By Lizzie Brandt
No matter how many times I've been tangled in the cinematic castles, cobwebs, capes and candelabras of Count Dracula - and let me count the ways from Nosferatu to Only Lovers Left Alive, Bella Lugosi to Lestat, Christopher Lee to Let the Right One In - in my book, the most dazzling adaptation of the blood sucker is eternally damned to the 1971 Belgian horror film Daughters of Darkness.
I was introduced to Daughters of Darkness in junior high, by my older sister who at the time was going through a desperately dedicated gothic phase. A San Fernando Valley Girl turned Siouxsie Sioux - all crimped hair and tattered lace, crucifix and clove cigarette. She also had a New Romantic boyfriend, dolled up in ruffles and a pierrot pancake visage, who picked her up daily from North Hollywood High School in a 1960's hearse, but that's another story. In this story, my sister was my very own in-house curator of extremely important underground cinema. The weird stuff. One night, she presented me with a giant puffy video box (just like those old Disney tapes) featuring a close-up shot of a couple of ladies making out on the cover. It was Daughters of Darkness, and upon first glance, there was no sign of "Horror" on the VHS box, just XXX, which led our mom to wonder which of her teen daughters was investing her after-school job earnings in lady porn. We watched this tape too many times, definitely enough to take to the grave and (blood red lacquered fingers crossed) beyond.
Maybe I'm biased because of my spooky Hungarian blood-line (I strongly suspect my terrifying, platinum-blonde Budapest-born great grandmother Lillian was a vampire) but I declare Daughters of Darkness the perfect Transylvanian storm... Based on the true story of maybe the most magnificent murderess of all time, Countess Elizabeth Báthory, who was a noblewoman strolling around Hungary and Romania circa 1600, with a funky thing for kidnapping local village virgins to bathe in their blood. This macabre hobby was apparently just Elizabeth's extreme beauty routine, which luckily, many years later, inspired director Harry Kümel to turn the hot topic into a groovy movie. The true kicker is in the casting... Delphine Seyrig as the blood countess Bathory, slinking around in sparkles with Jean Harlow hair and a voice like a Persian cat purring in a pile of marabou. Then there's beautiful brunette sidekick Ilona, played by Andrea Rau, always so blue and doomed and thirsty for blood under the most perfect Vidal Sassoon halo. There are some other fair-haired characters in the film, honeymooner victims reminiscent of the band ABBA. Their early-1970s Scandinavian healthy good looks are worth a mention, but it's just so much cooler to be beautiful and damned.
Like a vampire on the prowl for blood, I'm eternally doomed to velvet capes, shiny Mary Janes, sex and death with a jazzy soundtrack, silk dresses and the supernatural. Pouting in the back of a Rolls-Royce Phantom limousine with poison red lips, maniacal hot-stuff hiding quietly under hosiery, and black baby doll dresses buttoned all the way up to a nice white collar. Feather boas and fur coats, hauntings in fancy old hotels and most of all, women who enjoy themselves in the most divinely decadent fashion with no regrets... And ain't no party like a Hungarian blood countess party.