Color, 1971, 100m. / Directed by Harry Kümel
Starring Delphine Seyrig, John Karlen, Daniele Ouimet, Andrea Rau
Blue Underground (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Optimum (UK R2 PAL), Umbrella (Australia R4 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Anchor Bay (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1)

Shortly after an impromptu wedding, Stefan (Dark Shadows' Karlen) and Valerie (Canadian softcore star Ouimet) wind up at an off-season, seaside resort where they meet another couple, the alluring but world-weary Elizabeth (Last Year at Marienbad's Seyrig) and her luscious companion, Ilona (German exploitation favorite Rau). Soon Elizabeth sets her sights on seducing Valerie away from her abusive husband, whose fear of introducing her to his rich mother covers some perverse skeletons in his closet. As the psychosexual mind games reach a fever pitch, the blood begins to spill...

The most elegant and deliciously witty entry in the unkillable string of lesbian vampire sagas originating from the early '70s (Hammer's Karnstein trilogy, Vampyres, etc.), this Belgian art house favorite dodges most of the horror and erotic conventions while delivering a sumptuous feast that still enchants viewers today. Surrealist director Harry Kumel, a contemporary of European émigrés like Von Sternberg, conjured up this dreamlike rumination on the story of real-life blood fetishist Elizabeth Bathory, transposed with a few strange plot twists into modern-day Europe.

Originally chopped down by over 10 minutes and severely re-edited (both visually and musically) for many English territories, Daughters of Darkness was restored to its original European running time around the time laserdiscs were giving way to the advent of DVD. Aside from a great deal of extra nudity, this print also allows the film adequate time to weave its spell, with Kumel's languorous fades to red at the end of many scenes finally reinstated. The transfer looked adequate for the time but became quickly dated, with Blue Underground's first issue on DVD simply upconverting the old transfer to 16:9 with deeply unsatisfying results.

Fortunately the third time was the charm, DVD-wise, as Blue Underground's much-needed 2006 upgrade boasts a considerably sharper, cleaner, and more vivid presentation, albeit with what appears to be some brightness and contrast boosting. Some of the darker scenes (especially the opening shots on the train) are still murky due to the heavy blue filter and diffusion effects, but that's not really a flaw in the transfer. The mono audio sounds fine (with the original English dialogue surprisingly free of any awkward dubbing), and Francois de Roubaix's delirious score really deserves a CD release one of these days. This edition carries over the extras from the previous laserdisc and DVD editions, such as an engaging commentary track with Karlen and writer David Del Valle (obviously the most Americanized supplement of the bunch and still very informative, as well as surprisingly candid) and a second, newer commentary with Kumel (who talks about his career, the origins of the film, and his visual techniques applied to create this oddball work of art). Also carried over are the great theatrical trailer, radio spots, a poster/still gallery, and a fine German-language video interview with Rau, "Daughter of Darkness" (with optional English subtitles), in which she discusses the making of the film (including her memorable nude scenes) and her career before and after. New to this set are two more featurettes, the fun 20-minute "Locations of Darkness" (with Kumel and co-writer/producer Pierre Drouot revisiting the shooting locations at the Astoria Hotel in Brussells and Hotel des Thermes in Ostende) and the 15-minute "Playing the Interview," a new chat with the still-lovely and charming Ouimet who talks about her big breaks in Canada, her affinity for "weird cinema," and her awed impressions of Seyrig. The DVD is avaialble as a single disc or a double-disc version with another lesbian vampire cult favorite, the much more brutal and Catholic-themed The Blood Spattered Bride. It's identical to the earlier Anchor Bay release in terms of transfer, trailer, and menus.

Nearly five years later, Blue Underground released the film in a Blu-Ray edition that looks significantly different from their prior HD upgrade. In the interim, versions in England and Australia came out, and the Blu-Ray looks closest to the Optimum UK release. The film has a more overcast, dusky look with more naturalistic colors, which contrasts with the pumped-up appearance of the previous American transfers. Detail on the Blu-Ray is obviously much, much sharper than any DVD option (you can even spot some complexion problems on the actors that were never visible before), and while that opening train scene is still pretty problematic as always, the rest is very satisfying and film-like. Perhaps even a nicer reason to upgrade than the image quality is the fact that the Blu-Ray is the only version containing the French language track, which also contains Seyrig's original voice and makes for a nice variation if you want to see how the film played in its native country. (Don't worry, the English track is still the default and has to be considered the primary language for the film.) Optional English subtitle tracks are provided for both the English track and a translation of the French track, which makes for a few nice variations including some additional little details about Ouimet's background. Optional Spanish and French subtitles are also included. The Blood Spattered Bride is included as well on the Blu-Ray, albeit in standard def only. All of the previous extras are carried over as well, too, except for the gallery (as to be expected given BU's past releases). A delicious presentation all around, this is a must for discerning Euro-horror gourmets.