• Daughters Of Darkness (Blue Underground) 4k UHD / Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Blue Underground
    Released on: October 27th, 2020.
    Director: Harry Kumel
    Cast: John Karlen, Delphine Seyrig, Danielle Ouimet, Andrea Rau
    Year: 1971
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    Daughters Of Darkness – Movie Review:

    One of numerous films based on the legend of Countess Bathory (who has also inspired numerous musical tributes – think Venom! - and comic book series as well), Harry Kumel's Daughters Of Darkness (also known as Les Levres Rouge or The Red Lips) is definitely one of the more unique entries. While it plays with a lot of the same themes and ideas as other 'lesbian vampire' films such as those made by Jean Rollin and Jess Franco, Kumel's film distinguishes itself thanks to its Belgian locations, its casting and its cinematography (it's also one of the rare European genre imports of the era that was shot in English).

    Valerie (lovely French-Canadian actress, Danielle Ouimet) and her brand new husband Stefan (John Karlen of Dark Shadows) have just been wed and they're off to celebrate at a picturesque seaside town where they hope to catch some rest and relaxation. The summer is over and the tourism has died down but while they're there they meet another couple, two women – a Hungarian Countess named Elizabeth (Delphine Seyrig of Luis Bunuel's The Discrete Charm Of The Bourgeoisie) and her servant, Ilona (German sex pot Andrea Rau).

    As time passes on the trip, Valerie comes to learn the hard way that Stefan is actually a bit of an ass and that he's into slapping girls around. After this happens, it leaves Valerie wide open and Elizabeth, sensing this, moves in to seduce her. As Valerie's relationship with Elizabeth intensifies she learns of her family's history and later finds out that Stefan, who has been hesitant to bring his lovely new bride home to meet his mother, has been hiding some rather dubious history from her. Meanwhile, Ilona has been making eyes at Stefan, who is finding her increasingly hard to resist or even ignore. Soon enough, someone winds up dead and it all hits the proverbial fan so to speak.

    While the storyline here isn't going to wow anyone with its originality (it's little different from countless other lesbian vampire films), it is so well directed and unfolds with such dreamlike pacing and atmosphere that it's hard not to get sucked into the strange world that Daughters Of Darkness lies open in front of us. Danielle Seyrig steals the show as Countess Bathory and despite the fact that she doesn't have long protruding fangs we know who she is long before poor Valerie does. She has a very glamorous and rather timeless look to her that makes her perfect for the part and she contrasts nicely against the raw sensuality that Andrea Rau brings to her part and the naive charm that Ouimet offers the film. Karlen is quite good as the bastard of a husband and he too does a fine job with what is really not all that remarkable a script. The four main participants have got great chemistry together and when you couple this with the extremely stylish direction and lush European locations used for the film you've got a really interesting movie.

    What might put some off is the pacing of the film. While it works perfectly in the context of the film and the atmosphere that it creates much of the movie is pretty weird and it might not work for those unaccustomed to films from the genre. That being said, for seasoned Euro-cult fans, it's already been well established that this film is a bit of a classic of its kind and it still maintains that eerie, other worldly quality even after repeat viewings.

    As with the previous DVD releases from Blue Underground and Anchor Bay before them as well as the previous Blue Underground Blu-ray release, this is the full strength uncut version of the film which runs approximately ten minutes longer than butchered counterpart which contained a lot less nudity.

    Daughters Of Darkness – UHD Review:

    Daughters Of Darkness arrives on UHD from Blue Underground on a 100GB disc in a 4k transfer of the original 35mm negative framed at 1.66.1 widescreen in an HEVC / H.265 encoded 2160p with HDR and Dolby Vision enhancement. With the restoration supervised by Harry Kumel himself (as per Blue Underground’s press release), it looks gorgeous. Colors are vastly improved over the previous Blu-ray release, which now looks rather pallid by comparison. The primary colors used throughout the movie really pop, without ever looking artificially boosted or incorrectly displayed. There’s considerably more noticeable depth to the film than we’ve ever seen on disc before, with scene that once looked pretty muddy now showing a considerable amount of detail that was previously lost. Skin tones look perfect, black levels are spot on, and the image, thankfully, always looks like film, showing no problems with any visible edge enhancement or noise reduction ,retaining the natural film grain you’d want but showing no real print damage to speak of. This looks pretty much flawless.

    New to this UHD release is a Dolby Atmos track in English that, like the other Blue Underground Atmos offerings on their UHD releases, stays pretty true to the movie’s mono roots while still managing to spread the score and occasional effects into the surround channels to nice effect. This happens not just in the more action intensive scenes, but in the quieter moments as well. Purists will, of course, prefer the mono option but this Atmos mix features excellent depth and some impressive range as well. There are no problems with any audible hiss or distortion. It’s perfectly balanced and it sounds great.

    Carried over from the Blu-ray release are English language options provided in 24-bit 5.1 DTS-HD and 16-bit 1.0 DTS-HD and a 24-bit 1.0 DTS-HD French language track. As far as subtitles go, we get English SDH, French and Spanish options as well as a separate English subtitles option for the French track.

    First up, in terms of extra features, are two commentaries which may be familiar to longtime fans of the film. The first track is with director Harry Kumel moderated by David Gregory and it appeared on the previous Blue Underground release of the film. This is a great discussion as Gregory obviously knows the film well enough to ask the right questions and Kumel seems only too happy to oblige him as he talks about shooting the movie in Belgium, his personal aesthetic as a filmmaker and why he chose to shoot some of the scenes the way that he did. He covers casting and talks about his working relationships with most of the cast members and he even covers some of the editing briefly. It's a pretty active talk with a lot of good information that fans of the film will definitely want to take the time to listen to if they haven't already heard it from the previous release.

    The second commentary features actor John Karlen and writer David DelValle and it was included on the Anchor Bay DVD release from some years back. There's a really pleasant sense of humor present throughout this talk and both participants seem to be having a blast examining and discussing Karlen's involvement in this movie and his career in general. We hear about his scenes with a few of the other performers and how certain issues cropped up on set and what it was like working with the film's director. It's not quite as flat out informative as the first track but it's just as enjoyable.

    A third commentary, exclusive to this release, features Kat Ellinger, the author of Devil's Advocates: Daughters of Darkness. Given that she literally wrote a book about the film that required, no doubt, a considerable amount of research, including interviewing both Harry Kumel and Danielle Ouimet, she’s a good fit here. She starts by discussing her appreciation for the quality of the new restoration and the differences that it makes to being able to properly appreciate the film, before then going on to talk about where Kumel’s inspiration for the film came from, how the film toys with expectations most viewers will have when considering traditional vampire horror films, what makes the film stand out from the countless other vampire pictures that are out there and how the movie taps into the arthouse scene. She also covers the contributions of the different cast and crew involved with the picture, offering plenty of biographical detail about their respective lives and careers, some of the locations that were used for the film, how the ‘battle over Valerie’ is really the core of the film, the use of metaphor in this and other vampire films, subtleties worth appreciating in the performances and loads more.

    In addition to the commentary tracks, Blue Underground has included two featurettes, the first of which is the twenty-minute Locations Of Darkness where Kumel and his producer, Pierre Drouot, return to the two hotels that were used as the location for the feature. Spread out in here too are some interview clips where the two men discuss their roles in the film and how they feel about the picture. This is a pretty interesting segment as we learn why certain spots were chosen for certain scenes and how the two different hotels were made into one singular hotel for the film.

    The second featurette is the fifteen-minute Playing The Victim which is, as one might guess from the title, an interview with Danielle Ouimet who has absolutely no problem at all reliving her experiences on set for the camera. She talks frankly and honestly about working with the cast and crew and about shooting in Belgium in addition to how she got her start in the movie industry and how she feels about Daughters Of Darkness.

    Carried over from Blue Underground's first DVD release is an eight-minute interview with Andrea Rau entitled Daughter Of Darkness she speaks in subtitled German about working on the movie and about her character as well as what it was like working on some of the more unusual and erotic scenes in the film.

    Rounding out the extras are a trio of theatrical trailers (U.S., international and French), some radio spots, the two-minute alternate U.S. main titles sequence, an extensive poster and still gallery, menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release, we also get a region free 50GB Blu-ray disc that includes a 1080p version of the same restoration and which features the same audio options, including the Atmos track, and identical extra features to those found on the UHD.

    Also included in the package is a CD containing the entire Daughters Of Darkness soundtrack by François de Roubaix (twenty-two tracks in total, including three remixes and a bonus song!) as well as a full color booklet containing a new essay by Michael Gingold entitled Daughters Of Darkness: A Family History. As to the packaging, Blue Underground provides a reversible cover sleeve featuring their newly created artwork on one side and the original art on the reverse and, for the limited edition first pressing, a slick lenticular slipcover.

    It is worth pointing out, however, that the last release included a standard edition of The Blood Splattered Bride, which has since been released on Blu-ray by Mondo Macabro and has not been carried over to this release.

    Daughters Of Darkness – The Final Word:

    Daughters Of Darkness is a fantastic blend of horror and eroticism all wrapped up in some stylish photography and enhanced by a really great cast. Blue Underground's 4k UHD reissue offers a noticeable and substantial upgrade from previous releases and includes all of the extra features from past versions as well some new ones as well. Fans of the film can rest assured that this one is worth the upgrade for the gorgeous restoration that provides a much richer, more rewarding viewing experience and the new supplemental material. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Daughters Of Darkness Blu-ray screen caps!