Friday, July 11, 2014

Daughters of Darkness (1971)

“Genre rules” seem to be most common in zombie and vampire films, and it’s with these particular genres that breaking the “rules” ends up being the most controversial. Yet, these so called rules are non-existent, and filmmakers can do whatever they want. Of course, the big risk with breaking too many rules is that so many people will already hate the movie before/without even bothering to see it. On the other hand, sticking with the rules and relying too heavily on clichés is too easy and contributes to oversaturation of a genre. I personally enjoy the best of both worlds, classic and innovative, the best of the old with the best of the new. Give me what I came for, but surprise me too. Clichés are important but more for the sake of maintaining a basis of familiarity.

Harry Kümel’s emblematic, chic, and sensual vampire seduction Daughters of Darkness falls somewhere in the middle ground between familiar and different. It probably isn’t even worth mentioning the many parallels between this movie and The Blood Spattered Bride or The Shiver of the Vampires, other than to note they were made around the same time and manage to be so different from one another, even though they tell similar stories. They all contain a common sapphic vampire story that owes a lot to Sheridan Le Fanu’s novel Carmilla, which was adapted a year earlier with The Vampire Lovers in 1970 and ten years before that with Blood and Roses.




In Daughters of Darkness the Carmilla figure, an immortal vampiress who mysteriously arrives on the scene with a focus to seduce/destroy a female human, is the Hungarian Countess Elisabeth Báthory (Delphine Seyrig). It’s a nice imagining of what The Blood Countess might’ve been up to had she been able to escape her sentence of being immured in her own castle and managed to stay eternally young. Kümel originally wanted to create a period, costume piece about Elisabeth Báthory, but budget restrictions resulted in the film ending up being what it is, which I'm thankful for, because Countess Dracula was made the same year, and another one probably would've been redundant.




Upping the appeal this time around in this familiar tale is the pairing of the head antagonist vampiress with an almost sidekick-like partner called Ilona (Andrea Rau- her accent is one of the many great things about this movie). Elisabeth and Ilona are supposed to resemble classic actresses Marlene Dietrich and Louise Brooks, respectively. Louise Brooks was also an inspiration to Guido Crepax’s erotic, surreal comic character Valentina, and so, when observing Ilona and Elisabeth together, side by side, Ilona’s jet-black bobbed haircut and Elisabeth’s witchy funeral mourner look, one cannot help being reminded of Baba Yaga, the comic, film, and TV episode (this might be a little farfetched, but I like to see it as Valentina had she not been able to escape Baba Yaga’s influence…).




On the other side of the coin, we have the two main human characters, the newlyweds, Stefan (John Karlen) and Valerie (Danielle Ouimet - one of the earliest adult film stars from French Canada). Their relationship is unsteady, primarily because Stefan is so unstable. His character is ambiguous, and he shows many signs of having an affinity for violence, a violence that he eventually releases on his wife.




The scene where Stefan whips Valerie with a belt is intense and a turning point to the movie. It occurs after a bizarre moment when Stefan, who had been procrastinating calling his "mother," finally calls her, after Valerie’s constant insistence, to tell his “mother” about his new wife. This is one of the weirder parts in the movie, as Stefan’s mother is not what we were expecting. The phone call does not go well, and Stefan “punishes” Valerie for whatever humiliation he just went through. The outburst is filmed from outside the hotel windows, giving it a voyeuristic impression. Most remarkable is the aftermath shot of the couple lying on the bed, in what Kümel described as being emblematic of the ash figures of Pompeii.




The three things I remembered most about this movie after seeing it for the first time was the vivid and prominent use of the color red, Delphine Seyrig’s performance as The Blood Countess, and the “impossible” sex-move Ilona pulls on Stefan during their sex scene together (you have to know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen this – it looks very painful but is still a turn-on).

In most of the scenes there’s usually a central or singular red object, such as Stefan’s robe or Elisabeth’s gown, contrasted against everything else. It’s obviously very emblematic of blood, although the red items are usually brighter than blood, but they always stand out while still feeling properly integrated into the scenes, which frequently have black, white, and red color combinations. The intro and ending credits have a very simple but effective plain red background that goes well with the chills that are prompted by the movie’s creepy yet seductive music theme.



  
Delphine Seyrig, like Richard Johnson in Fulci’s Zombie, out-acts everyone else, but it actually works in favor of the movie, because it parallels her character’s control and manipulation of the other characters and course of events, in favor of her sociopathic objectives. Seyrig’s performance is one-of-a-kind and should be savored. Everything about her, from her soothing voice to her look and personality, is like dark poetry. Pay attention to every syllable she softly utters, her gentle but ominous demeanor, her mannerisms and poses, it’s so very beautifully gothic and evil.




There is something very eerie about how vacant the seaside hotel in this movie is. It only contains the four characters, plus the hotel concierge (Paul Esser), and a retired, suspicious policeman (Georges Jamin). That’s it; there are no other characters at the hotel, unless you count the stairway that plays a major role in the hotel interior, filmed in Brussels at the Hotel Astoria, while the hotel exteriors where shot in Ostend at the Grand Hotel des thermes.

Unusual for a European film at the time, the movie has direct-sound, meaning no dubbing, which should be an interest to those who can't get past dubbing.




One could say the film is light on vampire action, and the blood drinkers are fangless, but this is most certainly beside the point, as it is way more about the enjoyably languid mood, erotic images, and suggestive vampiric iconography. Elisabeth’s relations to Ilona and Valerie are so warm and tender but virulent at the same time. The kills are what one could call unlikely and fabricated, but I do think this was the intention. Recalling what Stefen said to Elisabeth, “Death seems to follow you,” the death scenes seem supernaturally driven as if delivered by The Reaper himself, or, more fitting in this case, herself.

It doesn’t break a whole lot of rules, but Daughters of Darkness still stands out as a wonderful erotic vampire film. While watching it, you might still learn a few new things about vampires. Did you know that vampires are afraid of running water? 

© At the Mansion of Madness


   

Friday, June 20, 2014

Zombie / Zombi 2 (1979)

I used to not be able to stomach gory zombie films very well. Despite being excited and thoroughly fascinated after watching zombie films in my youth, I suffered from a loss of appetite for a while. Anytime I was trying to eat, my brain would be like “you know what’s a good movie? Dawn of the Dead (1978),” and images from the scene with zombies eating in the cellar would pop into my mind, and I would be turned off to eating meat or anything savory for that matter. Sweets or French fries were fine, but my mind just would not cease to relate the taste and consistency of anything else, especially if it was slimy, to what it was the zombies were chomping on. I was disgusted by zombie carnage but still thought it was so cool.

The zombie film that grossed me out the most, which is really saying something, was Lucio Fulci’s Zombie. As a kid, I used to hate looking at the VHS cover with the iconic, rotting, worm eyed, conquistador zombie (Ottaviano Dell'Acqua). I wasn’t scared; I was repulsed. Being a growing boy on the verge of puberty, I didn’t think it wise to be turned off to protein, either. And so, the tape just sat on my movie shelf, after only being watched once, collecting dust, never to be touched again for quite some time.

Needless to say, I eventually overcame this sort of appetite-loss problem and no longer felt sick after watching zombie films. I don’t know if it is enhanced mental discipline or desensitization, but I can now eat pizza while watching movies like Zombie and Burial Ground without getting nauseous.

Anyone who may have read my article for The Beyond during last year’s gore-a-thon may recall that I wasn’t a fan of Zombie for a while. It took seeing The Beyond for me to re-evaluate what was my negative stand on Zombie. I was guilty of hoping for another Dawn of the Dead, ignorantly overlooking every one of the film’s strengths.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Wax Mask / M.D.C. – Maschera di cera (1997)

The last film Lucio Fulci ever worked on, The Wax Mask, was supposed to have been the grand collaboration between Fulci and Dario Argento, had it not been for Fulci’s tragic death some few weeks before filming was to begin. The project came about after Argento had approached Fulci at a 1994 film festival in Rome and suggested they work together on a new film. This was more of a sympathetic gesture from Argento who had intentions of reviving the spirits of an ailing Fulci in a wheelchair, who, at the time, had not worked on a new film in years. The two were never the best of friends, as Argento always thought Fulci imitated his filmmaking style (the separate camps weren’t only with the fan base it would seem).

Differences aside, they mutually agreed upon recreating House of Wax with Fulci directing. Along with Daniele Stroppa (The House of Clocks), they wrote the script for The Wax Mask, an alternate take on the wax museum myth that doesn’t necessarily feel like a remake of House of Wax (1953), even if it is.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Announcing the Second Annual Gore-a-thon


“Do you hear the clarion call? It’s calling out to one and all.” –Falconer

The horror blogging clarion call sounds again! That’s right; it’s almost time for Blood Sucking Geek’s second annual Ultimate Gore-a-thon 2014 -- Another Splatterific Extravaganza! I hope a fraction of you fantabulously awesome readers remember this event from last year, when nine sites came together to embark on an ultimate gore-centric blog-a-thon! The event will run from June 15th to the 21st. Including At the Mansion of Madness, there are, so far, twelve sites. The other blogs/sites taking part in the upcoming Gore-a-thon are as follows:

90s Horror Movies

Blood Sucking Geek 

Candy-Coated Razor Blades

Craft Fear  

The Info Zombie 

Love Horror 

Midnight Cinephile 

Movies at Dog Farm 

Slasher Studios 

Terrorphoria 

Wide Weird World of Cult Films 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Chicks with Candles (Tumblr Page)

My good friend, and fan of this site, Terence, has a cool Eurocult Tumblr I just found out about yesterday, Chicks with Candles! Not only does it live up to its title, celebrating the beloved gothic film trope of beautiful maidens with candelabras from movies like Tragic Ceremony and Baba Yaga, the page also features posters, cover art, deleted scenes, trivia, interesting but concise observations on Eurocult films like Jess Franco’s Lorna the Exorcist, and, most importantly, a lot of attractive films I’ve never heard of but really want to look at. I believe that me and Terence share an affinity for the use of lit candles as a mood enhancing aesthetic on film sets, and it's an elegant idea for a Tumblr page.

Check it out by clicking the delectable image of Rosalba Neri below, and be prepared to stay a while!  


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Lady Frankenstein (1971)

Lightning, angry mobs, grave robbing, and a criminal’s brain, like so many Frankenstein offshoots / spinoffs / parodies, Lady Frankenstein owes more to James Whale’s classic 1931 horror film than Mary Shelley’s 1818 literary masterpiece. Despite its many fitting references to, and retreading to an extent, some of the plot points to its trendsetting predecessor, Lady Frankenstein is far from feeling like a gory, colored remake, primarily thanks to the addition of Frankenstein’s biological daughter, Tania (Rosalba Neri), a little novelty with a lot of potential, like reimagining the classic 1931 movie with the doctor’s attractive but even more ambitious daughter written into the story.

In a time when females were grossly underrepresented in science, Tania Frankenstein shatters what must’ve been a prominent stereotype, enduring her pursuit as a surgeon, even when faced with sexist instructors at the University; as she puts it, “the professors have a lot of old fashioned ideas about a woman’s place.” When she returns home from the University after becoming a licensed surgeon, her father, Baron Frankenstein (Joseph Cotten), expresses admiration for her accomplishments, and yet he and his assistant, Dr. Charles Marshall (Paul Müller), still treat her as if their work involving cadavers is too much for her delicate senses to fathom. They seem to not want to involve her in their gruesome work, but, to their surprise, she’s all for it. They attempt to make her think they are working with animals, but she has been thinking along the same lines as her father the entire time, being more interested in human transplants; “I am my father’s daughter.” Not only does she thoroughly understand her father’s work, she ends up refining it.

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