Tuesday 15 February 2011

Daughters of Darkness (1971)

This is almost your definitive cult classic.  It's a horror movie, it's European, it features a couple of actors you'll know better from other things, it has the requisite dollops of nudity and violence but, above all, it's really really good.  It's not frightening as such but it is simultaneously erotic and deeply disturbing.

Plot-wise there's not much to it: two newlyweds arrive at a palatial but deserted out-of-season hotel in Ostend to wait for a boat to take them to England.  Unexpectedly another couple arrives - a beautiful Countess and her equally beautiful secretary - who seem unnaturally interested in their fellow guests.

The Countess arrives
The tension is created not through shocks - although there are a couple of hairy moments - but through the constantly shifting relationships between the four main characters, and you're never quite sure who is manipulating who.  There are themes of domination, submission, love and lust at work and the overall effect is very powerful.

Okay, so the symbolism isn't so subtle in this one
This is underpinned by a meticulous colour-coding which sees three main colours - red, white and black - and a couple of crucial shades inbetween are used almost exclusively for the sets and costumes.

My suspicion is that the colour of the clothes each of the four main characters wear changes to denote the role they are currently playing in this game of sex and death; but I haven't quite figured out the code yet.  For instance, in this next still, the colours have altered:

And at times, when there is a let's say 'coming together', the colours merge:

Delphine Seyrig, who plays the Countess, was an actress familiar from European arthouse cinema, most notably LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD and she's great.  John Karlen, as the husband, went on to play Harve, Tyne Daly's husband in CAGNEY & LACEY.  Also in the cast is Dutch film-maker Fons Rademakers who directed some highly regarded films of his own.  The director, Harry Kumel, sadly fell victim to the curse that afflicts so many talented film-makers and only made a handful of other features.

You can watch the trailer here but be warned - it pretty much gives the ending away.

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