Daughters of Darkness (1971) and The Hunger (1983)
I normally don’t write two reviews in a single post but these two films have quite a few similarities that I find interesting as well as differences that I wish to discuss. I’ll give a synopsis of both while examining the similarities and contrasts. WARNING! SPOILERS!
‘Daughters of Darkness’ directed by Belgian Harry Kumel in 1971 opens with newlyweds Stefan (John Karlen) and Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) engaged in some steamy sex on a train from Switzerland bound for Belgium where the couple will take a ferry to England. They’re on their way to meet Stefan’s rich and snobby “mother” who still doesn’t know her son just got hitched. A track derailment further ahead forces them to stay overnight at the seaside town of Ostend where they check into a beautiful palatial hotel. Since it’s off season they are the only guests there …. for now. The following day an elegant 1930’s car arrives at the hotel with two beautiful women; the Countess Elizabeth Bathory (yes, you read correctly) played by a Marlene Dietrich styled Delphine Seyrig and her “assistant”, Ilona (Andrea Rau). The stodgy old concierge is taken aback when the countess checks in under the same name as a woman who checked into the hotel forty years ago; a woman who looked exactly like the countess. And while the concierge was just a boy then the countess hasn’t aged a day. For those of you who’ve never heard of her, Elizabeth Bathory was an infamous real life Hungarian countess who lived in the 1500’s. She was believed to have tortured and murdered close to 600 girls and women and rumored to have bathed in (and possibly) even drank their blood in order to preserve her youth. She was eventually tried and convicted for the murders of eighty women and sentenced to be locked in a windowless cell for the remainder of her life.
In the film while Stefan and Valerie are staying at the hotel they read in the local newspaper that there has been a spate of murders of young women, in the neighboring town of Bruges, who have been bled dry. While the word “vampire” is never mentioned in either film it’s obvious that is what the main female characters are. I found it a bit disconcerting that the Countess would actually use the historic name of Elizabeth Bathory so freely when introducing herself. Yes, we the viewers understand that she’s supposed to be the serial killing Countess who’s remained alive all these centuries but seriously if you were Charles Manson or Son of Sam and somehow managed to live three or four centuries past your normal expiration date would you really introduce yourself and check into hotels under your real name? I mean your name and bio are in numerous books about history’s most infamous killers. Why risk awakening people’s curiosity especially if you’re continuing to engage in your favorite pastime of killing people? Well the Countess doesn’t care if people recognize the name and think that she may be a direct descendant of the Blood Countess (who’s going to believe she’s lived so long?) In fact Bathory almost invites that curiosity, especially from the inspector who’s investigating the recent series of murders in Bruges. The Inspector hints that while he can’t prove it ― yet ― he knows the arrival of the Countess and Ilona is connected to the recent murders. The Countess ‘ attitude throughout the movie is a cavalier “prove it!”
‘The Hunger’ Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve) differs from Bathory in this. While both characters are cultured, sophisticated, glacially beautiful blonde European women of a certain age (ok, they appear to be of a certain age) late thirties-early forties there are some contrasts. Miriam is more low-key, she does not wish to draw any unnecessary attention to herself. In Whitley Streiber’s book, Miriam’s character is supposed to be some ancient Egyptian priestess thousands of years old who retains her youthful appearance (in addition to her longevity) by drinking human blood. The movie doesn’t give us much background info on her except a couple of dream like flashbacks that indicate a past century. The opening scene of ‘The Hunger’ has Miriam and her husband, John Blaylock (David Bowie) at some NYC club stalking their prey as Bauhaus sings ‘Bela Lugosi is Dead’. Bear in mind that this movie was filmed two years after MTV made its debut on cable television. This is relevant as the opening scene looks like a slick, stylized music video. In fact many critics have dismissed ‘The Hunger’ as being more style over substance. Their criticism is not without merit. Both ‘Daughters of Darkness’ and ‘The Hunger’ are visually seductive but almost plotless.
After luring a young couple to their elegant brownstone Miriam and John feed on their guests; one of the few bloody scenes in the film. It’s interesting to note that while both ‘Daughters of Darkness’ and ‘The Hunger’ are “vampire” flicks there’s never really any gore; there’s only a couple of bloody or violent scenes in two films that otherwise are suffused with elegant, civilized, well-mannered and beautiful people. Perhaps that’s what makes those moments of violence even more jarring. In ‘Daughters of Darkness’ three of the four principal characters die before the film ends and all three death scenes were so convoluted and unbelievable that I almost laughed.
In DOD Stefan and Valerie’s trip to England to meet his “mother” continues to be delayed in large part due to Stefan’s reluctance for his bride and mother to meet but also due to the Countess increasing influence over the young couple. Stefan begins to exhibit a sadistic, even necrophiliac side to his personality that naturally disturbs Valerie. Ilona too is unhappy in her relationship with the Countess. She knows her days as Bathory’s plaything are numbered and begs the Countess to release her. For even though Ilona is quite beautiful and sexy the Countess in typical Narcissistic Personality Disorder fashion is looking to secure her next conquest and has already set her eyes on Valerie. Ilona is no dummy and is fully aware of what is going to happen. But the manipulative and selfish Bathory rather than just release Ilona has other plans.
There’s a scene early in ‘The Hunger’ with John and Miriam showering after they dined on the couple they picked up from the club where John asks Miriam “Forever?” He’s referring to her promise to him centuries before when she turned him into her companion. A promise not only for immortality but also that he would remain young forever and she would love him forever. It’s as if he senses that perhaps she wasn’t entirely honest with him …as if something were about to change. His intuition proves correct when the following day he begins to notice that he’s aging ― rapidly. In desperation he seeks the help of Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon) who does research on aging. When John arrives at the clinic the doctor is dismissive towards him thinking he’s a kook. When she leaves her office two hours later she sees that John, who is still in the waiting area, has aged thirty years in those two hours. A furious John tells her it’s too late and leaves.
Although it’s not openly said in the film (perhaps hinted at) the book does indicate that Miriam has been grooming Alice Cavender (Beth Ehlers), a teenage violin student, to become John’s replacement when she comes of age. John realizes this and when Alice visits the brownstone for her violin lesson. John in desperation and jealousy feeds on the child. It is to no avail, he’s still aging into a decrepit semi carcass. Miriam is horrified at what he’s done and the fact that she’s lost his replacement. She’s always known this day would come, when her lover’s youth is only retained for maybe three centuries and not forever as she had promised them. Well heck! Living for three hundred years with the same person may as well be forever! Miriam now carries John’s weak and frail body upstairs into an attic and places him in a coffin, one of many, where her previous lovers, no longer young and strong, remain in a coma like state for eternity. Immortal yes but hardly living.
Miriam needs to find a replacement fast and decides on Dr. Sarah. Like Valerie in DOD, Dr. Sarah has a male lover, but determined vampires don’t allow these little inconveniences to get in the way of their desires and objectives. Both Catherine Deneuve and the late Delphine Seyrig are each a dominant presence in their respective films. Both portray formidable Belle Dames sans Merci, monsters that are just as insidious and lethal as any fang baring nosferatu. These are seductive monsters who ensnare the unsuspecting with their beauty and false promises. Both films have similar endings which if you’ve seen them you already know what I’m referring to. I hate to say it but ‘The Hunger’ left me ― well, hungry for more; there’s something missing. While I enjoy watching both films around Halloween I’m always left with a sense of dissatisfaction at the end, however I find ‘Daughters of Darkness’ to be the stronger of the two films, perhaps due to the gorgeous photography which is the real star of the movie.