body trope). This may equate lesbianism with evil vampirism, but on the bright side Elizabeth is representative of self-autonomy. See, Stefan soon reveals himself to be an abusive husband. When he tries to take Valerie back with violence, it is Elizabeth that comes in for the rescue. Together they finish him off. It would seem that Stefan's misogyny partly derives from the shame he feels about his mother. He has been intentionally hiding a family secret from Valerie, which is revealed to us when he finally calls home. The person who picks up is either trans or an effeminate father. With Stefan's death, director Harry Kümel, at least, makes no hero out of the femmephobic male lead. 

Elizabeth, too, meets her end: in a fiery car accident. Valerie miraculously survives, now a vampire. Months later, we see that she is free of any controlling partner... only to seduce her very own couple. It's not an uncommon horror movie ending, but I like to think Valerie learns from her past and that she's just begun a fruitful and consensual polyamorous romance. 

Daughter of Darkness has a sort of understated campy style. Its saturated colors, theatrical deaths scenes, striking fashion choices, and sparkling lens flares create an aesthetic I wouldn't mind putting on repeat. It works, because it doesn't take itself too seriously. At one point the detective character even looks straight into the camera. Too bad, Countess Báthory had to burn, as I would have loved to see Seyrig's vampire in more '70s flicks. 

This has been day 6 of 31 days of horror.