Shy of its 50th Anniversary, Harry Kümel's highly-stylized vampire drama Daughters of Darkness remains a fascinatingly engrossing horror tale oozing in mysteries and the macabre, featuring a memorable performance by Delphine Seyrig as the legendary Elizabeth Báthory. The erotic vampire feature checks into Ultra HD with a mesmerizingly gorgeous 4K presentation and a surprisingly satisfying Dolby Atmos track. The same set of bonuses are ported over with a new commentary, making this UHD edition a strong, Recommended upgrade for cult aficionados.
Steep in a thick air of mystery and an uncertain ambiance of the macabre, the 1971 Belgian horror drama Daughters of Darkness is an intriguingly captivating and eerily fascinating film about the secrets people keep. Director Harry Kümel, who co-wrote the screenplay with producer Pierre Drouot, subtly expresses this theme with carefully deliberate camerawork, slowly and methodically revealing minor bits of exposition as the story moves along. Impressively, the director effectively maintains our interest by giving the seductively cryptic but enigmatic Hungarian countess (Delphine Seyrig) all the attention she desires. Joined by her secretary Ilona (Andrea Rau), the plot is mainly focused on the lovely and resplendent countess' conversations with newlyweds Stefan (John Karlen) and Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) stuck at a vast and extravagant seafront resort in Ostend.
One of my favorite aspects of the story is that it never outright claims the overly-confident lady is a creature of the night, but we're instead clued-in to the possibility, especially when learning her name is Elizabeth Báthory and this uneasy suspicion that death seems to follow her. All the while there's also something alarmingly strange about Stefan that makes him unlikeable. Surrounding his characters with the gothic immenseness of the hotel, Kümel uses space as an important role in these people's interactions. If characters are not separated by the hotel's great emptiness, looking at one another from afar, then they're intimately close, shrouded in sadistic anger or talking endlessly about nothing. With a somewhat primal focus on the characters and the somber anonymity that surrounds them, Kümel marvelously uses the unique architecture to create an engrossing atmosphere of mystery and the macabre that builds to an amazingly satisfying conclusion and makes it a highly-stylized cult horror favorite.
For a more in-depth take on the film, check out our review of Blue Underground's 2011 Blu-ray.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Blue Underground celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Harry Kümel's Daughters of Darkness on Ultra HD as a three-disc combo pack with reversible cover art. The triple-layered UHD100 disc sits comfortably atop a Region Free, BD50 copy on the same panel while a CD soundtrack of François de Roubaix's original score sits on the opposing panel. All three discs are housed inside a slightly larger than normal clear keepcase with a lenticular slipcover. The package includes a 20-page booklet on glossy paper featuring color photos, a CD tracklisting and a lengthy essay by journalist Michael Gingold. At startup, viewers are taken straight to the main menu selection with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
The legendary vampire seductress finds a home on Ultra HD dressed in a mesmerizingly gorgeous HEVC H.265 encode that leaves its Blu-ray predecessor in the dust.
Struck from a new restoration of the original 35mm camera negatives and remastered into a fresh 4K digital intermediate, the native 4K transfer almost immediately seduces with stronger definition and clarity in the stitching and threading of the clothes and the fabric of the furniture. Various features in the architecture of the hotel are sharply detailed, even from a distance, and the faces of the cast are highly revealing, laying bare pores, wrinkles and minor blemishes with lifelike textures. A few scenes, here and there, expectedly look blurry and are poorly-resolved, but thankfully, they are not a prevalent issue and easily excused as the result of the source's age and condition. There are also a couple instances of very mild banding in shots of sunrises and sunsets.
Faithful to the filmmakers' creative approach, the 4K video arrives with an intentionally subdued contrast balance that complements the story with a gloomy, somber atmosphere. Nevertheless, the film looks noticeable brighter and livelier with intensely vivid, more energetic whites throughout, giving the photography a fresher and more dynamic appeal. Specular highlights, in particular, are radiant, supplying a crisp, narrow brilliance in the lights, a realistic shimmer along metallic surfaces, like Stefan's razor blade, and a spirited sparkle in the actors' eyes. Brightness levels are truer and more accurately rendered, furnishing the 1.66:1 image with inky, velvety blacks in Ilona's hair and dress while maintaining excellent visibility within the dark, velvety shadows of the background.
Compared to its HD SDR counterpart, this Dolby Vision HDR presentation displays richer and fuller primaries, especially the candy rose-red of the Countess's outfit and lipstick while Stefan's robe has more of a crimson shade and some furniture is a ruby-garnet color. The blues of the night sky also range from admiral and cobalt through the windows to darker, more engulfing indigo and navy when characters are outside. Just as with the Blu-ray, the stylized cinematography limits the secondary hues somewhat, but they show better variation and animation here, like the homely marigold glow of some lighting and an appreciable assortment of browns and tans in the 70s furniture. All the while, facial complexions appear healthy and more natural with an attractive rosy-peach tone. (Dolby Vision HDR Video Rating: 88/100)
The erotic vampire picture also checks into home theaters with a surprisingly satisfying and excellent Dolby Atmos soundtrack, sure to make an impression even amongst the most hardened purist. Precise and crystal-clear at all times, dialogue reproduction comes with exceptional intonation in each performance and conversation. Although granted plenty of extra-breathing room, the mix remains a relatively front-heavy presentation with voices convincingly echoing through the halls of the empty hotel, and a few ambient effects can be heard subtly moving across the screen and lightly into the top heights. However, François de Roubaix's score does most of the leg work, beautifully expanding and broadening the soundfield while maintaining strong definition and separation in the mid-range. The low-end may not be anything to rave about, but it's adequate and responsive for providing the music some weight and an appreciable sense of presence. (Dolby Atmos Audio Rating: 84/100)
For this special UHD edition, Blue Underground provides a new commentary and a CD audio disc along with the same assortment of bonus features as before, shared on both discs.
Daughters of Darkness is a 1971 horror film by filmmaker Harry Kümel and features a memorable performance by Delphine Seyrig as the legendary Elizabeth Báthory. The highly-stylized vampire feature with strong erotica overtones offers an interesting story full of mystery and the macabre, one that genre fans and cult enthusiasts can enjoy repeatedly. The erotic vampire feature checks into 4K Ultra HD, courtesy of Blue Underground, with a mesmerizingly gorgeous Dolby Vision HDR presentation and surprisingly satisfying Dolby Atmos soundtrack, offering an excellent upgrade over its predecessor. The same set of supplements are ported over from the 2011 Blu-ray, but they are joined by one new surprise, making this UHD edition a strong, recommended upgrade for cult aficionados.