Les Lèvres Rouges (Daughters of Darkness) (1971) - Harry Kümel

Language: English
Country: Belgium | France | West Germany


 The plot of the film is an elaborately constructed fever dream, and much more rewarding when it unfolds for the viewer unexpectedly. The film begins by introducing the viewer to Stefan and Valerie, a young couple who were recently married after not knowing each other for very long. The two are traveling from Switzerland to England so Valerie can meet Stefan's "mother," but end up staying in Ostend before they leave. In Ostend, they stay at a decadent, large, and empty hotel, and before long a mysterious woman by the name of Elizabeth Bathory and her assistant Ilona end up in the same hotel.

As soon as the mysterious women arrive at the hotel, the tension that has thus far been building between Stefan and Valerie almost explodes; Valerie is insistent upon Stefan's mother knowing about his marriage, but Stefan seems to be terrified by his mother and her "aristocratic" values. The Countess also seems to have an intense interest in the young couple, as as the days and nights unfold her motives appear more and more specific.

The film ends up becoming a magnificent vampire film with hardly any of the motifs that repeatedly pop up in most vampire related flicks. Kumel masterfully throws in a few symbolic signifiers to implicate the Countess as a vampire, but the weight of the story doesn't rely on mere gimmicks. The film is deeply saturated in colors, mostly consisting of the deep red (everywhere from clothing to cars to the lips of Delphine Seyrig's Countess) and an epic blue (the sky, the ocean bordering the hotel). The contrast between the two primary colors is utterly striking, and helps to visually extend the tension that is present in the plot. The visuals are also accompanied by a brilliant score from François de Roubaix that is both sexually swanky, tense, and atmospheric at the same time.

There are countless subtleties to the film that not only heighten the atmosphere, but also extend the psycho-sexual story of Stefan and Valerie's relationship into something truly worthwhile. The film, in actuality, has the relationship more at it's core than the vampires that help to extend these ideas. It's almost safe to say that the vampires are symbolic, but doing so would over look much of what makes the film a success.


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