Director: Harry Kümel
Screenplay: Pierre Drouot, Jean Ferry, Harry Kümel
Cast: Delphine Seyrig, John Karlen, Danielle Ouimet, Andrea Rau
Producers: Henry Lange, Paul Collet
Print Source: Cinémathèque québécoise
Stefan (John Karlen) and Valérie (Danielle Ouimet), a couple on their honeymoon, make a stop in Ostende. After dropping their luggage off at a luxurious hotel, they realize that they’ve arrived in this small Belgian town during the off-season. As a result, they are the only guests in the establishment. That changes with the arrival of the disquieting Countess Bathory (Delphine Seyrig) and her assistant. A game of seduction begins, and the prize is poor Valérie. She finds herself mysteriously drawn to the shadowy femme fatale who, according to the hotel manager, has stayed there previously, in times long past, and doesn’t seem to have aged at all…
Better known under its English title DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, Harry Kümel’s LES LÈVRES ROUGES is like a deep kiss in the night. One of countless adaptations of the legend of Countess Bathory, it stands out in that it is infused with an eroticism that its more prudish predecessors could only hint at. Distributed in Quebec by Cinépix when it was released in 1971, this macabre poem is today considered a classic of the horror genre thanks to its elegant presentation, stellar cast and disturbing, phantasmagoric atmosphere. Throughout this absorbing film, the audience is pulled between reality and fantasy, seduced by the mesmerizing gaze of Delphine Seyrig who, in incarnating a tyrannical vampire, presents the opposite of the innocent young woman she played in Alain Resnais’s LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD. That role is instead the department of the excellent Danielle Ouimet as Valérie, a more fragile one than she played in Denis Héroux’s film of that name, but no less lovely and charismatic. And there’s the mystery-cloaked hotel, itself a vital character in the film, which serves as the theatre of a torrid battle between good and evil. Kümel makes the most of this setting as he opens the doors on a realm of desire, bodies and blood.
This year, as the vampire takes a central place in Fantasia’s programming with the contemporary interpretations VAMPIRE, STAKE LAND and MIDNIGHT SON, the inclusion of LES LÈVRES ROUGES could be considered a return to the source. It reminds us that these creatures of the night have long haunted filmmakers of the fantastic, diabolical muses inspiring some of genre cinema’s greatest works. Note that this screening affords film lovers the chance to discover this masterpiece in its French version, with the voices of Seyrig and Ouimet, a rare dub unavailable on DVD in North America.