Friday, November 20, 2020

DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971) (Blue Underground 50th Anniversary 3-Disc Limited Edition 4K UHD Review)


Label: Blue Underground
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 100 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Atmos, DTS-HD MA 5.1 and Mono 1.0, French DTS-HD MA Mono 1.0 with optional French, Spanish and English SDH subtitles. 
Video: 2160p UHD & 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Director: Harry Kümel
Cast: Delphine Seyrig, John Karlen, Danielle Ouimet, Andrea Rau, Paul Esser

We open with the Hungarian Countess Bathory (Delphine Seyrig, Last Year At Marienbad) and her sensual female companion Ilona (Andrea Rau) having just arrived at a grand beachfront Belgian where they take notice of another new arrival, newlyweds Stefan (John Karlen, TV's Dark Shadows) and Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) who are vacationing through Europe on their honeymoon. Introductions are made and the newlyweds find themselves enthralled by the charming Countess and her alluring female companion, both unwittingly playing into Bathory's seductive web of sexuality and soul destruction. 

During their stay Valerie finds that her new husband is prone to cruel sexual proclivities and has an aversion to saying that he loves her, as well as not wanting to introduce her to his mother. As his emerging cruelty begins to drive her away the Countess sieves the opportunity to further enthrall the attractive Valerie with her supernatural charms, while her sexpot secretary Ilona, who begins to grown jealous of the Countess's preoccupation with Valerie, sets her spidery-sights on her cruel husband Stefan.

Director Harry Kümel (The Legend of Doom House) crafted a vampire film with Daughters of Darkness that was like no other before or since in my opinion, this being his elegant take on the story of the notorious Elizabeth Bathory, an aristocratic woman said to have committed hundreds of atrocities on young women, and then bathing in their blood to preserve her youthful beauty and vitality. Leading lady Seyrig embodies that supernatural ageless beauty with an old Hollywood glamor and grace that is seductive from the first moment she emerges onscreen to the last, I couldn't take my eyes off of her, and I love the only slight tinge of camp that creeps into it.

Daughters of Darkness is an early venture into the realm lesbian vampire erotica, a theme explored often and more lustfully all through the nineteen-seventies by the likes of Jess Franco, Jean Rollin and even a few of the Hammer Films. None of those however compare to the magnetic blood-magic of Daughters of Darkness, even though it is not as sexually explicit as the other films. What is does have is a becy of European beauties, tightening sexual tension and dreamlike atmosphere with sumptuous arthouse visuals to create a suductive and elegantly made film. The beachfront hotel is not exactly Gothic but it is opulent and old world, and that it's set during the dreary rainy off season adds a strange eerie quality to the film. Another artful element are the fashions adorned by the Countess Bathory, her make-up and outfits recall the glamor of silent-era Hollywood more so than the seventies, with the character being heavily styled after Marlene Dietrich, making her a timeless beauty, but a beauty out of place. 

The way Bathory is filmed with the soft light shimmering off of her impossibly porcelain skin also gives it that otherworldly feel, and even though it's her secretary that has the hungrier eyes it's quite clear that Bathory is the one in control. I also find it interesting that the film doesn't rely heavily on the usual vampire tropes, though there are certainly bloodsucker familiarities with a wrinkle, like an aging Van Helsing character by way of a retired detective (Georges Jamin), but there are zero blood-dripping fangs to be found.

Another interesting character is the hotel concierge Pierre (Paul Esser) who is startled at the first sight of Bathory, noting that he remembers a woman who looked exactly like her visiting the hotel forty years earlier when he was only a busboy, but that it could not possibly be her as she has not aged a single day. I also like that it deals with vampire lore not often depicted in films, like an aversion to running water, which plays out in the film. 

The 100-minute film might be a bit long in the fang for the uninitiated but as someone who enjoys a slow-burn and can enjoy a good atmospheric story I never felt the pang of time passing while watching it, I was enthralled from the first frames right on thorough to last. It's a hypnotic watch full of opulence, sexual-tension and oodles of dreamy atmosphere, which when combined into such a intoxicating brew has the ability to put you into a thrall that you won't soon emerge from. 

Audio/Video: Daughters Of Darkness (1971) arrives on 3-Disc Limited Edition 4K UHD with a brand spanking new restoration scanned in 4K 16-bit from the long thought lost original 35mm camera negative, which was supervised and approved by director Harry Kümel. Blue Underground celebrate the film's 50th anniversary further with a new Dolby Vision HDR color-grading that looks marvelous. Presented in 2160p Ultra HD and framed in the original 1.66:1 widescreen this is a  gorgeous restoration with a natural looking sheen of film grain that is visible throughout. The camera negative looks to have been in fantastic shape with nary a signs of age-related wear and tear to mar the image. The presentation is full-bodied, authentically crisp and finely detailed with close-ups of clothing textures, facial features and the nude form offering pleasing amounts of natural looking euro-cult eye-candy. The Dolby Vison HDR color-grading further enrichens the primaries giving the reds, blues and purples added depth and pop. The HDR also affords deeper blacks which enhance depth and contrast throughout. Screenshots used in this review are from the Blu-ray as I am unable to pull UHD screenshots at this time. 

We get four audio options on the UHD, we get new English Dolby Atmos and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround remixes as well as the original English DTS-HD MA 1.0 Mono mix, plus we get the French DTS-HD MA 1.0 Mono, with optional with optional French, Spanish and English SDH subtitles. The Atmos upgrade is well-done, dialogue is direct throughout with the fantastic score by François de Roubaix getting a full-bodied placement in the mix. Again, I love the Atmos audio but I always find myself being drawn to the original mono on these older Euro-cult titles.  

Blue Underground carry-over all the extras from their 2011 Blu-ray release which renders that previous disc now obsolete. These archival extras include a pair of audio commentaries; the first with co-writer/director Harry Kümel and the second with star John Karlen who is joined by film historian/journalist David Del Valle. They also carry-over the 21-minute 'Locations of Darkness' interview with co-writer/director Harry Kümel and co-Writer/co-producer Pierre Drouot as they tour the hotels where they shot the film, the 16-minute 'Playing the Victim' interview with Star Danielle Ouimet, and the 8-minute 'Daughter of Darkness' interview with Star Andrea Rau, and 2-minutes worth of radio spots. 

New stuff comes by way of a brand new interview with British cult-cinema expert Kat Ellinger, Author of Devil's Advocates: Daughters of Darkness, plus co-host of the Daughters of Darkness Podcast, which I have not got around to yet, but she always brings her A-game to these commentaries so I am looking forward to hearing it. I just listed to Ellinger guest on The Projection Booth podcast tackling this film, so I wanted to wait a bit before I gave this new track a listen. Additionally we get three trailers for the film from various territories, and a rough looking 2-minute alternate U.S. main title credits sequence with a cool title song by jazz singer Lanie Cooke. There is also a jam-packed poster & still gallery with over one hundred images of stills, promotional images, press clipping and various home video releases from around the world. Of course we also get a Blu-ray disc which mirrors the feature in 1080p and the extras, plus a 22-track bonus CD containing François de Roubaix score, including six bonus tracks, five of which are remixes. 

The three-disc limited edition arrives in an oversized clear Scanavo keepcase with three hubs, one for each disc. We get a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring a new illustration as well as the illustrated artwork that accompanied the previous Blu-ray and DVD releases from Blue Underground. These artworks are replicated on the Blu-ray and UHD discs, and the new illustration is featured on the sexy limited edition lenticular slipcover. 

Inside we you will find a 20-page collectible booklet with new writing on the film by the always well-informed and fun to read Michael Gingold who writes about the genesis of the film, putting the film in context of other vampire films of the era, placing it as one of the earliest films to take inspiration from the Countess Bathory story, along with information about the the cast and crew, and how the film was received during it's initial run at the cinema. The booklet also contains cast and crew information, movie chapter selections, the CD soundtrack track listing, plus still images and movie posters. This is a glorious celebration of a truly mesmerizing vampire flick. I would also note that this is the first time Blue Underground have released a 4K UHD as a 3-Disc Limited Edition. Usually they release a 3-disc Blu-ray set and then release a UHD version without the soundtrack CD and lenticular slipcover, often to the chagrin of fans who have already purchased the 3-disc Blu-ray set. I think it is fantastic that we're getting everything upfront the first time around, and I believe as they move forward with more UHD releases that will most likely be their modus operandi. 

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Harry Kümel
- Audio Commentary with Star John Karlen & Journalist David Del Valle
- NEW! Audio Commentary with Kat Ellinger, Author of Devil's Advocates: Daughters of Darkness
- Locations of Darkness: Interviews with Co-Writer/Director Harry Kümel & Co-Writer/Co-Producer Pierre Drouot (21 min) 
- Playing the Victim: Interview with Star Danielle Ouimet (16 min) 
- Daughter of Darkness: Interview with Star Andrea Rau (8 min) 
- NEW! U.S. Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- NEW! French Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- NEW! International Trailer (3 min) 
- Radio Spots (2 min) 
- NEW! Alternate U.S. Main Titles (2 min) 
- NEW! Poster & Still Gallery (124 Images)
- NEW! Found Footage Without Audio (1 min) 
- BONUS! Daughters Of Darkness Original Motion Picture Soundtrack CD by François de Roubaix
- BONUS! Collectible Booklet with new essay by Michael Gingold
- BONUS! Reversible sleeve of artwork and 3D lenticular slipcover (First Pressing Only)

Blue Underground have been absolutely killing it with their initial spate of UHD releases but this 3-Disc Limited Edition UHD of seductive bloodsucker Daughters Of Darkness (1971) is my favorite yet. A truly sublime film with an exquisite Ultra HD presentation and gorgeous collectible packaging that is among the best I have seen in 2020. I could not recommend this film and this limited edition UHD release more, if you're a Euro-cult fan this is an essential item, buy it, buy it now before it's gone. 

More screenshots from the Blu-ray: 

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