Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Daughter of Darkness – review

dvdDirected by: Stuart Gordon

Released: 1990

Contains spoilers

This is not to be confused with psychosexual drama Daughters of Darkness, this was a made for TV flick that produced some interesting lore and actually had an interesting story. It also starred horror icon Anthony Perkins. It took vampirism back to Romania and within that also laid on some social commentary about the Ceauşescu regime with a trowel.

strange dreamsIt began with a funeral, in a cemetery with wonderfully gothic statues. We hear the funeral before we see it and it is for the mother of Kathy Thatcher (Mia Sara) – strangely the DVD case actually names her as Cathy Stevens for unknown reasons. The priest mentions Kathy but to her everyone has vanished. She sees a hooded man and follows him to a crypt. She enters it and it changes, becoming opulent, he is sat there with a book, under his hood he is faceless. Kathy wakes with a start, she is on a plane to Bucharest.

Mia Sara as KathyShe lands and is besieged by taxi drivers. She is rescued by Max (Dezsö Garas) a taxi driver full of tall tales but with a knowledge of English. As they pass by party buildings, bread queues, whores and people being searched by the police she confesses to Max that she is looking for her father – Paul Alexandray – whom she never met. In the hotel the TV shows pro-Ceauşescu propaganda, juxtaposed against the poverty stricken police state we have just seen, and Kathy dreams again. This time it is of a statue and a glass blowers shop, outside the shop is a dragon image identical to a pendant her father gave her mother.

Jack Coleman as DevlinKathy goes to the US embassy and meets Devlin (Jack Coleman) who she approaches for help in finding her father. All she has is a name, an old faded photo and an address on the back. The address is in an old area of Bucharest and – despite being a bit of an arse quite frankly – Devlin agrees to put some calls in the next morning. She leaves the embassy and is chased down by a man but manages to jump a cab – it is driven by Max.

Anthony Perkins as AntonShe gets to the address but it is now a club. Within she meets owner Grigore (Robert Reynolds) who agrees to help her but also wants to take her to dinner the next night. Back in the cab she spots the statue from her dream. She follows her dream to the glass blower workshop. Inside is a man named Anton (Anthony Perkins). He knew Paul years before, he says, but Paul was killed in a car crash in 1966. Kathy goes back to the embassy to tell Devlin and she mentions her dreams and how they make her think he is alive… Devlin, being a simple man, thinks she is nuts.

unusual feeding equipmentGrigore picks up a woman in his club and takes her down to his apartment. They start to get it on and then he reveals his true nature as a vampire when he goes to feed. This is where the unusual lore comes into the film as he does not sprout fangs. His tongue splits and reveals lots of lamprey like teeth. Remember this pre-dated such films as Blade 2 and it is unusual, also, when surely the use of fangs would have been more in budget. The tongue is only revealed a couple of times, as it is, but again it is quite a departure for a film following – in other ways – standard vampire movie lore.

Robert Reynolds with GrigoreKathy continues her quest by visiting Paul’s grave and then going to the hospital. She is watched with suspicion by a female doctor whilst another doctor gets Paul's file but finds that it is incomplete. The lady doctor steals plasma. Kathy sleeps in the hotel and dreams again – this time of sleeping with a man with a distinctive scar on his belly. She awakens and is called by Anton. He gives her some more information but not a lot. She has dinner with Grigore but a gypsy who sees her pendant freaks and mentions the Cipriah (it sounded like) a family who died in the 18th century and are reputed to be vampires. Despite being quite freaked out, by the end of the evening she and Grigore kiss.

that isn't her fatherShe gets a cab and is kidnapped and forced into a crypt (the one from her first dream). She has been taken there by the secret police who are using scare tactics to try and get her to reveal what she is doing there. Devlin appears, outraged at the police action, and she offers to take them to her father’s grave. When she gets there they have already started to dig it up. The corpse inside is that of a woman.

the statue od Prince ConstantineShe has Max drive her to Cipriah castle – which is in Transylvania – and on the way he tells her that his grandfather was a great vampire hunter – he even killed Dracula. At the castle she sees a statue of Prince Constantine – who is said to have become a vampire – and he is robed and is clearly the hooded man in her dreams. She looks in the cowl and it is clearly Anton. Indeed as things progress we discover that Anton and Paul are one and the same… yes he is her father. How she recognised him in statue form but failed to recognise him in the photo (which was clearly of Anthony Perkins) is not explained. Can she accept him and, indeed, what of his nature? Will he be able to control his own urge for blood? More so, what of Grigore who has his own agenda?

effects of sunlightThe lore in this – other than the tongue – is fairly standard. Vampires are sterile so Kathy is somewhat of a miracle child. The word damphir is not used but it is clearly what she is. The vampires burn agonisingly slowly in daylight. A stake can kill them but fire is better. They tend to sleep through the day and are difficult to rouse. They live in a nest below the club in coffins, with the exception of Grigore who has a bed in his windowless apartment.

The story generally worked. The only thing that really struck me was just how trusting Kathy appeared to be. Given she was in a police state the concept of 'trust no one' should have been foremost in her mind. As I mentioned the Romanian political situation, at the time, was spread thick – but it wasn’t unrealistic, I understand, to how the country was under Nicolae Ceauşescu.

Anton with a victimActing wise Perkins gives an understated and yet stately performance – with just an air of creepy menace as one would expect. Robert Reynolds as Grigore works well. I was less struck by Jack Coleman whose character seemed a little too unhelpful but, to be fair, that was more a script issue. As for Mia Sara, despite being quite struck by her in Legend (1985) I am generally unconvinced of her acting prowess, in this she simpered well enough – which is what was really called for – and other than that was carried along by the story.

I enjoy this movie; it is certainly better than it should have been. 6.5 out of 10. The imdb page is here.


Rhiannon said...

I remember this movie from when it first aired on TV! At one point, I thought maybe it was a fever dream because no one else remembered it. I remembering enjoying the movie, but I was a kid at the time. I hope I can find a copy. Your review has my interest peaked again.

Thank you!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Rhiannon, glad to be of service!

I remember seeing this when I found it on a video tape and didn't remember recording it! It is on DVD (region 2 certainly, so I'd assume region 1).

BTW; keep an eye out over the next week for a piece I wrote on a book called Pretty When She Dies....

Rhiannon said...

Okay, now I'm a nervous wreck. LOL.
I'm very anxious to hear your thoughts.


*bites nails*

Taliesin_ttlg said...

To save your nerves I'll post sooner than later. I will say, to soothe them, that I did enjoy the book.

Rhiannon said...

I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it. I think I can sleep now. :)

Vampire Vixen said...

Thanks for this, I'll keep my eye out for a copy as I finally got a new DVD player.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Vampire Vixen, glad to hear santa was good tpo you (bit of an assumption but never mind) definitely worth keeping an eye out for imho