May 30, 1971 [Daughters of Darkness]

Poor Sharon Tate was beautiful in The Fearless Vampire Killers--but, despite the blood, Polanski was mostly interested in hybrids: horror-slapstick, stately nudies. Nothing new: The British vampire movies often remind us of the bite-a-bility of a full bosom, and even old Lugosi has a kind of Valentino eroticism, and the Vamps of the silent era still manage to whisper hypnosis in our ears.

But Daughters of Darkness goes one step further, into a blank opulence that lounges like a deep blue fashion spread but fades into blood-red, the vampires women but still craving the female neck, bosom, form. It begins with newlyweds--in a “love” story that tells a secret: that men want women to be slave-objects, posed just so, lipstick slick as wet plastic. Daughters of Darkness is pretty convincing in its assertion that the male heart is a mad thing, wanting only to trap and subdue.

What’s a girl to do? Just ask the stunning--and always-hungry--Countess Elizabeth Bathory; her Playboy-model Renfield all European faux-innocence as succulent as it is forbidden; and the “victim,” the masochistic blushing-with-bruises bride--all of them as Mod and luscious as a bowl of perfect wax fruit--not to demean them: Everything in the movie is ripe artifice: the abandoned hotel at the edge of the sea; the mysterious Van Helsing figure who grins, drops hints, and is gone; the young man who is not so much afraid of his mother as he is of himself--and she’s no mother. Everything stands on the brink of hysteria, but posed and arranged, gorgeous and overheated, like an orchid.

If L’avventura had a plot, it might have become Daughters of Darkness: beautiful people moneyed and bored, drifting without purpose into death and rebirth, in the end unnoticed as they wander through the remnants of a party no one wanted to attend.


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